Back from the dead: A Saint John family's roller coaster war story

In the 'fog of war' Saint John soldier Earl Logan's family was told he was killed in action in November 1917. It was later learned he was wounded, and very much alive.

Lt. Earle Logan recovered in hospital after his family was told he was dead

Lt. Earle Logan of Saint John was wounded by a combination artillery strike and gas attack shortly after the battle of Passchendaele in the First World War. (Submitted Logan family)

On a single day in August, 1917 Canadian Captain G. Earle Logan with the 7th Reserve Battalion in England got two telegrams from home. The first informed him his four-year old-daughter, 'Gerry' was very sick with Diphtheria. The second, from his devastated wife, Emma said simply: "Geraldine passed away this morning. I need you."

A century later grandson, John Logan's eyes still brim when he looks at that cable.

"I've got four daughters, I can't even imagine how devastating it would be to lose your oldest child," said Logan. "When you can't do anything to comfort your spouse or to be there and to shoulder some of the burden and emotional distress."

Trapped in an overseas war, grieving and utterly helpless to assist his family, Logan said his grandfather reacted in a way that still leaves the family bewildered: He reverted to the lower rank of lieutenant, got himself assigned to a front line battalion, and shipped for Flanders. Intended or not, by the brutal math of the Great War, it was the surest way for a soldier from any army to get himself home. 

Injured but reported dead

Three months later, in November 1917 Lt. Logan was carried from the field, wounded by a combination artillery strike and gas attack. But while the injuries were non life-threatening, his wife at home got an entirely different story.

It came in the form of a blunt and devastating telegram, the same one received by tens of thousands of Canadian families: Datelined 'Ottawa', it began "Deeply regret to inform you …"

Just three months after the death of her eldest child, Emma Logan was now informed her husband was also dead. 

Emma and Earle Logan's four-year-old daughter, Geraldine was stricken with Diphtheria in Aug. 1917. She died within days. (Submitted: Logan family)

As a young, respected barrister, the Saint John newspapers quickly ran with the story. "Sacrifice of War Comes Home Once More to Loyalist City," read the front page headline in the Daily Telegraph. "Lieutenant G. Earle Logan, One of St John's Most Brilliant Young Lawyers, Gives Life in Cause."

But even as the city's newspapers fleshed out stories with precious few facts to work with, a new telegram arrived at the Logan home on Tower Street in what is now west Saint John. It was from Emma's husband Earle, in hospital and very much alive. It said simply: "Gassed Not serious."

"It seemed like the fog of war descended upon my grandfather very quickly when he was wounded," said Logan.

'Serious, not serious'

He still has the telegram and points to a column of repeated words written on the back by his reeling grandmother. "Serious" and "not serious" cascade down the page in pencil as Emma Logan tried to process the new reality.

After being informed of her husband's death, Emma Logan got a telegram from him. He'd been gassed but was alive. (Submitted: Logan family)

But this telegram was very much true. Weeks later Lt. Logan was discharged from hospital.

He spent Christmas, 1917 aboard a ship bound back to Canada.

He served the remainder of the war with the 26th Battalion's Depot Battalion in Sussex.

Family legend

In the 'fog of war' Saint John soldier Earl Logan's family was told he was killed in action in November 1917. It was later learned he was wounded, and very much alive. 0:38

Earle Logan's story is family legend says grandson, John.

After the war he went on to became a police magistrate, and a founder of what is now the Royal Canadian Legion in New Brunswick.

Emma Logan went on to be recognized for volunteer and philanthropic work in her remaining years. She died in 1937.

"Remembrance Day is a very special day in our family. It's about remembering those who served," said Logan. "And I think more importantly, and this story tells that story, it's about those who stayed behind."