Por­traits from the front lines

The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - JAMES MOORE

From the fields of Flan­ders to the shores of Gal­lipoli, more than 640,000 Cana­di­ans and New­found­lan­ders served in the First World War. Here, from diaries, mil­i­tary records and let­ters sent home, Tu Thanh Ha re­traces the wartime jour­neys of some of th­ese men and women

When the war be­gan, New­found­land was still 35 years from join­ing Canada. A Bri­tish do­min­ion, it raised its own reg­i­ment. In St. John’s, James Moore, a 22-year-old long­shore­man with a heart tat­tooed on his right arm, was among those who would be known as “The First Five Hun­dred,” and he joined the same con­voy that took Pearl and Alis­tair Fraser to Eu­rope.

Af­ter a year of train­ing in Eng­land, the New­found­lan­ders were sent as re­in­force­ments to Gal­lipoli, in Turkey, where the Al­lies’ am­phibi­ous at­tack against the Ot­toman Empire six months ear­lier had de­volved into a quag­mire. Ar­riv­ing the night of Sept. 19, they came un­der im­me­di­ate fire, and for the next three months en­dured shelling, in­tense heat and a short­age of drink­ing wa­ter. Un­buried bod­ies drew clouds of flies. “A lot of our boys were stricken with dysen­tery,” Pri­vate Moore wrote in a let­ter to his mother.

In No­vem­ber, a three-day storm flooded their po­si­tions; then came snow and frost. “We were in a ter­ri­ble state in the trenches and suf­fered un­told hard­ship,” Pte. Moore wrote in his let­ter. The day af­ter, while fetch­ing wa­ter for din­ner, he was hit by shrap­nel “as large as grapes.” Se­verely wounded, he was sent to a hos­pi­tal in Malta, where the Bri­tish kept a base, and from there he wrote to his mother that he would try to send her the shrap­nel from his leg as a sou­venir.

In the spring, he re­joined the reg­i­ment as it pre­pared to join an of­fen­sive that be­came syn­ony­mous with slaugh­ter: the Bat­tle of the Somme. At­tack­ing at Beau­mont-Hamel on July 1, the New­found­lan­ders were blasted by Ger­man fire. “The men were mown down in heaps,” reads the reg­i­men­tal di­ary. Through the night, the sur­vivors crawled back to their lines. The next morn­ing, of the 801 men who had gone into bat­tle, 68 made roll call.

Al­though he suf­fered a shell wound, Pte. Moore re­mained on duty. His reg­i­ment, mean­while, was pulled out, re­built with fresh troops and, in Oc­to­ber, sent back to the Somme, where the bat­tle con­tin­ued to grind away. Dur­ing an as­sault near Gueude­court, a shell burst shat­tered Pte. Moore’s left leg and nearly sev­ered his right foot. He man­aged to crawl into a trench cap­tured from the Ger­mans. Al­though in great pain, he was stranded by gun­fire for two days be­fore he could be res­cued.

Sur­geons would have to am­pu­tate his right foot and his left leg above the knee. “I have been wounded again. This time I am out of it for good,” he wrote to his mother. It would be two years be­fore he was well enough to re­turn home.

His great-grand­daugh­ter Stephanie Furey is now a cor­po­ral in the same reg­i­ment.

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.”


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