Sunday, 11 November 2018

One of many, remembered today …

Today Sunday 11th November 2018, marks the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, the cessation of fighting along the entire Western Front which began at precisely 11.00am (French time) that morning. It brought to an end over four years of a horrific, devastating and bloody conflict, the Great War ~ “The War to End All Wars” ~ a phrase or line originally idealistic but now used mainly sardonically.

Three of my own family fought in that conflict, of those two never came home. They were my granduncles, John Kerr of the Royal Naval Division (Drake Battalion) killed on 4 February 1917 aged 19 and Hugh Wright of 6th Battalion Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) who died on 30 June 1916 aged 32. The only survivor was Hugh's brother David Wright of 5th Battalion Scottish Rifles (19th Infantry Brigade), who himself tragically lost his only son also named Hugh to the next Great War ~ a Royal Engineer attached to the 49th Infantry Division who was killed on 21 October 1944 in Belgium aged 26.

On this day of remembrance and special anniversary, I have chosen to write about a young soldier of the Canadian Expeditionary Force whose lonely and now perhaps forgotten grave can be found at Maple Leaf Cemetery not far from my home in the South Shore of Nova Scotia.

Conquerall Bank, South Shore, Nova Scotia

On a hill overlooking the LaHave River, a corner of Conquerall Bank that is forever 
Edson Daniel Berrigan

His name was Edson Daniel Berrigan who by the age of 19 was employed in civilian life as a schoolteacher. He was born in Conquerall Bank, Nova Scotia on 14 March 1897 to parents James Anthony Berrigan, a carpenter by trade and Laura Corabelle Berrigan (nee Rafuse).

Edson enlisted on 2 March 1916 in neighbouring town of Bridgewater. His Medical Certificate dated 29 February 1916, describes him as being 18 years and 11 months, 5’ 9” in height, a girth when fully expanded of 38” with an expansion range of 3”, his weight 155lbs, brown eyes, dark brown hair and good physical development. The same document notes his religion as being Church of England.

Like many from Canada, Edson now with Regimental Number 734301 and assigned to the 112th “Overseas” Canadian Battalion Expeditionary Force embarked from Halifax, sailing aboard the S.S. Olympic on 23 July 1916 arriving in Liverpool, England on 31 July.

After training in England, he was sent to a Canadian Base Depot (CBD) on 11 October 1916 in Northern France. A short time later on 25 October he was diagnosed with Tonsillitis, the first of many difficult and enduring medical issues.

On 15 April 1917 Edson was dispatched to the 25th Battalion Nova Scotia Rifles. Soon after, his military records indicate that during May 1916 he was gassed and hospitalized in Wimereux. Perhaps a direct result of this, Edson suffered regular illness leading to time being spent at a Convalescent Depot in Le Harve. Some of the issues which appear to have limited his active service include scabies, impetigo, erythema and dermatitis.

With continuing medical problems Edson was “Invalided & Posted” on the 14 February 1918 to “Nova Scotia Regt. Depot” in Bramshott, England, a location regularly used by Canadian forces in both WWI and WWII. While there on the 14 November 1918 three days after the Armistice, Edson for undocumented reasons suffered from concussion.

With the war now over, it was on 12 December that Edson sailed from Liverpool, whereupon his arrival in Halifax on 20 December he was “Posted to Casualty Unit”. A month later on the 18 January 1919 he received his Discharge Certificate for reason of demobilization.

Likely brought on by his weakened state of health, Edson was once again hospitalized on 14 February at Cogswell Military Hospital, Halifax with pneumonia, where he died on Wednesday 19 February 1919 at 6.40pm. He was buried high on the hill of Maple Leaf Cemetery in Conquerall Bank, a position looking over the LaHave River. The location is marked with a Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) gravestone.

734301 PRIVATE
19TH  FEB 1919.


Beside Edson in Maple Leaf Cemetery is the weather beaten wooden grave marker of his infant sister. She was born 17th January 1900 and died nine months later on 8th September. Edson’s parents survived him, with his father dying on 22 November 1940 aged 70 and his mother on 15 October 1947 aged 72.

JAN’Y 17th
SEP’T 8th 1900

Edison's name on the Honour Rolls at Bridgewater's Veterans Memorial Park

What is scripted here is a limited summary of Edson’s military experience. There is much more which could be extracted and written from the within the 84 pages of documents that I have uncovered about him ~ perhaps a project for the future. But for the moment I am satisfied that the little corner in Conquerall Bank that is forever Edson Daniel Berrigan, has now been given some visibility, recognition and importantly a voice.

It is not clear from his military records if Edson like so many thousands of his comrades, suffered and endured the daily horrors of trench warfare which was so adequately and readily offered up within the torn landscape of Northern France. He may not have witnessed the all too common pain and agony of seeing friends killed and maimed within the tragic devastation of this industrial war. What he does however share in abundance with over a million Commonwealth troops from that conflict is his sacrifice, his lost years, his grieving family and the eternal hope that he and that lost generation will be always be remembered.

You may question as to why Edson who died after the Armistice of 11th November 1918 qualified as a CWGC casualty and received their gravestone. The qualifying dates for CWGC recognition are from the 4 August 1914 when Britain declared war on Germany to 31 August 1921. The former date which is almost three years after war's end was chosen to capture those who would have died after as a result of injury sustained during the war, of which there was over 75000 ultimately recorded.

It was interesting to read within Edson’s military records that his pay was $5 per month, which he continually assigned to his mother at home in Nova Scotia. In recognition of her personal contribution to the Great War, on 25 August 1920 she received the Memorial Cross which was awarded to mothers or next of kin of Canadian soldiers who died on active duty, or whose death was consequently attributed to such duty.

I have no knowledge as to why Edson enlisted, he could have remained in his teaching job or contributed in other ways via the many employment opportunities within the expanding Nova Scotia war industry. Like many young men throughout the Commonwealth or more accurately for the time The British Empire, it is possible that he got caught up in the patriotism and idealistic enthusiasm leading him to believe in the rightness of the idea.
The Great War started with a glamorized view of war and rallying call which fueled the hopes and dreams of young men, including many who lied about their age, encouraging them to fight for personal glory and national honour. Once they realized the catastrophic horrors which awaited them, this ideal patriotism was however rightly viewed as being misguided. Wilfred Owen a soldier and WWI poet who was killed on the 4th November 1918, one week before the Armistice, wrote of this in the final stanza of his tragically descriptive poem Dulce et Decorum Est ~

“My friend, you would not tell with such zest
To children ardent for some glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.”

“The old lie" ~ is a Latin phrase by the Roman poet Horace, translated ~ “It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country”

For Wilfred Owen, who had experienced the horrors of trench warfare and witnessed poison gas attacks, there was nothing sweet and nothing fitting about giving one’s life for one’s country.

All that remains for us to do, is to always remember them …..

1 comment:

  1. A lovely tribute to a local hero. I had no idea his grave was up the road from us - I pass that cemetery often and have never wandered through. I also had no idea of the qualifying dates - fitting as so many came back from the war injured and dying. It is a wonder why he would have enlisted - but as you say, they may have got caught up in the patriotism of fighting for one's country and freedom. My own grandfather (maternal) lied about his age in order to enlist.

    Thank you for sharing Edson's story.