Haddon

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

Mrs. Ellis
Weno, Alberta
Canada

Dear Madam,

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
Sincerely Yours,
Stu Brown (Pte)
3rd Troop “C” Sqdn.

https://www.canadianletters.ca/content/document-15010

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.

Aftermath

Have you ever seen this photograph? When we think of the soaring monument that now towers above Vimy Ridge, we rarely if ever recall that Adolph Hitler once toured the site.

The fall out from the battle of Arras and the capture of Vimy Ridge by the Canadians had a number of important consequences.

First of all, although the Canadians had not been expected or even particularly wanted to meet their objectives, the Allies had not had a victory for quite some time and the media, the public and the British generals needed a win to brag about. The news of the victory circled the world, written on a scroll of purple, with a pen of gold.

The skilled and efficient action of the Canadian troops had seriously impressed the British generals. The training that had been provided had been an experiment in warfare, with ordinary soldiers having the battle plan explained to them, being taught what they were doing and why. Military strategy was no longer the exclusive property of the military elite, and the results had been impressive. The performance had drawn the gaze of Field Marshal Douglas Haig. For an army that had proven it could do the impossible, he had another assignment in mind — the capture of a little village in Belgium that had been lost to the Allies in 1915 — called Passchendaele.

For the Allies, three thousand five hundred ninety eight men were killed at Vimy Ridge. Seven thousand and four were wounded. The toll for the Germans is estimated to be even worse although the numbers of those who were wounded, killed and missing is unknown. Four thousand were captured.

This is easy to forget as a Canadian, heady with victory and history. The Germans had fought in horrible conditions too — and they fought well. The German troops stationed at Vimy were specialized fighting forces and they had shown the world why. As deadly as World War One was for the Allies, with thousands wounded, killed or simply missing, the casualties for the Germans were even worse. When the Treaty of Versailles was eventually signed, it was a harsh, punitive and humiliating document that hurt both German pride and their economy. Although World War Two is often the conflict we point to when we want to justify war, it is the direct descendant of World War One, which just might be the most pointless, inexplicable conflict in history.

When we think of the instantly recognizable iconic monument at Vimy, what many don’t know is that Hitler — a decorated veteran of World War One who was wounded on multiple occasions — once toured the site. The image of the person who symbolizes the heart of darkness superimposed on one of our most recognizable and respected national symbols is sobering.

I’d like to introduce you to two southern Alberta veterans who served at Vimy Ridge and we’ll do that in the next few days.