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WWI

Almost 100 years ago...

  • 611,000 Canadians fought for King and Country
  • 173,000 were wounded
  • 61,966 lost their lives

It was to be the "war to end wars", but of course it wasn't. Families across this country and others endured horrific losses and pain. Some historians argue that WW I also forged a more independent Canada as the country stepped beyond its colonial past during and after the war.

B.C. sent 55,570 to war -- the highest per capita rate of enlistment in the country; 6,225 were killed. B.C. Almanac is developing a book project to commemorate the contributions of  British Columbians who served. We want to hear the story of your grandparent, great-uncle or great-aunt (see the link below).


Private Edward Clarence Dickson

contributed by Greg Dickson

My grandfather, Ted Dickson, was a typical Canadian World War one veteran, reluctant to talk about his experiences except with friends who also served. Our family didn't know much about his war story and pieced most of it together from public records and some of the papers he left behind.

Ted was raised in Vernon, B.C. in the early 1900s where his family had a fruit orchard and speculated in the booming real estate business. He was a fresh-faced 18 year old clerk when he signed up in 1915, eager to see the world.

Ted's attestation papers were signed on Sept. 21, 1915 (these documents are available online and are a good place to start if you're doing family research). He was five feet, seven inches tall and weighed about 130 pounds (16 pounds more than he weighed when he was discharged). Private Dickson joined the 1st Canadian Field Ambulance and served in France as a stretcher bearer until he received a chest injury in mid-April, 1917. He was a Vimy vet, so we believe this injury would have happened during that battle. According to his Medical History Sheet he was then transported to hospitals at Boulogne and Rouen and was later diagnosed with pleurisy and chronic bronchitis. He was sent back to England aboard the Aberdonian (he kept the luggage tag) on May 19, 1917 to convalesce and was discharged on April 24, 1919.

Just last year when we were sorting through his papers, we found a small red pocket diary written in pencil, kept sporadically for part of the time he was in France.

Aug. 16, 1916

"Heard of the death of my dear brother Theo. He died on the July 23rd Sunday which I shall never forget. Poor kid. The people at home must (have) suffered a lot from the shock and sorrow."

(Theodore was Ted's older brother who joined the University Company in Nov. 1915. He became ill with spinal meningitis while at a training camp in England and did not make it to France)

Sept. 8, 1916 he wrote:
"Up the line is a German dugout which the Australians took and there the Canadians relieved them. They(the Germans) certainly do nice dugouts, soft as can be made, step down and about forty feet below the ground. This one has wallpaper in it. It's all some(illegible)joint...one would think they were going to stay here for keeps."

Nov. 9, 1916
"With the 3rd battalion, having a fine time. The line is quiet and we have been putting over trench mortars and you can see them in the air, we are about 1000 yds from the German lines."

April 4, 1917
"(Spent)the morning going for water about a mile away. Coming back, Fritz put one about ten yards ahead and blew up 124 rounds of (illegible) and trench mortars and killed(one) right in a dugout and one fellow was standing on top. He (was) still going strong through the air. I was behind a plank and shrapnel was coming all around me. Marc (another soldier) was ahead of me and then he beat it around a corner and I followed down a dugout. We got half buried because Fritz puts one in the doorway and also seven more followed. Ten minutes after, we beat it for our dugout and then five stretcher cases. We got about fifty yards from our dressing area ramps and he (the enemy) blows up some more trench mortars and also (a)bridge. Very exciting time."

That is the last entry in his trench journal. He was injured shortly after and we don't think he returned to the front. After the war, Ted returned to Vernon where he raised a family. He became a fruit inspector and moved to Oliver where he retired. On April 15, 1982, the Oliver Chronicle printed a photo from the local Vimy Dinner showing Ted and eight other Vimy vets. He passed on in 1984.

Research Your Family's Military History

Stephen Davies, Project Director at the Canadian Letters and Images Project has these suggestions on how you can locate information about your family member:

  • A good starting point is always the online attestation papers from Library and Archives Canada, with the attestation papers of everyone who served. They can be searched by name or service number.
    Library and Archives Canada
  • For those who had relatives that died in the war, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission will provide information about where the individual is buried, when he died and his service number.
    Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  • For listeners who might have a Newfoundland connection, their complete service files are online, but they are not found in the Canadian attestation papers.
    The Rooms
  • Complete service records can be ordered for any WWI Canadian soldier. (It can take about nine months to receive the information.)
    Collections Canada
  • For those listeners who don't have a relative or have service records, but are interested to see what they contain, Library and Archives Canada has put some online, including about 30 from BC.
    Collections Canada
  • For listeners who know who their relative served with (i.e. which battalion, etc) they can read what happened on any particular day through the War Diaries - the daily records kept by every battalion. This is particularly useful if the date of death is known. If someone has the date of death, they can then go to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission listed above, which also usually indicates what battalion they served with, which can then be used to search the War Diaries.
    War Diaries
  • A less well known online collection is the Circumstances of Death Register. If someone's relative was killed during the war, this can provide more specific detail of how and location.
    Circumstances of Death Register
  • For general interest, Gerald Nicholson's official history of the Canadian Expeditionary Force is also online.
    Gerald Nicholson's official history of the Canadian Expeditionary Force
  • For the full story of Canada and its overseas commitment visit the Canadian Expeditionary Force study group.
    Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group
  • List of regiments that changed and merged with others through the war Canadian Infantry and Mounted Battalions
  • List of  Canadian Divisions


TELL YOUR STORY

In 400 - 600 words describe your family member. Include photos of people, medals and/or memorials in your community. Net proceeds from this project with Harbour Publishing will benefit the CANADIAN LETTERS and IMAGES PROJECT at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo. The letters and photos included in this on-line archive tell the story of individual Canadians who experienced war, a compelling reminder of the human cost of war.

E-mail: almanac@cbc.ca

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