|02-24-2007, 01:36 PM||#1 (permalink)|
AKA: Chief Muppet
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Great Britain
WWI vet led adventurous life
February 23, 2007
John Clemett remembers having a peek at the faded and tattered uniform neatly laid out in his dad's trunk.
It was back in the `60s when his father Victor (Lloyd) Clemett invited him into the basement where the old chest had been tucked away for decades.
"By the time I saw the uniform, it was pretty worn out," said the younger Clemett. "And I remember his beat-up old bugle. We used to blow it on New Year's Eve."
The veteran's niece, Merle Kaczanowski, also remembers the precious relics of the past. It impressed her that her uncle held onto them, despite the fact that they remained grim reminders of a darker history in foreign lands.
"He didn't talk a lot about the war because he thought it was an ugly thing," she said. And while he kept mementoes tucked away, "he wore his medals – two service medals, the Queen's Jubilee medal and French Legion of Honour – proudly," Kaczanowski said.
One of three surviving Canadian veterans of the Great War, Clemett died late Wednesday in the veterans' residence at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. He was 107.
"As a nation, we honour his service and mourn his passing," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement.
"... With the passing of Mr. Clemett, another link to Canada's proud military history has been severed. All Canadians, no matter where they live, must continue to remember that the sacrifices of Mr. Clemett and his comrades helped shape (the) strong, prosperous and democratic nation we enjoy today."
Surviving World War I veteran (Percy) Dwight Wilson, who turns 106 on Monday, lives at Sunnybrook. John Babcock, 107 this coming July, became an America citizen 60 years ago and lives in Spokane, Wash.
Born in Toronto Dec. 10, 1899, Clemett, his three older brothers and two sisters were orphaned and raised by relatives in Omemee near Peterborough.
To help support the family, he went to work at the age of 8, wrapping butter in a creamery. Weeks after turning 16, he joined the 93rd Battalion in Peterborough as a private and later transferred to the 109th in Lindsay. His brothers were serving overseas.
"He lied about his age to get in (to the army) because he wanted to be with his brothers," said John Clemett in an interview from his Calgary home. "I think it was very much an adventure and you did what you had to do."
By July 1916 Clemett found himself in England anxious to get to the front.
"He was within 24 hours of going to the front when they found out his age," his son said.
Instead of being shipped home, Clemett was transferred to the Canadian Forestry Corps as a bugler. By July 1917, the brigade was deployed to France where Clemett was stationed in Aubin St. Vast.
Eager to do his part, Clemett volunteered often to fight at the front, his son said. His battalion was headed there in late 1918 when the Armistice was signed, officially ending the war.
Clemett recalled that day in an interview last March with Veterans Affairs Canada.
"Well, the unit that I was with and the outfit that I was with, we were building a camp site for future troops on the side of a hill to operate 30,000 troops. So when we quit at 4 o'clock, 4:30 we started to march off back to our billets – they were about four or five miles away – and somebody announced that the war had ended. But it never meant a thing to us. We just kept marching on ... We didn't fall out or rush here or there and we didn't get all excited about it – the war was over.
And I don't suppose that whatever went on at that camp, I don't suppose it was ever finished. Perhaps it all had to be ... torn down. But that's the way it was.
And then every day after that there was no training. There were ... a lot of jobs everywhere. I was allowed, with another fella, to go up into the hill and sit at a position which had a lot of bombs and munitions and they had to guard it. So another fella and I had to guard it 24 hours and that's all you had to do."
Though his big brother was injured by shrapnel in the head, all four brothers survived the ravages of what was called The War to End All Wars.
Some 650,000 Canadians served in World War I. Its bloody battles claimed the lives of 69,000 and another 172,000 were wounded.
Clemett returned home in July 1919 and continued to live what his son described as "quite an adventurous life."
"He lived through the roaring '20s, and had an old Ford," John Clemett said, adding that his dad drove across America to California. An old ukulele, autographed by many of the young ladies he met in California, was a favourite instrument that the elder Clemett often played.
He also coached a ladies' baseball team in Brantford. "Those were good times." John Clemett said with a chuckle.
Clemett worked as a railway agent for Canadian Pacific Railway. In the late 1920s, he and his brother-in-law started a lawn mower sales and service business on The Danforth. Later, he worked for the old Village of Leaside as a meter reader and repairman, a job he held until his 1965 retirement.
Clemett and his wife Catherine married in 1936 and moved to Millwood Rd., in Leaside where they raised John and David. She died in 1993.
Fiercely independent, Clemett continued to live in the family home happily baking bread and cookies. With his health failing, he moved to Sunnybrook in the fall of 2004.
A private family service will be held at Sunnybrook on Monday. Donations in honour of Clemett can be made to The Veterans Comfort Fund at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, 2075 Bayview Ave., Room KGE39, Toronto, ON, M4N 3M5.
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