Preserving and Promoting local history for the former Rideau Township
Log Fence

Retired City of Ottawa archivist - and amateur military historian - David Bullock expounded on how this project will identify those with ties to Rideau Township, which is more complex than one might expect. For example, someone from here may have moved and enlisted in another town or province. Or perhaps a local woman married an individual from someplace else who fought and died, creating a less-direct, but still important, connection. Some born and raised in Canada enlisted in other countries, becoming absorbed (so to speak) in records outside the Canadian archival base. This works both ways, as a number of “Home Children” (born in the UK but sent to Canada in their youth to work here) enlisted and died as Canadians. Those Home Children from Rideau Township are being counted as “our own”.  

Another problematic detail is the fact that many gassed or wounded in combat between 1914-18 survived the war, only to die of lingering effects or complications later. Since lines must be drawn somewhere the War Graves Commission (for example) does not include war-related deaths that occurred after 1921.

Even though the net for this project is being cast wide, it's still challenging to know if every connection has been discovered. The working list at present stands at 32 dead from Rideau Township from the First World War, 26 of which are confidently connected to that municipality. Seven names on the working list are of uncertain status. They are: Archibald Brownlee, Harry Carson, Charles Anthony Craig, Harold Mervin Maxwell, James Campbell McGimpsey, Arthur Jones, and Austin Craig Pratt. If you recognize those names and can help, please contact the archive volunteers who would be most grateful for additional information.

As a founder of the Rideau Archives (and our historical society) Georgie Tupper said she'd always envisioned the creation of a military history that focused on local inhabitants. Things like the war plaques in North Gower and Marlborough, the Tweedsmuir histories and so forth were good places to start. Tupper and Audrey Renton had already created extensive records on this topic, which she hopes will be carried even further with the help of this current team. Tupper called efforts to date a good start on interesting work and encourages anyone with additional information to share that with project members.

Susan McKellar recalled an earlier RTHS meeting in May of 2011 devoted to local “Home Children”. Those were orphaned or indigent children shipped from Great Britain to different colonies in need of labour. Three such children placed and raised in Rideau Township fought and died in the First World War: George Gray, Lance Gillett and Cecil Meadows. All have no known graves.  In brief but poignant remarks McKellar spoke of fostered youngsters who “...went as young men, overseas, served in the First World War and were killed. So they have no descendants, no family left here. And we're the ones – we're the ones – to remember them.” More information about Gray, Gillett and Meadows was part of additional display material at the meeting.  

 Ruth Wright presenting

Ruth Wright quoting from some of the letters written by Clayton Bradley.

Ruth Wright read from letters sent by (Adam) Clayton Bradley as he recounted experiences from enlistment to the battle lines. Twenty-four of those letters were donated to the archives by his niece, Miriam Hunter. Bradley's letters were uniformly upbeat and positive, reflecting his own personality and (no doubt) a desire to protect his parents and siblings from worry. Wright's excerpts helped all envision  Bradley as a real, living person dealing cheerfully with events small and large in that war. In a letter to his sister, Bradley explained how he'd thought hard about joining up but did so believing it was the right thing to do.

Cooke spoke again to mention two more First World War fatalities with ties to Rideau Township who enlisted in the British forces. Lt. William Davidson Thomson joined the 53rd Battalion, before being seconded to the Royal Flying Corps.. He went on to be killed while flying as an observer directing artillery fire.

Lt. Caldwell Groves Scobie was probably born in Carsonby and went on to join the Royal Airforce. His plane just disappeared on May 21 1918. No bodies from that plane were ever recovered.

During the question period Brian Sawyer wondered why  Canadian war cenotaphs seem to list two or three times more casualties from the First World War than from the Second World War, considering Canada's vigorous participation in both events. Cooke agreed that the Second World War involved more personnel, but explained it was less deadly. The scope of that war included many more jobs outside of combat theatres compared to “the meat grinder” that was the First World War.

Marguerite Rogers made a gracious summary speech with thanks for the speakers' efforts. She noted how different local projects sometimes connect and supplement in interesting ways, as in the case of Home Children and the local heroes research.

During the post-talk reception I met Jennifer (McCuaig) Bradshaw of Kemptville, a great-great grand niece of Clayton Bradley. Her grandmother, Miriam Hunter, donated the letters Ruth Wright shared during the program. Even though the passage of time means fewer people alive today have direct ties to those killed in the First World War, many still care about those lost, or feel real empathy through a connection with veterans who survived those conflicts.

