Caledonia - Along
the Grand River
Letters from World War I
Sydney Hewitt were brothers whose epitaphs denote very different life
spans. Clarence Hewitt, a well-known contractor of numerous buildings in
Caledonia and area during the early 1900ís, lived for almost a century.
One of the buildings, known as the Hewitt Block, was
erected in 1927. it stands today just three buildings north of the bridge
on the east side of the downtown area. Erected at the same time as the
present bridge, it was not the only construction going on in the town at
that time. This was an era of revitalization, the economy was booming and
Caledonia was once again growing in population.
Clarence Hewitt played a major role in the rejuvenation
of Caledonia during the 1920ís. Clarence later moved to Burlington and
continued to expand his operations. He died in 1987.
His brother, Sydney, however was not so fortunate. His
short life spanned only two decades. Tragically, he died in World War I,
at the age of just twenty one while fighting for his country.
The sons of Thomas and Mary Ann (Overend) Hewitt,
Clarence and Sydney were born in the late 1800ís on a farm in Seneca
Township at the Lincoln township boundary line. Records confirm that
Sydney left for Overseas in March of 1915. His first letter was written on
arrival in England, April 19th, 1915 from Ormskirk.
A collection of letters was found among Clarenceís possessions following
his death, by Elsie Felker, a niece of Sydney and Clarence.
Sydneyís handwriting was such that his S.S. #9 Seneca
schoolteacher would have been proud. His precise and descriptive letters
home to Mother tell the story or one World War I recruit who went to war
full of enthusiasm only to find that it was not a
life of glamour and excitement.
Well I am in England at last. We got in Liverpool last
Saturday at noon, and came to Ormskirk last night. There is only fifteen
of the 20th Battalion Transport here.
We left Exhibition grounds two weeks ago last Friday
and got in Halifax on the Tuesday with five hundred horses. We had a
pretty good trip only it was pretty cold going
through Quebec. There being about two feet of snow there yet. We came over
here on the Georgia with thirteen hundred and fifty horses, and there was
about sixty of us to look after them. We had a fine trip over as far as
the weather was concerned, but we got very poor food coming over and we
had quite a time looking after the horses. We lost about forty of them on
the boat, and we had to throw them overboard and doctor up the sick ones,
so we were kept quite busy.
Well I got over without being sea-sick. I felt pretty
queer when I was about a day out from Halifax, but did not get sick. About
two thirds of the boys were sick for a day, but soon got alright. Well I
have to go and answer roll-call now so will finish later.
Well I have got back to writing again. We just had
roll-call and are dismissed until two this afternoon. We came over with
the biggest cargo that ever crossed the Atlantic. Had 22,000
tons of cargo besides the horses, and fodder for them. We
were just eleven days from when we left Halifax until we got in the docks
at Liverpool. Liverpool is sure some busy place, with its seven miles of
docks. A good part of the supplies that go to France go from there. It is
pretty well guarded from air raids. There are machine guns mounted on all
the high buildings, and aeroplanes scout over the town on the look-out for
raids. After we got in the docks we fed and watered the horses, and then
went out and saw the town, we got lost three or four times but we got
around all right and found our way back to the boat before midnight.
Yesterday morning there was a fatigue party of soldiers
from Seaforth unloaded the horses and put them on the train and sent them
out to Lord Derbyís estate twelve miles out to a big remount depot. We
came out to Ormskirk thirteen miles from Liverpool and three miles from
the estate. We are placed in private houses four of us to a house and are
just the same as if we were at home. I am at 66
Church Street with three of the boys I chumed (sic) with in Toronto
and we are sure in a fine place. We are just like one of the family.
Ormskirk has a population of seven thousand and is just
a quiet country town. No-one is in a hurry and they are all friendly. They
think quite a lot of the Canadian boys. I have had two or three people ask
me for badges, but have got all of them yet. The buildings are a good deal
different here than in Canada. They are all made of stone or brick with
slate roofs. The streets are made of bricks on cobble stones and are only
about half as wide as over there. It certainly is a beautiful place here.
