It’s nearly one hundred and two years since the young man I never met was killed in action. I was brought up next door to the house that he lived in, I played in the fields and pastures that he would have known, I met his nieces and nephews — by the time I came along, many of his brothers and sisters were gone. Victoria Square, the little prairie town across the road from his family’s farm, has come and gone. His absence rippled through our family. He was not forgotten. But, neither was he there.
Haddon Ellis was going to high school in Ontario but in March 1912, he left his studies to escort his grandparents (my great-great grandparents) James and Rachel McElroy, to their new home in Weno, Alberta (where the East Hills development stands now on the eastern boundary of Calgary).
Haddon continued his education until he joined the Canadian Light Horse division during WWI. Family lore reports that he went to town and enlisted after an argument with his mother. Mothers and their teenagers argue, this we know. Can you imagine Haddon appearing in the kitchen doorway outfitted in his new uniform, this baby Lyda Ellis had nursed and comforted and fed and scolded. How heartbroken and responsible she must have felt when he was killed.
I was brought up hearing about the cousin who had been killed in World War One; there were a number of Haddons named in his honour on both sides of our family. Family members have travelled to where Haddon is buried in Villers Station Military Cemetery, near Vimy in France. Haddon’s family also remembered him with a memorial cairn which is located at a family property on Memorial Drive.
This is the letter that Lyda Ellis received informing her that Haddon had been killed in action.
Somewhere in France
Sept 27, 1917
I am taking the liberty of writing you on the hope that these few lines may be of a little comfort to you at this time. Having lost a Brother myself in the war and not having any news (definite) about him for some months I know it was a source of great worry to my parents so considered this rather as a duty than anything else. However I thought probably you might not get the few details that I might give you from any other source. I was not present when your son was killed but have since spoken to one of the boys that was and you may rest assured that there was no pain with his passing out as he was killed instantly. I happen to be one of his pals, as was one of four others and a trumpeter detailed to attend his funeral. You will be able to see it almost as we did if you can picture a beautiful September evening in a large military cemetery and just as the sun was going down behind the western horizon we carried him from the little chapel enshrouded in the Union Jack and laid him to rest, the Chaplain reading the burial service and afterwards the trumpeter blew the “Last Post” as everyone stood at attention and the salute.
I might also say that the Authoraties deserve great credit for the way these cemeteries are kept each in a separate grave and a nice whole wooden cross with full detail and is supplied by the soldiers Regiment. And in closing all I can say is that Private Ellis gave his life for the best cause for which a man ever donned khaki and that His Duty is done, and well done. Again hoping that you may find a spark of comfort from this information and sending you my and all the rest of the boys deepest sympathy.
I beg to remain
Stu Brown (Pte)
3rd Troop “C” Sqdn.
Although baby boys in the family were christened “Haddon”, Haddon never lived to have his own children. He never saw his family or his western Canadian home again. I’m glad to see that as a person with a farming background, he was in the cavalry. I wonder what it was like for him to witness the suffering of these ultimate neutral bystanders … animals who had been drafted by both sides into this hell created on earth.
Yesterday, we had the opportunity to choose a new provincial government. Today, some people are relieved and triumphant whilst others are angry and disappointed.
One thing I know.
This thing we call “freedom” is anything but free.