World War I for Canada was the defining series of events, where our country became a fully independent “nation”. We fought with Britain as equals. We had our own commanding officers. More than 60,000 made the supreme sacrifice. Our soldiers were feared and respected in combat. Canada as a small county of eight million, punched far above its weight.
But what of the individuals who served and returned. What became of them?
They brought back the stories of the bravery and the horrors of war. They said, “Never again”! Many returnees were amputees, others with broken and gassed bodies. Minds were damaged and twisted, that cried out for care, but they were labeled as weak and silenced by scorn. Many men fared well.
I will explore three survivors and thrivers in my family connection: Lt. Col. J.A.V. Preston, Pte. A.B. Preston and Pte. P.B. Seymour.
First, Percy Balfour Seymour. Percy signed up for the Canadian 3rd Division in January 1916. He had wanted to be a dentist. He was a farmer’s son who had to work on the farm. However he felt it was his duty to join the army. He would return over three years later to his beloved Cavan Township, near Peterborough, a changed man.
Three years ago, I learned from his daughter, Marion Penrose, what he actually did while on the front. Percy was a driver in the 3rd Division Ammunition Column. His drove a team of horses, either with a gun in tow or with artillery shells. His role and that of his unit was to keep the Canadian 3rd Army supplied at the front with ordnance. That meant driving the supplies from the behind the lines depots, to the guns on the front or in the trenches.
Percy also would strap 4 shells in a mule’s back, walking through No-Man’s Land at night. His commander’s said he should have been killed many times over. He was not. He was gassed at the Somme, surviving and returning to action.
He led a productive life following WWI.
Now there is a story to tell!