The grass is nice and green and some of the flowers are in bloom.
There are no fences, all hedges around the houses and
the fields. I donít know if we will have any work to do here or not. We
paraded at nine oíclock, and after roll-call were dismissed until two p.m.
I think we will stay here until the battalion comes over. I donít know
whether they are on there way now or not. We donít know anything that is
going on in Canada. There was a bunch of Canadians in this town for three
weeks before, and only left on Saturday. I am having some time getting
onto the money here. Well, I guess I had better quit or I will have to pay
extra postage. The Canadian mail leaves to-morrow so you should get this
in ten or twelve days. Write soon
The battalion he speaks of was the 114th that
left on a Troup Train from Caledonia. The last letter written by Sydney
was on Christmas Day, December 25th, 1916.
Well mother Xmas day is here once more. It will be a
pretty busy day for you, although it is quite enough
for me. I am spending the day in a cellar behind the lines, and everything
is pretty quiet only a little shelling going on once in a while. The
cellar isnít too bad, it is dry and we have beds, if
you can call them such, they consist of frames with chicken wire stretched
across to lie on. One has to turn over frequently at night to find the
soft side of the springs. We have no mattress only a rubber sheet over the
We have just finished our Xmas dinner. We had the
quantity if not the quality. It consisted of hash, peas and tomato
ketchup, plum pudding and cocoa. The hash was indifferent, the peas were
pretty good. The pudding was fair although I failed to find any plums in
it, but I got hold of a couple of raisins, so I
guess that they ran out of plums and started on the raisins when it
was made. I got a fine pudding from Ireland over a week
ago, but couldnít carry it around till now so had to
eat it. We got a French pie yesterday, and we
set it on the stove last night
thinking that the rats couldnít get at it there, but
we woke up near morning and found it over half gone,
so we got up and ate the rest of it, but the rats
didnít get much of a feast for it wasnít what it
looked to be. The people in this country are not very good cooks.
It is a fine day here, only it
is pretty windy, but we donít have any trouble with our
hats blowing off for we wear steel helmets all the time,. and they
weigh about five pounds so they donít
blow around much.
We are in the Reserve now, we donít work in the
daytime, but go on working parties every night in the lines, and it sure
is some nice job shovelling mud in the dark. I should be used to it by
this time, but I can never get to like working at night.
All the fellows that have never been over are all
anxious to get over, but when they are over a few weeks, they are all
anxious to get back. They think its (sic)
fine to be shooting Germans, but unless you make an advance you never see
one. I have never fired a shot out of my rifle since last spring. Went
through the last trip at the Somme, and never fired a shot. All we do is
guards and fatigues. It is fatigue, fatigue all the time shoveling (sic)
out trenches and filling sand bags. You just get your line fixed up pretty
good and you begin to think you will get a rest, when you are moved to
another part, and you have to start all over again.
I am sending you a picture of a bunch of German
prisoners taken by this Batt. at the Somme. I didnít get back from England
in time to go in the first time, when they captured so many prisoners.
I received C. & Cís (Clarence and Coraís) Box a few
days ago. The gloves are fine, they are just the kind I wanted. The gloves
we get issued with are only cotton ones, and they only last a week or so
until they are worn out.
Well mother, I will have to close now. I suppose the
big doings will be over and the knot securely tied by now.
Sidney was killed January 18, 1917. His mother received the
following letter written January 28, 1917.
Dear Mrs. Hewitt:
I feel I must write you and express my heartfelt sympathy and
condolance in your bereevement. (sic)
I myself feel a keen sense of loss and sorrow, as your
son was under my Command on many occasions, and I learnt to value him, not
only as an excellant (sic) soldier but also
as a solid friend in tight corners.
You will feel comforted to know that he suffered nothing.
Believe me Mrs. Hewitt
Yours very Sincerly
J.F Hannaford, Lieut. Com.
Lieut. Hannaford didnít have the writing nor spelling abilities that
Pte. Sydney Hewitt had, but his letter must have been received with sorrow
and gracious favour by Sydneyís mother who traced every word for safe and
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