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Remembering the last Canadian WWI combat veteran

The Story


Clare Laking was 18 when he defied his father's wishes and left the family farm to enlist. He arrived in France just after Vimy Ridge, serving as a signaller who ran telephone wire along the trenches. Though he was wounded by a German shell, he believes he was the only farm boy from his area to return alive. Clare Laking died on Nov. 26, 2005, at age 106. He was the last of over 600,000 Canadians to fight in the Great War. 

Medium: Radio
Program: The World At Six
Broadcast Date: Nov. 28, 2005
Guest: Clare Laking
Reporters: Bernie McNamee, Geoff Ellwand
Duration: 3:16

Did You know?


• Clare Laking grew up in Campbellville, Ont. He told the Dominion Institute's Memory Project that his enlistment at the age of 18 was partly teenage rebellion: "When I was 18 my father was absolutely against war, and they'd have recruiting meetings in different schools, and all that rot, and he'd get up, and he embarrassed me so much running everything down that they were doing, I told him I was going to enlist."

• Laking served as a signaller in France for two years. For his achievements, he was awarded the French Legion of Honour and the Golden Jubilee medal.

• Near the end of the war, he was hit on the head by shrapnel, but he suffered only a small flesh wound. He was in the first-aid station as the war ended.

• After the war, Laking farmed in the Peace River region of Alberta for a while and then worked at a string of lumber companies in Toronto. He was married in 1929 and raised a family in the Leaside area of Toronto. He retired in 1965.
• He kept active well into his old age. He curled regularly until the age of 96, held season tickets to the Toronto Maple Leafs until 100, and held a driver's licence until he was 102.

• Clare Laking was the last Canadian veteran to have "seen action" in the war, having fought on the front lines. But in 2006, three other veterans of the Great War were still alive: Percy Wilson, 105, and Lloyd Clemett and John Babcock, both 106.
• Clemett passed away in February 2007 and Percy passed away in May 2007, leaving Babcock as the only remaining veteran of the First World War.

• In November 2006, the Dominion Institute launched an online petition lobbying for the death of the last Canadian veteran of the First World War to be marked with a full state funeral. This would symbolically commemorate the sacrifice of all those who served. The House of Commons unanimously approved the motion on Nov. 21.

• In January 2007, the remaining three veterans declared that they didn't want a state funeral. It is uncertain at this point whether there will be one or not.

• Though they were not placed in combat situations, Canadian women played a key role in the First World War. Some 2,000 Nursing Sisters enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and another 1,000 worked for the RAF. More than 30,000 women worked in munitions factories, and thousands more took work in government offices, banks, farms and factories.


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