In an article from our Remembrance Day e-newsletter, Bonnie Bailey tells about coming to know her Great Uncle, who fought in World War I, through researching family history. Bonnie is part of St. Andrew’s Healing Touch Team.
In my search for family history, I was ‘introduced’ to my great uncle, George Stanley Hunt. I only got to know him through the fragments of history that have survived over time as the personal keepsakes of my grandmother.
I learned that he was born in Eastern Ontario on June 15, 1887 and after moving to southern Alberta, he met and married my great aunt, Hilda Claire Gwillim, on December 10, 1912. There was the postcard sent to my grandfather, from Southampton, England in 1916, saying “Got your letter, Ray. I was certainly glad to get it. We leave from here at 4 for the Front. It’s now we are starting to Soldier. I will write later, so love to wife and boys. From Bro Geo XX.”
There was the letter to his wife, my great aunt ‘Claire’, written on September 10, 1916, parts of which say “ You thought that I would not get to the Front very soon. I sure got here, oh my dear wife. I often think of my two dear ones (referring to his son, Vincent, born in 1914) who know nothing of what is going on over here or what it is to be at war, but I pray to be spared to return to you again. I hope the war will be over soon. Has the 137th left yet? It is hard for me to write as I can’t tell you where I am, but as long as you know that I am well, may it be a comfort to you. Send me a picture of you, as I lost the whole lot that I had. England is I think the prettiest place, although part of France and Belgium is hard to beat – least it must have been before the war. The roar of guns never quits. It’s nearly as bad out of
the trenches as in them. Daddy won’t know his boy when he gets home. Now I think it is time to close for this time, hoping to hear from you soon. So bye bye from your loving boy.”
Also in the collection was the Canadian Pacific Railway Company telegram sent to my aunt from Ottawa saying “Deeply regret to inform you 161289 Private George Stanley Hunt infantry reported killed in action between September 24th and September 30th, 1916.” I suspect that the telegram arrived before the letter.
There was the newspaper clipping that
said, “Private G.S. Hunt, mentioned as killed in action only a few days ago, was employed as a teamster by the Johnson and later by the City Cartage in this city (Calgary). He lived with his wife and family at 513 – 11 Ave. West while in this city, but since his departure for overseas service with a local unit, Mrs. Hunt has resided at Albion Ridge, Alberta.” There was another clipping with his picture, along with three other soldiers, “Officially Reported Killed”.
I was later able to find his military records, one of which states “Killed in action in the area of the Somme. Body not recovered for burial.” A second document states, “Killed in action. He took part in an attack in the vicinity of Courcelette, and a comrade states that he saw his body lying in a small hole, but no further details of the actual circumstance under which he met his death are available.” Reading these words connected me directly with the tremendous sacrifices that were made during the Great War.
This past year, my husband, Roy, and I journeyed to France, Belgium and Holland to visit the battlefields of WW I and II and to hunt for any further connections to my great uncle, George Stanley Hunt. Prior to our trip, a Veterans Affairs contact in Ottawa confirmed to me that he was immortalized on the Vimy Memorial, along with the 11,000 soldiers whose bodies were never recovered from the battlefields in France. It was very moving to find his name on the wall, just a short distance from the statue of the mourning mother. So many names and so many families who grieved for their lost loved ones.
Remembrance Day has taken on a much deeper meaning for me, after getting to ‘know’ Uncle George and after visiting Vimy and the acres and acres of graves of the soldiers who never came home to their families, having sacrificed their lives for the freedom of others. Lest we Forget.