Sunday, November 11, 2001
The Halifax Herald Limited, Halifax Nova Scotia
By Kelly Shiers / Staff Reporter
Great War turned Doubleday 'boys' into brothers in arms
Percy Doubleday, one of five brothers who enlisted in the First World War. He was killed in action in northern France.
On a bloody battlefield far from his Nova Scotia home, Charles Doubleday took a good look at the battered body he'd just passed. It was the man's moustache, he would later tell someone in his family, that looked so familiar.
With all the strength he could muster, the soldier carried his oldest brother to safety. But it was too late.
Percy John Doubleday, who'd survived the battles of Vimy Ridge and the Somme, was fatally wounded with shrapnel and died on another French battlefield at age 30.
He was buried in Loos Cemetery in northern France, not far from where he fell. He'd been married just two months to an English nurse he'd met while being treated for wounds.
Charles eventually would come home to Halifax, after seeing action at Vimy Ridge, Courcelette, Somme and Passchendaele.
But few details of his time overseas survived the passing years.
Now, 40 years after his grandfather's death, Ron Doubleday and his cousin, Heather Doubleday, have slowly begun to piece together the stories of their grandfathers during the First World War. They hope telling their story may encourage others to ask questions about the veterans in their families.
The Doubleday "boys," as Ron and Heather call them, were truly brothers in arms. Five of eight brothers enlisted to fight in the Great War, following a family tradition that had taken their father to South Africa to fight in the Boer War. Percy, the oldest of 10 children who grew up in downtown Halifax, was 27 when he joined the 25th Battalion and went overseas in spring 1915.
Charles, 21, went overseas with the 40th Battalion that summer, as did Herbert, who was only 16 when he enlisted.
Two other brothers, 19-year-old Robert and Albert, who was only 14, also enlisted, although neither made it overseas. Ron says he doesn't know why Robert didn't get to Europe, but Albert got sick and was discharged from service. He died of tuberculosis at age 27.
"My great-aunt told me they all used to march down Argyle Street and try to get people to join the military with them," says Ron.
But whatever enthusiasm they had before the war seemed tempered by the time the remaining brothers returned home.
Heather's grandfather, Herbert, forever fought the legacy of the gassing he got at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Although she was a teenager and quite close to her grandfather when he died in 1971, she doesn't remember ever hearing him talk of his time overseas. It seems he seldom did.
"If granddad did talk about the war, it was just a rare, rare story," she says.
One of her aunts recently told Heather that "if anything about the war was ever mentioned, he'd just shake his head and walk away."
It was Ron who began the search for more information about the boys as he started working on a family tree in 1998.
By that time, the people who knew the most about the war years had already died, leaving the younger generation to scramble for information from any sources they could.
Ron says it was his mother who told him about his grandfather - a kind man whose face and throat bore witness to shrapnel wounds, although his military papers claim he was discharged with no visible scars.
Despite the stories they've accumulated, the Doubledays know much has been lost. Remembrance Day becomes a poignant reminder of the legacy of their grandfathers. Heather's daughter made a wreath in memory of men she knew only by pictures, and took it to her school for Remembrance Day services.
It's a connection to the past that Heather says she hopes remains unbroken. The seriousness of war can best be understood through individual stories, she says. "I just wish I could thank my grandfather now. It's so unfortunate that we didn't have the opportunity, because it was just never talked about."