Volunteers off to War!

Volunteers off to War!

Before death in the spring 1915, departures in the summer 1914

The consequences of the start of the First World War for the people of the Nicola Valley were immediate.

There were no deaths in battle to suffer and mourn in the summer and fall of 1914; those would come, starting in the spring of 1915.

But there were changes in circumstances to embrace and endure, large and small.

“Jack” Nash and Eleanor Wilson, for example, got married, on Aug. 17 1914 in St Paul’s Cathedral, Kamloops.

He was an officer of the 31st Regiment, B.C. Horse and a resident of the Nicola and Okanagan countryside, on and off, for more than 15 years. She had been in the valley since the spring, visiting her sister.

Their wedding occurred as thousands of other British Columbia volunteers for military service gathered in temporary camps in Kamloops to await transportation by train to the Valcartier training camp, in Quebec.

The marriage of Jack and Eleanor Nash was of short duration. Capt. John Foster Paton Nash was killed in April 1916 in the trenches outside Ypres, in Belgium.

 PPS53 Part of Merritt Fire Dept 1916 Donor Cathie Sergent.jpg

Nicola Valley Museum photo PBS53 Donor Cathie Sergent

Membership of the Merritt volunteer fire department changed dramatically in August 1914, the first month of the First World War. The department enrolled 10 new men that month, four of them replacements for men who had left the Nicola Valley for Canadian Expeditionary Force service.


Among other B.C. Horse volunteers who left the valley in August 1914 were four members of Merritt’s volunteer fire department. There were only 21 firefighters in August 1914.

Charles Howse was a 25-year-old machinist, and son of a valley retailer A.E. Howse, when he volunteered; Norman Lindsay was a 20-year-old bank clerk, from Vancouver, and Daniel Shearer, a 28-year-old baker, from Scotland. James Smith, lamentably, could be any one of the more than 500 men by that name, or with that middle name and surname, who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force between 1914 and 1918. All four men survived the war.

Their replacements were enrolled in the week after they left the valley. In fact, replacements for 10 men were enrolled at the department’s August 20 1914 general meeting, the four who “volunteered for the front” and six who “left town.” In the first month of the war, in other words, the three-year-old fire department replaced half its roster.

The volunteer fire department wasn’t the only public-safety agency in the valley competing with the military for the loyalties of men.

In 1914 the B.C. Provincial Police maintained three constables in the valley, at Spences Bridge, Merritt and Nicola. By 1918 it maintained only one, the wonderfully named Percy Badman, at Merritt. Medically discharged by the army, Badman replaced a constable who volunteered for military service in 1916.

War service was not solely a male undertaking. The start of the First World War triggered a release of female energy that could not be reversed with peace.

The first meeting of the Nicola Valley Patriotic Guild occurred in August 1914. The Aug. 28 Merritt Herald thought the gathering was the first meeting of a “sewing circle” and the provision of comforts for “the boys . . . at the front . . . one of the most noble thing that the ladies of the valley could possibly have done.”

The guild was something more, however. It was the Canadian Patriotic Fund’s “women’s auxiliary.” The fund raised almost $50 million for the support of soldiers’ families during and after the First World War. The guilds disbursed the money.

The Nicola Valley Patriotic Guild, by September 1914, was looking after one soldier’s family.

NEXT, AFTER THANKSGIVING: The Great War was a good war for the owners of horse herds.

Michael Sasges
Nicola Valley Museum
Summer 2014

NB: Mike Sasges is looking for men and women to prepare biographies of the more than 40 men from the Nicola Valley who died in First World War battle. Mike’s telephone number is 250-378-6982.

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