Getting ready

NEWSBOYS News Boys Serving with the Colours- Vernon B.C. 1915

While researching the 54th Kootenay Battalion at the Nelson Museum, the writer came across the above picture. As an employee of the Nelson Daily News, this naturally intrigued me to find out who these predecessors were.

In 1914 with the declaration of War and the call to arms, the highest per capita of Canadians responding were from the province of B.C. This was also true of the staff of The Nelson Daily News, which included one member who later had a 40 year career with the Trail Times. It was reported in the issue of May 24 1915 that eight members of the News had “left the arts of peace and joined the colors. It is believed that in proportion to the number of names on its payroll The Daily News has sent more men than any other newspaper in Canada”. Subsequently, several more members enlisted. Judging from a 1912 staff photo presently on the office wall of the News, it would appear that over 1/3 of the men enlisted.

Upon enlistment, they were scattered throughout several B.C. regiments with most enlisting in or transferring to the 54th Kootenay Battalion when it was locally raised in May of 1915. The list was made up of the Editor and Manager, Captain Garland Foster who became the Quartermaster, then Adjutant of the 54th Kootenay Battalion, City Editor Sergeant William A. Curran, City Editor Corporal Hubert R. Evans, Sporting Editor Corporal Arthur E. Graham, Advertising Manager Pte. Lindsay McIntyre, Sporting Editor Pte. J. Bruce Sutherland, Compositor Pte. Andrew L. Stuart and Mail Clerk Pte. Richard Whitehead. Also enlisting were former employee H.H. Currie who returned from chicken farming in the States to sign up and Sidney McDonald from the Job Printing Department. McDonald, a Nelson boy, was required to obtain consent of his parents before he could be enrolled and was subsequently appointed a Drummer in the 54th Battalion. The battalion drums are kept at the Nelson Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion and may be the very ones played by McDonald.

A high percentage of men of that era had a military background of some sort, if not regular service, then militia or cadets. For example, H.H. Currie had been a member of the 68th Kings County Nova Scotia (Militia) for three years and Bruce Sutherland, a cadet. We can assume similar experience held true for most of the others, therefore, the conversion to military life was not all too difficult. However, nothing prepared anyone on either side of the hostilities for the reality of what trench warfare in World War I would become.

The Nelson Daily News not only continued to publish in the absence of these key members but serving members produced a paper in the trenches of France. According to the father of Sidney Mcdonald, himself returning from a tour of duty (at age 52), in a March 1917 issue of the News, “I don’t know just where Sidney is, but he’s somewhere back of the line. He and another laddie that used to be on The Daily News, H.H. Currie, are printing a trench paper, but I can’t just mind the name of it. It’s a new paper and I think they are getting it out for the 4th Division. Currie is foreman of their composing room, and Sid sets the type.” Most of the time, these trench newspapers were written for a maximum of several hundred people, although if they were producing one for the whole Battalion, their audience would approach 1000. These papers were written mainly by educated soldiers who wanted to escape from the horrors of trench warfare and recapture their own dignity. Producing the trench papers was done not only for their own personal satisfaction but also to fill a void for their comrades in arms for news and humor.

What happened to these men? Did they come back? If so, in what condition? We know that Captain Foster was wounded September 30 1918 and subsequently died from those wounds just weeks before the end of the war. We know that William A. (Bill) Curran returned to the News, later to became Publisher of the “Trail Times” in 1928, a position he held until his retirement in 1969. Curran served six years as a Trail alderman and was made Freeman of the City in 1966. H.H. Currie also returned to the News becoming an award winning Managing Editor. Bruce Sutherland, noted as a casualty in the Battalion Nominal Roll, also served with the Canadian contingent in Russia in 1919. In World War II, he was District Ration Officer for B.C. and Alberta, receiving an MBE for his service and was later Office Manager for B.C. Forest Products in Port Renfrew. Arthur Graham did not return to journalism but mined coal in Coleman Alberta for 45 years. And what of Sidney McDonald, boy drummer and trench paper typesetter? He was taken sick in September 1917 and appears that he was still hospitalized at the end of the war. After returning to B.C., he went on to work for the King’s Printer in Victoria. The others, we have lost in the mists of time.

Looking back over 80 years, one can only say, they played a small but important part in the larger story of Canada coming of age.

Greg Scott was Office Manager of the News and is a volunteer researcher at the Nelson Museum, specializing in the 54th Kootenay Battalion.