Friday, 15 May 2015

Ernest Leroy Cassel (1898-1917)

Ernest Leroy Cassel was born on February 9, 1898 in Sharbot Lake, Ontario.  His parents William and the former Agnes Snider along with his grandfather John, he and his sister Gertude left the Central Frontenac Region to homestead in Manitoba around the turn of the century.  They farmed north of Elkhorn at Burnbank and Ernie's young life would have been one of hard work on the farm, hoping each season for a successful harvest for his labours to pay off. Randy's maternal grandfather was his younger brother.

On the 9th of February in 1916, the day of his 18th birthday, Ernest made the trip to Virden to enlist as a soldier in WW1.  That day, he was described as 5 feet 10 inches tall with a dark complexion, blue eyes and brown hair.  His religion was declared as Presbyterian and he was given the service number 1000715.  

I imagine Ernie's parents, William and Agnes would have been proud of his choice but worried about what he would face.  His sister Gertie had left home by this time, married to Gordon Mills Turner in 1913 when she turned 18.  Remaining at home were his brother Russell (12), sisters Pearl (9),  Illa (1 year old) and Irene born after he left in April 1916. Russell would now have needed to step into his brother's shoes and assume more responsibilities on the farm.

According to the census in June of 1916, Ernest was in Camp Hughes receiving his training.  On December 18 in 1916 he boarded the S.S. Olympic at Halifax for the voyage overseas.  After spending Christmas on board the soldiers landed in Liverpool on the 28th.  He was a Private in the 226th Battalion at this time but was transferred to the 14th Reserve Battalion on April 7, 1917.

His digital file at Library and Archives Canada shows that Ernest's family back in Elkhorn received $15 per month from the Separation and Assigned Pay Branch.  This would be intended to make up some of the income that their family was missing with Ernest overseas. 

This pay could never make up for the tragic ending to this story.  At the tender age of 19, Ernest Leroy Cassel was killed in the Battle of Passchendaele in Belgium along with 4000 other Canadian soldiers. This battle has often been described as the bloodiest, muddiest battle of all time for Canadian soldiers.   I do remember hearing the name of this place, perhaps in a long ago history class. Researching Ernie's story and reading the horror of this battle, I have a new appreciation for his and his comrades' sacrifice.
While taking part with his Battalion in the operations against Bellevue Spur, Paschendaele Ridge on the morning of October 26,1917 he was wounded in the head by shell fire.  He was evacuated to Number 17 Casualty Clearing Station where he died from the effects of his wounds 4 days later.
The above details about his death were found online here as well as the picture of his tombstone below.  He is buried in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery in Belgium, pictured below right.   E.L. Cassel's name is memorialized on the War Memorial in Elkhorn as well.  

In another one of the startling coincidences I've had in writing my blogs I realized the significance of May 15, the day I was planning to finish and post this biography.  At 11:00 am, a soldier in the Memorial Chamber in the Peace Tower in Ottawa will turn the page of the Book of Remembrance to page 214  including the name Ernest Leroy Cassel.  The solemn ceremony is shown in the video linked from this page Just another instance of feeling that someone is helping me to write this blog, leading me to these stories of my family.  A follow up post for Ernest is linked here.

Ernie's sister Gertie Turner had a son in October of 1916 that was named Ernest for his Uncle Ernie who was heading off to war. In a terrible twist of irony, that Ernest Turner died in Holland in WW2, on October 30, 1944 - exactly 27 years to the day after his uncle.  
Ernie Turner is in the back row in the middle. My thanks to his daughter (the little girl in front) for this picture.

In the words of the Ode of Remembrance

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.

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