Calgary Herald

Notable Calgarians in the war

There was no shortage of First World War heroes, heroines and characters who hailed from southern Alberta. Watch for some of their stories in this weekly feature, until July 25.


George Arthur Sugden, soldier and stained glass artist

Even before enlisting in the First World War, Calgarian Art Sugden left a mark on his hometown.

Sugden was working as a glazier with W.H. Cushing Millwork when constructi­on began on the church that became known as Trinity United, at 10th Avenue and 13th Street S.E.

He specialize­d in stained glass and while still a teenager, he was tasked with creating a special window for the church. The result was the “Rose Window,” which became known as a beautiful piece of stained glass artwork around town.

The First World War, however, led Sugden to leave his career and enlist. His youngest brother Ted had enlisted in 1915; Art and another brother, Sam, followed suit in 1916, becoming members of the 137th Calgary Battalion.

The two were soon transferre­d to the 31st Alberta Battalion, which participat­ed in the infamous Battle of Vimy Ridge, April 9 to 12, 1917. Canadian troops performed brilliantl­y during the battle, which was deemed a crucial symbol of our country’s achievemen­t and sacrifice.

Sam was captured by the enemy just days before the battle occurred, but Art Sugden fought in, and survived, Vimy.

After Vimy, Allied leaders believed it was important to keep pressure on the enemy and as such, Sugden’s battalion was ordered to attack the enemy in the French community of Fresnoy on May 3.

Many of the Allied troops became trapped by barbed wire and heavy fire rained down upon them. Sugden was hit and blinded. One of Sugden’s sons, Edward, later published an essay in Esprit de Corps about his father, describing the attack: “My father lay for two or three days in a shell hole before being picked up by the Germans ... Putting myself on the scene and reflecting, I can mentally not only see the horror of the situation but I can hear the attacking yells, then the inevitable screams of agony as soldier after soldier was riddled with German bullets.

“I can see my father moaning in pain with the sound of battle surroundin­g him, the cold mud, the deafening artillery barrage, the murderous machine-gun fire,” Edwards wrote.

“Then the image forming in my mind reflected one of the ironies of war. Inevitably, some German soldier or soldiers, the hated enemy, must have taken my helpless father by the arms and guided him by foot or perhaps on a stretcher to safety and away from the heat of battle.”

Art and brother Sam eventually returned from war, while their youngest brother Ted died in battle.

While Art recovered in England, he met and married a nurse before moving back to Calgary and the neighbourh­ood of Inglewood. He became a vital member of his community and his wife gave birth to a son, but she died of a stroke a few years later. He married again, to Kathleen Cropper and they had two sons, including Edward who wrote about his father.

“My life ... was one without a father,” wrote Edward. “No father played catch with me, slapped me on the back, took me fishing, or taught me to drive.

“All of us, at one time or another, muse on what it is that is so important about having a father, and so many have suffered from lack of a father.

“For sure, I also missed not having a living father, and envied those who did. Yet throughout my life I have always felt so wonderfull­y proud of my Dad, and have held him up to my friends.

“My father died when I was five, but he has been with me and has fathered me all my life, just by being who he was ... George Arthur Sugden, Art for short, was to me this brave man who fell blinded in battle in France in WWI. He came home, built a home, became a poultry farmer, was a prize-winning gardener, and was honoured as a pioneer in his Calgary community.”

One particular­ly moving story of Art Sugden tells of how he eventually returned to Trinity United for a memorial service, years after losing his sight.

Standing outside the church, he pointed toward it and said, “I can still see my window.”

During the service, he sang a special hymn: “He Who Took Away My Sight So My Soul Could See.”

His stained glass rose window inspired the title for a history book on the church called Through the Rose Window.

And, when the community of Inglewood decided to create a mural to honour ordinary people who had done extraordin­ary things, Sugden was one of the chosen honourees. That mural can be seen on 9th Avenue Southeast.

 ?? Christina Ryan/Calgary Herald ?? Art Sugden is the soldier on the far right of a mural found on the side of a building in Inglewood honouring ordinary people who have done the extraordin­ary.
Christina Ryan/Calgary Herald Art Sugden is the soldier on the far right of a mural found on the side of a building in Inglewood honouring ordinary people who have done the extraordin­ary.

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