Kassy Matchett went on a search for the name Charles Magrath Fendall at the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, Belgium, several years ago. She was excited to find her fourth cousin listed on the wall alongside more than 54,000 other World War I casualties who died on Flanders Fields. Like so many other British and Commonwealth soldiers, the grave of this 23-year-old Canadian killed in action in 1915 is unknown.
As Canada prepares to mark Remembrance Day and the U.S. commemorates Veterans Day on Nov. 11, let’s revisit this fallen soldier’s life.
Cousin Charlie, as my mother called him, was born in India in 1894. His father, my great-uncle, Charles Pears Fendall, was serving with the British Army. Although Cousin Charlie served in the British Army, he chose not to make it his career. Instead, he immigrated to Canada with my grandparents, Arthur and Emily Fendall, in 1910.
The Fendalls all settled near Okotoks, Alberta.
A young man with a promising future
Before World War I started on July 28, 1914, Cousin Charlie worked for different farmers in the Okotoks area. He also participated in community activities such as skating and target practicing. He regularly attended church with my grandparents, too.
Cousin Charlie was carving out a new life in his adopted country. Someday, he planned to homestead a farm.
A strong, affable young man, Cousin Charlie made friends quickly, relishing his new lifestyle. It was a far cry from the confines of the military careers of his father, great-uncle and great-grandfather.
A news item in The Okotoks Review on Sept. 11, 1914, announced Charlie’s intention to leave Okotoks and rejoin his regiment in Britain. The report read: On Thursday evening, a number of the Okotoks football team assembled at W.G. Naylor’s to present Charlie Fendall, one of their members, with a small token of their esteem on his leaving to join His Majesty’s forces. The presentation of a shaving kit was made on behalf of the team by Rev. R. Alderson. Mr. Fendall replied to what was a veritable surprise in a few well-chosen words.
A deadly war gutted a generation
News shocks community
Almost a month elapsed before the news of Cousin Charlie’s death reached Okotoks. An article in the Jan. 14, 1916, issue of the local paper carried the announcement. The Review regrets to report the death of Chas. Fendall, nephew of A.J. Fendall, who was killed in action on Dec. 14th. News was received here last week to that effect.
A pathetic feature of the sad event was that letters to Mrs. and Miss Gladys Hemus were found on him to be mailed if he should be killed. The letters got here the same time as the sad news.
Was Gladys Cousin Charlie’s sweetheart? Perhaps. Charlie and Gladys were about the same age and neighbors. I do recall that mother treasured the friendship of Hemus family members all her life.
Dealing with their grief
Cousin Charlie’s death left a deep void in the lives of my grandparents and their daughter. The young man had been their only relative in Canada. For a long time, the family mourned Charlie, whom they had loved dearly.
A few months before the World War I armistice was signed on Nov. 11, 1918, Mother garnered newspaper coverage for a thoughtful expression of charity. According to a Calgary newspaper, Mother raffled off ‘her most cherished doll to raise money for the poor Belgian babies and soldiers held captive by the Germans.’ The seven-year-old raised $7.50. The sum was split with $5.25 going to the Belgian fund and $2.25 to the Allied Prisoners of War.
To honor Charlie
Cousin Charlie’s ultimate sacrifice is remembered in three countries: England, France and Canada.
In recent years, students from Foothills Composite High School in Okotoks have hammered crosses bearing the names of fallen local soldiers like Cousin Charlie on a major thoroughfare in preparation for Remembrance Day on Nov. 11.
Then came the glorious banners
The Okotoks Legion Branch #291 has partnered with the Town of Okotoks to honor past and present military members with stunning banners. Families like ours purchased several of these flags in memory of loved ones like Cousin Charlie so their sacrifices will not be forgotten. The colorful memorials are displayed around Remembrance Day each year from light standards on Veterans Way in Okotoks.
It’s a very long time ago since World War I was fought in Belgium’s Flanders Fields. I wonder if poppies still blow, between the crosses row on row, as Canadian poet John McCrae once wrote?
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