THE TYO BROTHERS
In January, 1916, James Tyo, a 19-year-old labourer, married Bertha Montpetit in Cornwall, Ont. Three months later, he walked into his hometown’s recruiting office and volunteered to join the Canadian army. He was the youngest of five brothers who, by war’s end, would all enlist. Their father, Stephen, was a bricklayer who used to work for the Grand Trunk Railway in Quebec before moving his family of eight children to Cornwall, just across the Ontario border.
The eldest son, Arthur, had been the first to enlist, in July, 1915. Within months, brothers Joseph and Edward also signed up. William was the last to join.
In August, 1917, Arthur, almost 30, and James, barely 20, fought with separate infantry units at the Battle of Hill 70, near the town of Lens, where Canadians suffered more than 9,000 casualties during an 11-day battle. James, in the 21st Battalion, died on the first day of the assault. While the bodies of most of his battalion’s dead were brought back to the rear, he and five other Canadians were buried together in a mass grave near the junction of two trenches seized from the Germans. It would be seven years before their remains were exhumed, and among them, only James could be immediately identified.
Two days after James’s death, Arthur, fighting with the 24th Battalion, Victoria Rifles, was wounded in both legs. He died that afternoon at a casualty-clearing station.
The following year, William, waiting at a Nova Scotia base to be sent overseas, died of the Spanish flu – then wreaking havoc worldwide – just as the war was winding down. Three years after that, Joseph, who had suffered multiple injuries and was gassed while serving in France, died in a hospital in Montreal while awaiting his return to Cornwall.
Edward, the sole brother to make it all the way home, was nonetheless beset with chest pains: He, too, had been gassed in battle.
Of the five brothers, only Arthur had become a father. His widow, Mary Louise Sauvé, died of the Spanish flu in October, 1918. The youngest of their two children, five-year-old Vincent, was sent to an orphanage; he left school at 9 to find work. Vincent enlisted in the army during the Second World War but was not sent overseas because of health problems. He eventually became a civilian cook for the Canadian Forces. His son Gary remembers growing up poor and in subsidized housing in Ottawa. “My father struggled a lot of years,” says Mr. Tyo, a former police officer who is now a realtor.
Both Gary Tyo and his brother Robert have served in the Canadian Forces. “We’ve got,” he says, “a bit of a habit serving in the military in my family.”