Vimy Ridge Day

Canada remembers Vimy Ridge and all who were affected by the battle today.  Image1

The following is the history (from RootsWeb) of one man who saw far too much of the war, including a stint as a stretcher-bearer at Vimy Ridge.  Cecil Ash made it through the war and up to the Peace Country.  His biography is quite interesting, especially because of the simple style in which it is written:

  • Name: Cecil Leopold ASH
  • Sex: M
  • Birth: 13 SEP 1890 in Clapham Junction, London, England
  • Death: BET AUG AND SEP 1977
  • Note:

    Background:
    Cecil is pronounced with a long e sound.
    1890 – 1910
    Cecil’s mother had a sweet shop. Cecil was 12 when his dad died of TB (1902).
    Cecil’s mother raised him like a girl. He had to wear ruffles and bow ties. She was very strict. He couldn’t even ride his father’s bike. Cecil hated the counting house, and the choir.
    When Cecil was going to school and growing up after his father die he was forced to go to church every Sunday. He saw there were hypocrites at church. They went to church on Sunday but did not live their beliefs. He got to hate it.
    Cecil didn’t want to die of TB. He preferred another country to live.
    He’ll never be forgiven in England for because he “chucked everything and moved to Canada”.
    When he was about 20 Cecil came to Canada. Before that he wanted to be a sailor but his mother said NO. He decided maybe he would come to Canada. His mother said “don’t write home and complain”. He never did.

    1910
    In 1910 he came to Canada for the first time. He worked on farms in Ontario (near Owen Sound) for about 1 year. He worked on farms around Calgary ranching, rounding up cows using horses. He worked on a steam plower that had 16 plows on a platform. He was also a baggage handler for the CPR. He worked in Kelowna but there was no living there.
    In 1912 someone died in England. The inheritance paid for the trip. He went back to England to get it and found it was not a much as he thought. He almost came back on the Titanic. He came back on the next boat after because it was booked. He came back to Calgary in a time when cowboys wore 6 shooters. The populations was about 12,000.
    1914 spring war broke out in France – 1919
    Cecil joined the Canadian Army in 1914 in Calgary. He trained in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He went overseas in the fall. He went to France in February, 1915. He was in the Medical corps until 1919. He was gassed twice. He was in all the major battles in the first World War in France (1916, 1917, 1918)
    He was a stretcher barer in the Medical Corps. He hated the first world war and the stupidity of it all. He was a stretcher barer in the trenches on Vimy Ridge. His Medals are in the museum in Spirit River, Alberta. Stan has is passport and papers at his house. Grandpa never talked about the war. A couple of time she showed us the medals, but would never tell us much about them and certainly didn’t brag about how, when, or where he got them. Cecil did tell Barbara Ash stories about the war.
    Cecil got his ivory chess men in the trenches in Germany. Owen Samuel Ash has these now. Some of the group wanted Cecil to join them in the hallway to play checkers. Cecil didn’t go. Morter came and blew up all the checker players. Archway and a friend got his head blown right off.
    According to Reg, war was very cruel to women. They were fair play to all soldiers. First the Germans, then the English. The Germans lined up and gave them a shot of syphilis or Gonorrhea (venereal disease). There was not as much trading back and for in the second world war. The Americans were bad for this, the Canadians not as much. In the second world war the Negroes were allowed out on the town one night, the whites the next. There were always two separate groups and they were never together.
    Cecil was near a monastery full of nuns. Someone thought they were harboring people from the opposite side. Sometimes people thought that the way a woman hung her laundry was a signal to the German’s. They thought they were German spies and shelled them.
    Cecil was appalled by all of it. The Red Cross stuff for soldiers never got there. When they had all dying people on stretchers priests only talked to their own. The Salvation Army talked to everyone. This is why Cecil’s final tributes went to the Salvation Army.
    Cecil didn’t want to kill people so he joined the medical corps as a stretcher barer at the beginning. He was a water boy in France. A donkey was used to pack the water. Cecil could pick the time he went out to the front lines, when the shelling was the least. He learned about water treatment.

