New life and new respect breathed into Grand Forks cenotaph

A member of Grand Forks’ Royal Canadian Legion shares her research

Source: Boundary Museum Society Archives

Source: Boundary Museum Society Archives

— Submitted by Sandra Doody, Royal Canadian Legion: Branch 059

The Grand Forks cenotaph was constructed in 1921 in memory of those who didn’t come back from the First World War. The polished grey granite monument was constructed by Alexander Ritchie of Campbell & Ritchie Monument Company, of Nelson, B.C.

Rooted in the Christian faith, the inverted torch above the names of the fallen symbolizes their earthy lives extinguished, but still burning in the afterlife.

Local sculptor David Seven Deers promised to restore the front panel of our local cenotaph in time for Remembrance Day, and he kept to his word.

The names of 24 brave soldiers commemorated on the cenotaph’s front panel are breathing new life.

As part of this journey, Seven Deers asked me if I could gather some information about these soldiers. Most of them moved to Grand Forks from other parts of Canada as well as from other countries. Three were from British Columbia, two from Manitoba, six from Ontario, one from Prince Edward Island, one from Nova Scotia, one from Ireland and 10 from England.

Some of them moved to Grand Forks with their families, while others moved to the city in order to enlist.

Grand Forks’ Francis James Hicks was among the first to sign up in September 1914. Killed in action the following May, he was also among the first to die in defence of the British Empire. I found in his service records a copy of a beautiful letter to his brother and sister in England, written on the day he arrived at a military camp in Valcartier, Quebec. Wrote Hicks:

“Dear Bro and Sis, I hope you won’t be surprised that I volunteered for active service and am here with the Canadian Troops after being on the train for 6 days. There are 30,000 men here and the first contingent leaves on the 20th for England en route to the front … I have made my will, put all my documents in the bank to property, mortgages, etc also a gold watch and chain and left all my clothes so as you can get if anything happens to me. Dear Bro, I have willed everything to you so as to simplify matters which should be about $650, including property of course … Dear Bro I just want to ask you one thing and that is to divide some of the money amongst the rest keep the most for yourself and look after Liz as I shall never forget her kindness when I was young … I remain your loving bro F.J. Hicks.”

Brothers Harold and John Henderson both served in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces enlisting Nov. 12, 1914, and July 10, 1917, respectively. Harold was wounded June 4, 1917, dying of his wounds that November. John was killed in August 1918, after serving just over a year.

Fast-forwarding to 2021, Sue Adrain from the Boundary Community Archives was instrumental in assisting with my research. We both got hooked on finding out who these young men were who signed up to fight in The Great War.

She sent me a copy of a newspaper clipping about the death and memorial service for Private Hicks. Grand Forks soldier Pte. Montague Frank Mudge was reported killed in action at around the same time. I was surprised that his name doesn’t appear on the cenotaph, prompting me to put together an email to inform City Hall. Before I sent it, I called up the service records for Pte. Mudge and found that his file had been amended. He wasn’t killed in action, but was taken prisoner on April 24, 1915 and kept at the Giessen POW Camp near Frankfurt, Germany. He was interned in Holland on March 23, 1918, where he was held until Germany’s surrender on Nov. 11, 1918.

He was released and taken to England on Nov. 18, and transported back to Canada aboard the HMTS Empress the following March. He married after he was discharged and passed away at the age of 33 on July 23, 1926.

Recently, while doing some cleaning at the Legion, my husband found an old journal that is a record of the newly formed Great War Veterans Association which took place on April 9, 1919. Low and behold, the very first president for this Association was Montague Frank Mudge! This journal is a record of events for this Association up to Dec. 23, 1921. It is quite a special find, as it also mentions some of the widows that helped out with running the refreshments at special functions.

As a veteran, I have learned so much reading these service records and have gained a lot of respect for what they must have endured. Some of these brave soldiers only lasted a few months after arriving in England as they were sent into battle immediately.

So there you have it, David. You have given 24 of “your boys” a breath of new life that I hope our community will thank and embrace you for it. All members of The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 059 can’t express their thanks enough to you for showing how much you care and respect the fallen of Grand Forks. To quote an often heard saying, “We will remember them.”

Grand ForksRemembrance DayRoyal Canadian Legion