Guest Column: Sarnia’s entry in the First World War

Randy Evans

August 5th, 2014 marks the centenary of Canada’s entry into the First World War.

The Declaration of War upon Germany began a cross-country enlistment and the eventual conscription of some 600,000 individuals who would make up the Canadian Expeditionary Forces.

With a population of just 10,000 Sarnia joined in with its contribution to the war effort.  Those coming forward covered the familial and economic spectrum of the community. Predominately with ages in their late teens and twenties, no less than 1,090 of its citizens would sign up to do their duty.

Three of the volunteers were female nurses.

Inevitably, the ultimate sacrifice would be paid by Sarnians who heralded the call for King and Country.

Of its war dead, a few died on active training.  Another perished after his hospital ship was torpedoed in the Atlantic. The rest would expire either in the heat of battle or thereafter from wounds suffered at the hands of the enemy.

Pte. Roy Iliffe ushered in Sarnia’s war dead with his death in action in the chlorine gas-infected Second Battle of Ypres on April 22, 1915.  Lt. Neil Hanna suffered the last local overseas death in Italy on November 20th, 1918, tragically six days after Armistice.

By the end of hostilities, those remaining at home had to endure personal official telegrams and newspaper casualty lists of at least one hundred and twenty deaths to its men preparing for, or as a result of, enemy action.

Fifteen-year-old Pte. Robert Batey was the youngest killed.  At 52, Major Doctor David Bentley was the oldest.

For some, their resting places are commemorated at the Allied War cemeteries established after the War.  But for 34 from the city there is no known place of burial.  Having been lost at sea, or having disappeared into the mud of Flanders, or having been atomized by enemy artillery shelling, the names of these men are commemorated at the Mennin Gate and on The Vimy Memorial.

Sadly for Sarnia, the war death count did not end overseas.  Many of the city’s soldiers returned with wounded bodies, disturbed minds and broken spirits.  Within two years of the guns being silenced, fully 14 of the returning soldiers died prematurely while en route or after arriving home.

They all were of Sarnia’s best.

Lest we forget.

 Randy Evans is a retired Assistant Crown Attorney and contributor to The Sarnia War Remembrance Project, a local volunteer effort bringing out the stories of the city’s fallen in major wars and conflicts.