    In 1918 Cecil and Lillian met in a seaside resort. They got engaged in 1918. Grandma and Grandpa talked about the “stroll” where girls would walk by and hope the boys would see them The boys would hang by the side hoping to see girls. This street or square was the meeting place for young people at the time. I assume this is where they met and got to know each other. Grandpa and Grandma both smiled a lot and glanced at each other when they talked about it.
    In 1919 Cecil was discharged from the Army.
    1920 – 1929
    When Cecil came back from the war, machinery was high priced, land was high priced. Cecil wanted to go the Peace Country earlier but didn’t want to bring a war bride to the wilderness. Cecil always wanted to be a Mountie, however there was not enough pay for a man and family.
    After the first world war, soldiers were lent money by the Soldiers Settlers Board to buy a quarter of land, a cow, horse and chickens to get established in agriculture. Many of the soldiers did not know much about farming and Canada had lots of open spaces. Someone had land for sale. The Soldiers Settlers Board bought it for you. The government ran it. (in WWII they were advisors). For example if the Soldiers Settlers Board told you could not sow Barley after June 18, you couldn’t. Someone in Ottawa told you when to buy and sell. If you wanted by sell your cows in the fall and buy in the spring you couldn’t because they wouldn’t allow it. For example, some people from Rolla got a loan in 1918 and didn’t pay it back until 1952. Agriculture goes in waves . If you come in at the bottom you are in trouble.
    In 1920 Cecil bought his first farm in Crossfield through the Soldiers Settlers Board.
    They had pigs at one time in Crossfield before Reg was old enough to remember.
    Cecil’s mother Madeline had 2 houses in England. Cecil was engaged to Lily. In about 1920 she sold one of the houses and gave the money to Lily and encouraged her to go to Canada because ” Cecil would never send for her”. Lily bought a ticket and on May 20 Cecil met Lily on the train in Calgary. They married May 24, 1920. Eddie Brandon tied cow bells under the bed when Cecil and Lillian got married. They were married in the manse in Calgary. The preachers wife stood up for them. She made them a cake. The next day they went to the farm. At 4 am they got up to work and put in the crop instead of going on a honeymoon.
    The money from the sale of the house that Phyllis talked about was probably used to help them set up in Crossfield. Phyllis thought it was used when they moved to the Peace Country, however Stan says they were broke when they moved to the Peace Country.
    Cecil and Lillian had a thick farm book including information about things such as plow horses. Cecil went by the book. Their farm in Crossfield was in a frosty hail belt. On their first farm in Crossfield they had bad luck and lost the farm. Cecil was broke. He walked in an quit. They planned to move before the depression hit. In Crossfield they lived 4 miles from town. They had cows and pigs. He was on the school board. Cecil was one of the founding members of the Alberta Wheat Pool. In Crossfield Cecil looked after the money. After Crossfield Lillian always looked after the money. Cecil always bought what he needed.
    Jim and Charlie Lott had a store in Crossfield. They and Eddie Brandon. Ed, Arnold and Alton Michael, Emerson Wabaror, and Cecil and Lillian and family all moved from Crossfield in about 1929, and homesteaded in Whitburn.

    In 1929, Cecil came to the Peace Country.
    1930 – 1936
    In about 1930 they settled in Whitburn, Alberta close to Gordondale. Mostly bachelors lived in Whitburn. After they left only Ash’s and Keysers were left there alone and there were not enough children for a school. After 6 years building up, they moved somewhere where the children could get an education. They never really farmed. In Whitburn he had 5 – 7 acres broke, a house and a barn and a little more land cleared. Cecil was a Road foreman. He also worked threshing in the fall. He returned to Crossfield once or twice to thresh. In about 1932 or 1933 Cecil left home to cut brush on the Gordondale highway. It poured rain, so they came home. They would go, it would rain, and they would come home. It was a wet year.
    Cecil also got the mail. Lily got some money from her father’s estate. With this money they bought a team, horses and a wagon. Cecil never hunted moose, but shot small animals such as rabbits and prairie chicken for food. Cecil did not believe in killing. After they got the cow they would butcher the calf and eat it.
    In 1934 Cecil had a mail contract for the post office in Gordondale at Alec Menzies. When Lillian’s father died, that was where they got the money to buy the horses for the mail Cecil got $208/year to haul the mail. Cecil hauled the mail from Gordondale to Whitburn for 12 years, 1934 – 1946. On Thursday he went from Gordondale to Whitburn at Jack Taylor’s (an English bachelor who flew airplanes in the first world war). The next day he would return to Gordondale.
    In 1934 when Cecil hauled the mail and the Social Credit first came in, the ballots had not arrived. Reg had to take the ballots to Henry Kirkness’s. Cecil wouldn’t talk religion or politics. He was working a government job and couldn’t afford to say what he was because he’d loose his mail job..

    1937
    From the spring of 1937 to the Fall of 1939, when they moved to Gordondale they lived in the Chapman house on the quarter north of Buck Smiths down along the creek.
    In 1939 Reg helped build the first house in Gordondale on the hill. The logs from Whitburn were sawed for the Gordondale house. It was built to fit the size of the lumber. some new logs were cut. It had a board roof and floor.
    Cecil’s health was not good. He had neuralgia in his eye. In 19?? he had his eye removed and replaced with a glass eye.
    Cecil didn’t drive. He never learned how to drive and never had a car. He always walked to visit Ed Johnston. Cecil hauled the mail between Whitburn and Gordondale?
    Lily – many times said if she had the money she would have returned to England
    Cecil stuttered. That was a detriment. In about a1975 when he moved to the Seniors Lodge in Spirit River, for some reason he no longer stuttered.
    Cecil was an NDP – a socialist. When everybody started talking politics, he’d get really excited .

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One Response to Vimy Ridge Day

  1. What a character. He didn’t mind doing whatever he could for work and seemed to bounce back from any situation that tried to get him down. Very admirable man.

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