Sixty three names.
They are easy to forget because they didn’t write a best-selling novel, nor strike it rich.
They weren’t prime ministers or famous personalities; they were Yukoners, ordinary folk, and the names would be lost to us if we didn’t try to remember them. They are the dead from the Great War of 1914-1918, which became known as the First World War when we had an even longer and, bloodier war only 20 years later.
With only one Canadian veteran from the First World War still alive at 108 years of age, the memory of this tragic conflict has slipped from living memory to the written, which makes it all the more important for us to remember.
Coming up with the complete list of Yukon war dead was not easy. The plaque in Whitehorse has a list of 13 names on it, but the list in Dawson was physically out of reach, so I have to extend my thanks to Valery Monahan, Ed and Star Jones, and particularly, John Gould, for helping me to compile the list of names.
The Great War came suddenly upon the Yukon. A message was slipped to Commissioner George Black while he attended a theatre party at Dawson City’s only cinema, August 4, 1914, and he announced to the assembled crowd the awful news that war had been declared between Britain and Germany.
Local business leader Joe Boyle immediately set about recruiting and equipping a machine gun battery, with 50 men, which, it is claimed, was one of the most decorated units of the war. Boyle went on to distinguish himself, earning medals from several different nations, and saving the Crown jewels of Romania. The story has a very romantic ring to it. Boyle survived the war but died a few years later.
Yukoners rallied around the flag. During the four years of conflict, 561 men from the territory enlisted, which was a per capita rate far higher than that of the rest of Canada. Yukon residents also donated more to the war effort financially than those of any other part of the country. Had the rest of Canada responded with the same magnanimity, the contribution to the war chest would have been 10 times what it was.
George Black, too, wanted to do his patriotic duty, but it was two years before he resigned as commissioner of the Yukon to enlist. He organized an infantry company, of which, with the rank of captain, he was placed in command.
For him, it was a family affair. Step-son Lyman, who used the name Black after his mother married George, made the name change legal when, still a student of 17, he too enlisted. Martha’s sons Donald and Warren (Purdy) also enlisted, in different branches of the American military.
Martha insisted upon coming along, and after convincing the powers-that-be, she sailed to England as the only woman of 2,000 on the troop ship SS Canada that transported her husband and son to war.
While George and Lyman served in the trenches in France, Martha served as unofficial emissary from the Yukon, and acted as welcome wagon for all the homesick Yukon soldiers who passed through London to and from the battlefront.
George received a machine gun bullet wound in one leg in an offensive at Amiens in August of 1918, but recovered rapidly. He light-heartedly referred to his injury as a blighty, the most fortunate of injuries: one which would take a man out of active service without causing grievous physical damage. Lyman, for an act of battlefield bravery, was awarded the Military Cross.
Others weren’t so lucky and paid the ultimate price. Charlie Phillips was the first to lose his life, in the East African campaign.
Over four years, 62 more names were added to the list. Albert Brown was a teller at the Bank of Commerce in Whitehorse. George Chapman was the son of the man who ran the steam power generating plant in Dawson. Alfred Cronin worked as a clerk for the Northern Commercial store in Whitehorse. Jack Taylor was the son of the magistrate in Whitehorse. Social position allowed no favouritism in matters of life and death. All of them are buried in France.
Anthony Blaikie won both the Military Medal and the Distinguished Conduct Medal, but neither was sufficient to secure his life. He lies buried in the Pargny British Cemetery in Somme, France. Aubrey Forrest was killed August 21, 1918, and is also buried near Somme, France. Blaikie was 42 years old; Forrest was 38.
Of the 300,000 British Empire soldiers who died in the Battles of Ypres, remains of 55,000 were never recovered. Among those were privates Frank De Sales and Joseph Tilton. Both were killed October 30, 1917. Tilton enlisted in Dawson City April 13, 1916. They were part of a major offensive to gain a few hundred yards of sodden, crater-filled wasteland and take the village of Passchendaele from the Germans. By the time they took it, there was nothing left of the village.
When Joseph Dupont, at 33 years old, died October 18, 1918, the war was nearly over.
Private Alfred Clinton Totty was killed September 2, 1918. The son of the Anglican minister at Moosehide, he was buried at Pas De Calais, in France.
Lieutenant Colonel Charles James Townshend Stewart, age 44, served with the Eastern Ontario Regiment of the Canadian Infantry. Recipient of both the Distinguished Order and the Croix de Guerre (France); he died September 28, 1918, and is buried in Nord, France.
These are but a few of those who died.
They were enlisted men and officers, young and old. They are buried in France, Belgium, and other places, taken from us in battles like those of Passchendaele, Beaumont-Hamel and Vimy. We remember them by their name, rank, date of birth and place of death. Their names are merely a few among the thousands who died in the service of their country.
They are not statistics, they were flesh and blood. They had families back home; some had children who would never see their father again.
Let us not forget them:
Allen, Arthur James
Breese, William Lawrence
Brown Albert E. (S)
Butler, Percy A (S)
Cassidy, George C.
Chapman, George M. (S)
Chute, Frederick R.
Cronin, Alfred (S)
Currie, George Byron
De Sales, Frank
Dupont, Joseph Victor E.
Ellis, George Robert
Fisher, Bruce (S)
Forrest, Aubrey E.
Hanratty, Ernest B.
Hare, William (S)
Joyal, Joseph (S)
La Blanche, Fred
Martin, Patrick John
McLelland, Arthur G. (S)
M’Collom, Russell C.
McDonald, Hugh J.
McNeill, Stephen J.
Newton Harold A.E. (S)
O’Brien, Charles Thomas
Otis, George E.
Phillips, Charles W.
Raymond George Vail (S)
Rogers, Bliss H.
Slavin, Frank C.
Stevens, Marshal Tibbits
Stewart Hugh (S)
Snyder Hilliard (S)
Taylor Jack (S)
Totty, Alfred Clinton
Watters, James Bow
Wyatt, Frederick Filmore
Michael Gates is a local historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse.