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New book shares would-be-forgotten stories of Hazelton’s First World War effort

The first draft of men from Hazelton who volunteered to join the army in November 1914. In this group are Thomas Brewer, Spot Middleton, James Turnbull, Jack Frost, John Nesbitt, Lorne Fulton and Andrew Monour. Surprisingly, all survived the war. Andrew Monour, though wounded, resumed his career with the bank but died at the end of 1920. (Mynett, Geoff. River of Mists. Caitlin Press, 2022.)
Geoff Mynett

In his new book, Geoff Mynett takes us back to Hazelton during the First World War, sharing stories of the brave men (and one woman) who enlisted and the strong community that did everything in its power to support them. 

Hazelton’s entrance into the war is described in detail in one of the chapters of River of Mists: People of the Upper Skeena, 1821-1930: 

“In August 1914, the major European nations stumbled into the First World War. With them, tied to the imperial government in London, went Canada. Like every community in the country, Hazelton endured the war as best it could, trying to keep a sense of normality amid ever-grimmer news … Men (and one woman) from Hazelton stepped up to enlist, as did others from all over the country.” (Mynett, Geoff. River of Mists. Caitlin Press, 2022.)

These courageous volunteer soldiers included men from a variety of professions and walks of life: “George Reid Middleton (known for some reason as Spot) was a teller in the Union Bank, secretary of the athletics association and goalkeeper for the soccer team. Jack Frost was a rancher. James Turnbull and Thomas Brewer were forest rangers … Andrew Monour was a clerk with the Bank of Vancouver. Lorne Fulton, a druggist at the Up-to-Date Drugstore, joined up expecting to be in the medical corps.” 

Even Mary Hogan, the lady superintendent and matron at Hazelton’s hospital, felt the call to volunteer. When she left to join the overseas nursing staff of the Canadian forces, her friends gathered at Hazelton station to give her a particularly good send-off. 

Mynett shares archival newspaper clips, showing how newspapers, such as the Omineca Miner, applauded the community: 

“Hazelton is cheerfully bearing its part in the war for world liberty. No call for men or money has gone unheeded, and our town has fairly earned an envi-able reputation for contributions of soldiers and cash. Up to the present time we have sent more than fifty men with various corps, and the list of soldiers from Hazelton and vicinity is being constantly added to. Over ten per cent of our population and approximately half our men of military age are members of Canada’s overseas forces.” (From the Omineca Miner, January 22, 1916)

Indeed, River of Mists describes how the community of Hazelton did everything it could to support its troops, from knitting socks and sewing nightgowns for the wounded to raising $1,100 to buy a machine gun for the army. Sadly, as Mynett writes, “the toll on the men from Hazelton was heavy.” He shares startling letters from Hazelton’s men on the frontlines: one writes to his friends back home about the piece of metal stuck in his head; another describes living in “a shack composed of old poles, sacks and blankets,” hearing the sounds of nearby shells “which either blow you to bits or miss altogether…” 

“I miss the old trail and the campfire,” another writes. “B.C.’s got me the same as the other fellow.”

“The men from the Hazeltons who had gone to war with such enthusiasm…understood all too soon that the reality was horribly different,” Mynett explains in his book. “The reticence of returning soldiers to talk about the war is well documented. They seldom spoke about it because they believed that those not there could never comprehend. The wounds were too deep. The losses too great. It was not until the mid-1920s that war memoirs and war poetry started appearing in bookstores. Only then did people begin to understand that the war had not been glorious, clean and heroic, that not all men had died quickly, bravely leading their comrades toward a fiendish foe.”(Mynett, Geoff. River of Mists. Caitlin Press, 2022.) 

River of Mists shares these important, would-be-forgotten accounts of Hazelton’s war effort, alongside other extraordinary stories about people of the Upper Skeena between 1821 and 1930. 

ABOUT THE BOOK: 

Now available, River of Mists: People of the Upper Skeena, 1821-1930 is a people’s history of courage, scandal and adventure from BC’s wild frontier. The book can be ordered from Chapters-Indigo, your local bookstore, and directly from Caitlin Press.

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