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Nov10MonA hundred years ago, Edward James Clark made the ultimate sacrifice. November 10, 2014 by Fern Pedersen-Brown
When I was planning our apartment building's Christmas dinner last year, I never expected to be led to the First World War.
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- Faith & Friends
I had invited Charles Gerard, a friend who is a member of The Salvation Army and a gifted pianist, to perform for us, and he wore his uniform to the function. The dinner and the entertainment were a great success.
Early this year, I heard a knock at my door. The smiling face that greeted me was Sue, my friend and a fellow tenant.
“Fern,” she said, “while we were at the Christmas party, seeing Charles in his Salvation Army uniform reminded me of a First World War medal that's been with our family for more than 50 years.”
“Come on in, Sue, and tell me all about it.”
A Promise Made
In 1960, Sue's parents, Andrew and Agnes Clark, hurried to meet the real estate agent to get the key for their new home on Queensdale Avenue in the east end of Toronto.
While settling in, Andrew found an old trunk filled with memorabilia. In it, he discovered a large medal from the First World War. The inscription on it was made out to Edward James Clark. Could he be a long-lost relative?
In that pre-Internet age, Andrew and Agnes tried to get some information about the medal, but they were unable to find anything. However, family research proved that they were not related to Edward.
Later, Andrew gave the medal to his granddaughter, Nan, Sue's daughter. Holding her close, he quietly said, “Now, Nan, this is a special medal. Keep it always. Maybe, someday, you will find the family it belongs to. Until then, take good care of it, my dear.”
“Yes, Grandpa, I will,” Nan told her grandfather as she carefully held the medal in her hand. She resolved to learn as much about it as she could.
Victory and Loss
After she married, Nan and her husband moved to Australia, and the medal travelled with her. With the introduction of the Internet, Nan did some research on the medal and this is what she discovered:
Edward James Clark was born on June 7, 1890, in London, England. His family may have immigrated to Canada when he was a child, or he came to Canada as a young man—the facts are unknown. Edward was not tall, only five feet, three inches. He had a fair complexion, blue eyes and blond hair. His attestation paper noted his occupation as “Salvation Army Officer” and he had dedicated his life to work for God and the people. That same dedication led him to volunteer for the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War, which started in 1914. He joined up in Calgary, listing his last address as “450 Meagher Avenue, Danforth Avenue, E. Toronto.”
“My understanding is that he attended the Parliament Street Salvation Army church,” adds Michael Barrow, research archivist at The Salvation Army Archives in Toronto. “The fact that he finished training college in Toronto and was commissioned as a Salvation Army pastor out West, with the rank of lieutenant, before he went off to war adds an even more poignant dimension to the story. I guess the call to arms for king and country was especially strong in this young man.”
On October 29, 1915, in Calgary, Edward was accepted “to serve in the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force for at least one year, or until the war between Great Britain and Germany should last,” as stated in his attestation papers. Newly minted Private Edward J. Clark became part of the 2nd Battalion of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division. Transferred to France, he and his mates undertook extensive training for the upcoming attack on Vimy Ridge in April 1917.
There, all four divisions of the Canadian Corps, operating together for the first time in action, prepared to seize the five-mile escarpment from its German defenders. The unexpected victory broke open the German line and gave Canadians a newfound sense of identity.
Edward would not live to see the victory. Together with thousands of Canadians who gave their lives for God, their country and freedom, Private Clark died on the slopes of the ridge during the attack on April 9, 1917. His name is on the Canadian War Memorial at Vimy Ridge, a plot of land deeded to Canada in perpetuity by a grateful France.
A Home At Last?
After my chat with Sue, her daughter, Nan, sent us a photo of the medal. Together, Sue and I took the photo to the Oshawa Military and Industrial Museum, a facility located in Oshawa, Ont. The museum had just closed up for the day when we arrived, but two veterans were on site. When we told them about our mission, they took us inside where we showed them the picture of the medal. Don, one of the veterans, explained that it was not a medal as we had thought but a Great War Memorial Plaque given to the family of the deceased. Several medals would have accompanied it when they were delivered to the family but, over the years, they and the plaque had become separated.
Last month, Sue and I deposited the plaque with The Salvation Army Archives in Toronto. Nan hopes that it will proudly be displayed and honoured. Through this article, we are hoping that the plaque will one day find its way to its rightful family, and that the missing medals will find their way home.
If anyone has any information on Private Clark's family, please forward it to The Salvation Army Archives, Canada and Bermuda Territory, 26 Howden Road, Scarborough ON M1R 3E4.