One hundred years ago today, my great uncle Alfred was killed in Belgium (near Ypres [now Ieper]) in WW1. He was just 20. He enlisted in July 1915 and arrived in France in February 1916. He was ‘wounded in the field’ in late May 1916, returning to duty a few days later, only to be killed two weeks later at Sanctuary Wood. Along with many thousands of others, his body was never recovered. He is memorialised on the Menin Gate Memorial.
When I started my genealogical research back in the mid-1990s, Alf was one of the first I looked for (he’s my paternal grandfather’s brother). But I couldn’t find any record of him in the British war records available on the internet at that time. As more and more information became available online, I continued looking for Alf, finally finding him via the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. But I got the biggest surprise — he didn’t fight for England, as I had presumed (this side of the family was English for many generations before him). Instead, he and one of his brothers had enlisted in Ontario, Canada, and fought for the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Forces. I still don’t know how or when they got to Canada, or, more importantly, why they fought for Canada. I can only summise that either one or both of them were rejected for military service in England so they tried from somewhere else, or there was some derring-do associated with fighting for another country. The other brother never made it out of Canada to fight for Britain — he had all sorts of illnesses that prevented him from seeing active service.
Alf’s siblings ended up scattered around the world. Jack went to Canada and then on to the US (my Michigan family connection); Fred went to Canada with Alf for WW1, then back to England, then Canada again, then England, then Western Australia; Charles (my grandfather) came direct to Western Australia in 1923 (with Fred); Kath eventually came to Western Australia (1940s); while Daisy remained in England where she grew up. And my Dad’s middle name is ‘Alfred’, no doubt in remembrance of the uncle he never knew.