By Karla Kelly
FOR THE DIGBY COURIER
When Britain entered ‘the War to End All Wars’ on Aug. 4, 1914, her colonies and dominions were drawn into a conflict that had a major impact on many families from the rural Nova Scotian communities of Weymouth and area.
Hundreds of thousands of Canadians fought in the First World War, and 400 of those were from the Weymouth area.
Among those who contributed more than one son to the Great War were the Stehelins of New France, the Campbells of Weymouth North, the Ruggles of Weymouth and the Burtons of Burtonvale (now Weymouth Mills).
In 1895, Emile Charles Stehelin brought his wife and children from France to settle 30 kilometers in back of Weymouth in what became known as New France. Although the Stehelins had become naturalized Canadians by war’s start, six of Stehelin’s eight sons were required by law to enlist in the French military in August, 1914.
Because the boys spoke English, lived in Canada and were British subjects, they all were posted to the Canadian Divisional Artillery.
At age 43, Charles Stehelin was with the 1st Brigade Canadian Field Artillery, 1st Canadian Division, during the second battle of Ypres, when he penned a letter to his friend Harry Smith of Digby on May 4, 1915.
“I am in the thickest of the battle, what the papers will probably call the second battle of the Yser (Ypres). Here I am sitting on some straw with my rifle on one side and my water bottle on the other, thinking of dear Nova Scotia.
“It is an awful war. It will take a long time to finish it. We are not at the end of our sacrifice.”
The Stehelins’ oldest son, Emile Jean, was exempt until 1915 as he had several children. He signed with the 165th Acadian Battalion in the Forestry Corps running a logging and sawmill operation in the south of France.
Although all six Stehelin boys survived the war, Emile Jean was the only son who returned to Nova Scotia to be reunited with his family in Church Point.
New France and the land belonging to it were sold and Emile Jean’s brothers, along with the remaining family members left Weymouth and returned to France.
George Douglas and Kate Campbell of Weymouth North had seven sons who volunteered in August, 1914.
Colin, the youngest son, enlisted first and served with the 23rd Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, in France until he was wounded at La Bassee in June, 1915. He returned to the front during the winter of 1915-16 after he obtained his commission of lieutenant.
In 1916, Colin was again severely wounded in battle and earned the Military Cross, which was presented him on his 21st birthday by King George V at Buckingham Palace.
Lieut. Campbell was killed near Passchendale on Oct. 10, 1917.
Kenneth Campbell served in the Canadian Infantry with the 42nd Battalion and was a bombing officer. He was 29 when he was killed in action at Vimy Ridge in January, 1917.
Glidden Campbell, the oldest, was already in the militia when war broke out. He was posted with the 85th Battalion as a machine gun officer. He fought at Vimy Ridge and later led his company at Passchendale where they wiped out more than a dozen machine gun nests and he single-handedly captured a pillbox.
Campbell was awarded the Military Cross for refusing to leave the front lines after being wounded by an exploding shell.
After recuperating from an attack of trench fever and the effects of poisonous chlorine gas, Campbell took command of the 79th Company where he rose to the rank of major.
Of the six sons, Glidden Campbell was the only son to return to Weymouth to work in the family business with his elder brother after the war.
Clare Ruggles and his older brother Arch both signed up for active duty.
Clare joined the 28th Field Battery in March, 1915. The battery was mobilized in Fredericton and went to France as the 1st Canadian French Mortars.
Ruggles was part of a team sent out from the front lines to repair communication wires. They encountered heavy shell and rifle fire on the return trip. In a letter home, Ruggles wrote:
“We started to come back to our own lines when big German shells started to fly. We made a run for it. When rifle shots commenced to come we stopped to answer them. We fired a couple of rounds when one got me in the leg and I went down. I sure did think of the old Sissiboo and home when the Germans got me.”
Ruggles recovered from his wound and at the end of the war returned to Weymouth. He remained in the military and took care of the armory for the 52nd Field Battery in the village.
Henry Burton and his older brother Eric volunteered in March, 1916, with the younger Burton just shy of his 17th birthday.
Burton was a gunner in the 25th Battalion with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and took part in the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April, 1917, where he was wounded.
“Vimy was quite a scrap.” said Burton in an interview in 1983. “All you could think about was staying alive.
“You tried to get rid of it (the horror of battle) as fast as you could. If you worried about one battle you’d take it to the next and it worked against you.”
Burton worked at the pulp mill in Weymouth Falls after the war but suffered from the effects of poisonous gas.
Although many young men paid the ultimate sacrifice and Weymouth faced its losses, those fortunate to have returned home were welcomed as heroes by a village made proud by their sons.