By Joe Barkovich, Scribbler-at-large
Monday, August 4 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War 1.
Although this war was fought “over there” in parts of Europe, it had great impact on communities like Welland and its residents.
The late historian, William H. Lewis, provides historical information with several local “story angles” and accounts in the third volume of his trilogy, Welland, Aqueduct, Merrittsville and Welland, A History of the City of Welland – The 20th Century.
The chapter is titled The Great War 1914-1918, The First World War. Mr. Lewis devotes 30 pages to it, enhanced with newspaper clippings and photos.
Chosen here are a few excerpts from the chapter, all relating to Welland and Wellanders. If you have not read the information previously you may be surprised, even shocked, by some of the local content:
“Enlistment response in the Niagara area was immediate. By August 10, some 200 men from Welland and other local communities had volunteered for military service with the Lincoln and Welland Regiment. After brief initial training at Beaverdams, 121 area volunteers left by train on August 21 for Valcartier. It was expected that the 44th would remain as a unit and preserve its identity throughout the conflict. (This, however, was not to be.)”;
“On April 22, 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres, German forces, for the first time threw poison gas against French troops, who fled, choking for breath. The following day, a second gas attack was directed against Canadain forces near the Belgian village of Langemarck. The Canadians, wearing handkerchiefs soaked in water or urine, held firm although outflanked and outnumbered four to one and thus began their reputation which was later described by a Canadian historian as the “deadliest Allied fighting force on the Western Front.
“But the battle was not without local casualties. On May 17, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Bacon, 35 McCormick Street, were notified that their son, Private Frank Henry Bacon, aged 22, had been killed on April 24 by poison gas fumes during the battle of Langemarck. Pte. Bacon was one of 7,000 casualties in the Second Battle of Ypres.”
Mr. Lewis also reported on the loss of Welland lives in the sinking of the RMS Lusitania off the coast of Ireland, torpedoed by a German submarine. For more details and names of the local victims, read pages 106- 107.
Here’s another local story:
“The year 1916 would bring further misery to the people of Welland. In August, Mayor John Crow and Mrs. Crow were the proud recipients of word that their only son, Lt. Gordon W. Crow had been awarded the Military Cross for bravery.The official record stated that Lt.. Crow “repelled with a revolver a party of the enemy, and then reconnoitered and sent back information of the enemy’s new positions.”
“But their joy was shortlived. On September 19, Mayor and Mrs. Crow were advised by cable from their son’s commanding officer that their son had been killed in action the previous Sunday. Two days later, the family received official notification of their loss from Ottawa. Lt. Crow was to have received his Military Cross from King George on his first leave had he not met death on the field of battle.” (Note: The surname was incorrectly inscribed on the monument.)
There’s more, of course and the chapter also provides some background about goings on here on the home front.
Other snippets can be found in the local newspaper’s 140th anniversary compilation, in the years 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1918. Here’s one from 1916: “Among the first area residents to be killed or injured in the war were the two sons of Z. Croft. John Croft, a bomb thrower, was killed March 25 at the age of 23. His brother James was seriously wounded Dec. 23, 1915 when an exploding shell smashed his shoulder and tore several ribs loose from his spine.”
The story of the city’s Welland-Crowland War Memorial must also be woven into anything that is written about the war. Here’s some background about artist Elizabeth Wyn Wood’s magnificent figure, the information excerpted from the official program for its designation and plaquing ceremony, September 11, 1999:
“This WW1 memorial is unique in that it departs from the design of a single soldier, so common on other monuments of that vintage. It incorporates stylized elements of the Canadian landscape: red pines and sheaves of wheat along with the representation of a WW1 trench mortar and two heroic figures, a soldier and a woman. These symbolized the “Service and Sacrifice” not only of those who fought but of those who supported the war effort at home. The names of the fallen from our two communities are inscribed on the west face of the base.”
The program says the monument was “the last large World War 1 memorial erected in Canada”. Its official unveiling was held September 4, 1939, three days after the start of World War 2. Of course, names of local dead in that war, and later in the Korean War were subsequently added to it.
This summer, one of Welland’s always outstanding floral tribute beds on Prince Charles Drive (across from West Side Fire Hall) is dedicated to Canadian involvement in World War 1 (and also World War 2). It’s worth a look when driving or walking by. Perhaps – and hopefully – there will be local activities in recognition of the 100th anniversary of what (mistakenly) became known as “The War to End All Wars”, as Mr. Lewis refers to near the end of his chapter.
“The Dominion of Canada suffered 66,661 fatalities in the Great War with Welland enduring more than its share of this slaughter. Of a community of only some 9,000 persons, Welland and the surrounding area lost nearly 100 dead (100 names are inscribed on the monument) in the terrible conflict.”
(A former reporter and city editor, Joe Barkovich lives in his hometown of Welland, Ontario, Canada’s Rose City. Welland Snaps appears on the blog weekly.)