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Beginning on April 9, the first day of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, and continuing until April 12, the last day of the battle, I will be looking at people from across Canada who fought, lived, were injured and died at the iconic battle.
Each post will feature several individuals, all of whom had an impact on the battle. We will look at their lives before, during and after the battle.
Percy Harold Neal
Born on July 16, 1892, Percy Neal arrived with his family to Canada in 1907 and settled in the Raymond, Alberta area. One year later, the family moved to a new homestead east of Milk River and, along with his brothers, he worked to prove up the homestead. Percy also worked in the community to bring in money for the family.
Known as an excellent athlete, Percy was always active in local sports and even played for the local Raymond football team.
In 1916, he made the decision to enlist with the 113th Highlanders and was soon sent overseas. Upon arriving, he was transferred to the 43rd Cameron Highlanders and shipped off to France to begin stringing telegraph wire on the front lines. He also put down barb-wire entanglements and went on night-patrols in No Man’s Land.
Throughout the Battle of Vimy Ridge, he was part of the big push against the Germans but a shell fell near him and exploded, burying him in a trench. Alive but trapped, it would be several hours before he was rescued.
Sent back to England to recuperate, he would be discharged from the hospital three months later and returned to active duty as a member of the medical corps in England. After eight months, he would return back to Canada. In June of 1918, he received an honourable discharge.
Coming back to southern Alberta, he worked building grain elevators and roads. In 1921, he took over the homestead and bought a section of land through the Soldiers Settlement Board to add to his land. He would marry Greta Gross in 1921.
In 1957, Percy moved off the farm and into a residence in Milk River. He would remain there until he passed away in 1974.
Born in Liverpool, England, George Hayes was put into a foster home as a child in Quebec where he remained until 1911 when he ran away to live with the nephews of his foster parents. Living in the Outlook area, he would work for various farmers in the summer and help out Art and Joe Frizzel in the winter at the farm.
When wore broke out, he enlisted immediately and was sent overseas. Before long, he found himself on the front lines.
When the Battle of Vimy Ridge began, George saw action and was wounded in the battle. Sent to a hospital in England, he would meet Gladys Holburn. They would be married on Dec. 26, 1919 and soon after they sailed to Canada to make their life in Ontario. The family would have six daughters eventually.
In 1920, George made his way back to Dinsmore, while his family went to England to wait for him to homestead. On Dec. 13, 1925, his wife and daughter came from England and joined George.
For the next decade-and-a-half, the family grew and George continued to farm.
When the Second World War broke out, George once again enlisted and served with the Royal Canadian Air Force in various parts of Canada and Newfoundland.
Gladys would pass away in 1952.
George would be felled by a stroke at the age of 81 and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
Born in England in 1897, James Hunt would travel west to Canada in 1914, following his brother who had come to Canada the year earlier. Arriving in March, and thinly dressed, he rode in an open sleigh to his brother’s homestead and survived the journey despite being a bit cold at the end of it.
Helping his brother clear out a quarter section, he would eventually enlist in the army in 1917. Enlisting in Regina, he was sent overseas and soon found himself fighting on the front lines and taking part in Vimy Ridge.
Severely injured in the leg during the battle, he spent a year in the hospital recovering. He would be officially discharged in 1920 and would return to Blucher, Saskatchewan where he started farming just north of his brother.
In December of 1923, he married Leona Lang. They would have two children together.
In 1935, the family lost everything when their home burned down but they rebounded and rebuilt their lives. James would eventually take on a job as a caretaker at various schools in Saskatoon.
Born in Scotland in January of 1892, James Bisset came over to Readlyn prior to the First World War. For several years, he would work for local farmers and learn the trade.
When the First World War erupted, James enlisted with Oscar Hewitt and soon found himself in Surrey, England.
After a short time, he was sent to the front lines and would fight in the Battle of Vimy Ridge. During the battle, he would be severely wounded by shrapnel in his left arm.
Sent back to Canada, he was in a hospital in Regina as he healed. For several years afterward, he would return to the hospital to receive treatment for his wounds. It was not until years later that doctors would finally remove a large piece of shrapnel that was still in his arm.
In 1918, using the Soldier Settlement Board’s loan of $900, he purchased a farm and began homesteading. In 1922, he would marry Ella Dulien and the couple started a family.
The family would continue farming for several years. In 1951, Ella passed away and James sold the farm.
He then moved to Assiniboia and would pass away in 1971.
Born in England on Sept. 3, 1883, James Graham would make his way to Canada aboard the S.S. Arabic with his brother Jack on March 29, 1913. Travelling with 167 other passengers, he described the trip as being ‘just like a lot of poultry at a show, one above another in pens.” On April 7, 1913, he saw Halifax Harbour and his new life in Canada would begin.
Living in Oakville, Ontario until 1914, Graham made his way out to Wilkie to work on the farm of James Muldoon. In 1915, he enlisted with the 65th Infantry Battalion out of Saskatoon. In 1916, he was transferred to the 46th Battalion and found himself at some of the biggest battles of the war. He would fight in the Battles of Passchendale, Ypres, Somme and Vimy Ridge. In his unit, 91.5 per cent of the 5,374 who served ended up as casualties. For his part, Graham was wounded three times and was awarded the Military Medal in 1917.
During his time overseas, he would meet and marry Janet Mather out of England. They would both return to Canada in 1919 and make their home in Oakville, where their daughter Dorothy was born but sadly died in infancy.
James began working with the CPR as a car man in 1920 and the couple would have two sons, William and James Jr.
A lifelong member of the IOOF and the Royal Canadian Legion, he retired from the CPR in 1948 and began working at the local post office. His wife would pass away in 1967, and James would die in 1970.