Kitchener library researches local WWI soldiers

The Kitchener Public Library wants your help researching World War I soldiers before the 100th anniversary of the start of the war later this year. Here's how you can help.
The soldier card for Elgin Eby, a soldier from Waterloo Region who died in France in World War I. Eby attained the rank of lance corporal. (Kitchener Public Library )

Thanks to the help of over 120 volunteers, the Kitchener Public Library has a much clearer picture of the local soldiers who fought overseas a century ago in the First World War. 

The goal of "the Soldier Card Project" was to assemble more information about local soldiers for an online directory, created to mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the war. The 120 volunteers are working with the library to find out more about the lives and deaths of the local soldiers, according to librarian Karen Ball-Pyatt.

Some of the soliders were harder to find than others, according to Ball-Pyatt, including Private Samuel Bailey, who's trail went cold early in the search.

 "We eventually ended up looking for his wife's grave," she told Craig Norris in an interview with The Morning Edition on Thursday. "We made an inquiry to the local cemetery and apparently he was buried with his wife and her family but didn't appear on the headstone." 

To hear more about the project, click on the interview at left. 

CBC K-W requested a solider to research. Here is what we found out about Elgin Earl Eby.

Lance Corporal Elgin Eby

Elgin Earl Eby was born on November 18, 1895 to Dilman and Katherine Eby (nee Steuernagel) in Berlin, Ontario.

(Kitchener Public Library)

He was the first child to the Mennonite couple, who were married nine years earlier on January 6, 1886. They lived for a period in Maryborough Township in Wellington County before returning to Berlin.

Dilman worked as a builder and a carpenter. Three years later, Elgin's sister Candace was born. 

But tragedy struck early. Eby's father died at age 45, when Eby himself was just five years old. At 11, his mother died, leaving Elgin and Candace orphaned.

This diary except from the Gordon Christian diary provides the smallest glimpse of Eby's life at age 17. It is quoted verbatim (typos and grammatical errors included):

"Sun. Oct. 6 1912 Got up about 9 oclock - was a sunny fine day - had breakfast, milked - as I was ready to take cows out about 10 thirty oclock, my cousins from New Hamburg, George Rush and Nathaniel Stear also a friend of theirs Elgin Eby very distant cousin of ours came down in the barn with their horse - I took cows out with the wheel -when I came back I asked the boys where their friend was - they told me that he went up town to visit his sister for the day up on Queen St. at Shantze's - both Elgin's parents are dead. I and the boys got some grapes after dinner, then went to the park boat riding - had some fun being rocked about by the swells from the gasoline launch, which Mr. Bush had in command - Otto Kern and a bunch of girls were on it – Sam and Herb were here evenings - around 8 oclock as I was milking, the first time by electric light Nathaniel Stear and George Rush being with me. Elgin Eby came to drive home with the boys. We went in the house to play the phonograph again for awhile - then helped boys to get horse ready, bid them good-by. Got our horse ready and drove Frany home -got to bed around 11 oclock."

It was in 1912 – on June 9 – that Berlin officially became a city. 

Two years later Eby joined the army, enlisting with for the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force on September 23, 1915. According to Eby's attestation papers, he worked as a moulder, he was five feet and eight inches tall with blue eyes and a scar on his left cheekbone. He enlisted when he was 19 years and 10 months old. Candace, his sister, was listed as as his next of kin.

Eby was a member of the Canadian Infantry, Central Ontario Regiment, 75th Battalion, service number 126708. 

While Eby was fighting overseas, the city of Berlin's name was changed to Kitchener in 1916 amid a wave of anti-German sentiment. The city was named after Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener who was Britain's secretary of state for war, who died when his ship hit a mine in off northern Scotland that same year. 

Eby died on September 30, 1918  at age 23 and is buried in the Cantimpre Canadian Cemetery, near the small town of Sailly in the Nord district of France.

His sister Candace married Archibald Stouffer at age 23 in Decemeber 1921, and lived a long life. She died in 1998 at age 100. 

About the Author

Andrea Bellemare is a reporter and producer with CBC News who currently focuses on disinformation, tech and privacy. She helped launch the new CBC Kitchener-Waterloo radio station in 2013, reported for CBC Montreal and produced radio docs for CBC Radio. She has also reported for the wire service Agence France-Presse.