 Jennifer Bradshaw and Ruth Wright

Jennifer Bradshaw and Ruth Wright . Jennifer is a descendant of Clayton Bradley.  

We thank the speakers for informing us about their work and ways we can help. Additional thanks are once again due to Robert Craig for warmly welcoming our gathering to Holy Trinity. The stately church includes two stained glass windows, a plaque and framed lists in fine calligraphy honoring those who did answer their country's call across two world wars.  

Remembrance Day. Bright red poppies on lapels, and sombre, familiar lines from classic poems, like Robert Laurence Binyon's “For the Fallen”:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Or "In Flanders Fields" by Lt. Col. John McCrae:

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Words evoking the pain and loss of lives cut short. Poetic promises to sanctify the sacrifice - in some small way - by remembering the dead.

How that resonates varies from individual to individual.

 Some fear unthinking ritual only bolsters uncritical acceptance. Endlessly calling out the military, “for King and Country”, to solve through war what could not be accomplished though more peaceful means.

Others worry too little respect is rendered to men and women who donned uniforms and selflessly did as they were asked, whatever the cost.

Reverent, critical, or simply indifferent, November 11th remains a specific time to pause and ponder what it all means.

In that spirit, 45 members and guests gathered in North Gower's lovely Holy Trinity Anglican Church to hear more about “Local Heroes – Rideau Township Archives Memorial Project”. This is an on-going attempt to identify and commemorate the war dead from Rideau Township, beginning with the First World War. Ultimately, it is hoped this work will be available as a pamphlet, online and as part of the Department of Veteran's Affairs Canadian Virtual War Memorial.

 Our speakers for the night

Robert Craig (left) and the speakers. Left to Right Ruth Wright, Susan Mckellar, Owen Cooke, Dave Bullock and Georgie Tupper.

Owen Cooke, Dave Bullock, Georgie Tupper, Susan McKellar and Ruth Wright are just five of the many volunteers who contributed to this project. and Each elaborated on different aspects of that research.

Although she was not present at the meeting, speakers noted that RTHS member and archives volunteer Audrey Renton has devoted years of effort compiling material about local people involved in military service during the First and Second World Wars. (To date Renton has compiled two binders covering 119 veterans for the First World War and eight binders with approximately 500 veterans for the Second World War with local ties.) Renton is herself a veteran who served in Britain's Women's Auxiliary Air Force in the Second World War before coming to Canada as a war bride.

Before he retired, Owen Cooke worked as Chief Archivist at Directorate of History, Dept. of National Defence. So this is a team with a deep bench.

Cooke spoke about the project's beginnings and goals, including the reasons they are starting with the First World War. The Great War had a tremendous effect on Canada and Canadians. From a population of around 7 million, over 600,000 Canadians served in the First World War, nearly all in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Some 69,000 were killed. Most communities were affected, as witnessed by the memorial material in the church where we sat, and by the cenotaphs that sprang up across the country after the Armistice.

The 100th anniversary of the war's start is just around the corner, in 2014. From a researcher's perspective, many helpful resources exist to enable this sort of work. Key records include something called the Attestation Form. Those were filled out by individuals as they joined the military and list many useful personal details. They can be accessed online at the Library and Archives Canada web site.

Another readily available source of information is something called a Casualty Form. Despite the name, that form is not about being wounded or killed, but rather is a record of movement within the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

For those who were killed, another form to consult is the Circumstances of Death form. Due to what is sometimes called “the fog of war” Cooke says those accounts are sometimes unhelpful, where little was known or recorded. But in some cases the accounts provide a wealth of information. (These forms are also online at Library and Archives Canada.)

Another source worth consulting is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission files, which list who is buried where. Those records are available online, which is especially helpful considering so many war dead were laid to rest in Europe.

Cooke also provided a map of the Western Front showing the areas where most Canadians were engaged in combat.

 Book Canadian soldiers in the First World War

Owen Cooke recommends the book, “When Your Number’s Up” by Desmond Morton as one of the best histories of the First World War.  

November Meeting Presentation:
“Local Heroes – Rideau Township Archives Memorial Project”  

Speakers:  Members from the Project

Article by Lucy Martin.  Pictures by Lucy Martin and Susan McKellar