When Tesha Emarthale’s aunt handed her a bundle of her great-grandfathers belongings, she only had a small picture of who he was. “For me prior to receiving this collection my grandfather was only a name.” she shared. “I knew his name and I knew that he served in World War I. I knew that he died young and that my grandfather didn’t get a chance to know him.”
Her Great Grandfather, Lloyd Clifford Curley, a soldier with the 107th Battalion, fell in battle during the First World War on August 15, 1917 on Hill 70 in the Battle for Vimy Ridge. His Battalion brought 600 men to that battle; 21 lost their lives and 130 were wounded.
Curley’s attestation papers, soldiers diary and many photos are part of a family collection now being held by the Woodland Cultural Centre. Curley enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1915. He was a blacksmith and spent seven years with the 37th Haldimand Rifles. The Woodland Cultural Centre will share Curley’s story in recognition of the 204 centennial anniversary of WWI.
“I really didn’t know much about him,” Emarthele shares. However, when she received his Soldier’s diary and pictures from the family collection, she began assembling the pieces of the puzzle. “If you look in his diary you can tell when there was a lot of action going on – the pages were blank,” she said.
The final entry, dated August 4, 1917, was penned just eleven days before his death on August 15, 1917. The diary was later returned to Curley’s wife after it was picked up on the battlefield the day after his death by another soldier. A letter enclosed with it reads, “Dear Madam, This pocketbook was picked up on Hill 70 August 16th, 1917. Hoping the owner is in good health.”
“It’s really powerful,” Emarthele shares. “You put that in the context of his diary and it’s just like you fall in love with this guy and then it just stops. It’s heart wrenching for me, and at the same time you see these images and you see his pictures and it brings him to life.”
Reading through his Soldier’s Diary really struck something real with Emarthele. She said, “You can hear him talking in his own words about what his daily life was and what he was thinking about. It really brought him to life. How often are you able to make a connection with someone who died a hundred years ago?”
She began to research what his last days were like. “I was searching more about his unit and what his duties were.” It was then she read heard about the 114th Battalion.
The 114th Canadian Infantry Battalion was made up of mostly First Nations soldiers. Six Nations alone brought over 300 volunteers to the count, more than any other indigenous community.
They were also joined by Mohawks from Kahnawake and Akwesasne. Emarthele also learned that Six Nations, under the instruction of Confederacy Council who were legitimately leading the people of Six Nations at the time, donated money to help British war orphans and other relief efforts needed on the ground.
Veteran’s Affairs Canada shares on their website that “two of [the 114th Battalion’s] companies, officers included, were composed entirely of Indians. In recognition of its large Indian make-up, the battalion adopted a crest featuring two crossed tomahawks below the motto, “For King and Country.” As well, members of the Six Nations Women’s Patriotic League embroidered a 114th flag, which they adorned with Iroquoian symbols.”
For Emarthele, sharing her Great Grandfathers story is an important investment for her descendants and the coming faces. She says, “Learning about what his life was about, I know what it’s meant for me. Imagine if I am able to maintain this for another hundred years. And it could mean the same thing to a future generation. They can develop a relationship with him. I can’t imagine being able to develop a relationship with someone from two hundred years ago.”
For more information on the First Nations participation in World War I you can read on Veteran’s Affairs Canada’s website here.