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The Giles Brothers of Yarmouth
World War I – 100 Years of Remembrance
There is no question that WWI was a significant event in Canadian history, one which many say played a big part in forging us into
the country we are today. Many Canadians on the front lines made significant contributions to the war effort and over 50 thousand
made the ultimate sacrifice. Let us also not forget the efforts made by the Canadian people at home, supporting our men and
women overseas by sending letters and parcels to help them get through horrific conditions and events. The patriotism of the
people of Yarmouth certainly stood out and everyone pitched in to support the troops. Unfortunately, many men connected with
Yarmouth county, about 175, lost their lives overseas. The following text was part of a letter written by my grandfather Herbert
Cunningham from the front lines to his sister in October 1916.
I saw Bobby Clements (now Lieutenant), the other day and he told me some sad news about the Yarmouth Boys. Lindsay, Giles
and a few more you don’t know. The day I saw Clements he had just arrived from the trenches & say, he looked tough. He had his
head all bandaged up, a bullet had cut a hole through his ear. But say, I’m sorry about all the fellows. Gosh it don’t seem true
when I look back, I can’t see why such things has to be. Such a sad letter I had from sergeant Levy’s wife, oh it was sad, poor
woman, but I have answered it to the best of my ability. I pity poor Lindsay’s mother, what will she do? Ritchie, hasn’t any
parents has he?
I find it difficult to imagine what it must have been like to hear on a frequent basis about family and friends who were recently
killed or wounded. In today’s world, the loss of a single soldier killed in action generates considerable attention. In remembrance,
streets and parks are named after them. There are many sad stories of family losses, but the letter mentioned the name Giles and
their family story is truly worthy of our remembrance at this time of the year, 100 years after the end of the WWI.
Matthew and Mary Ann Giles lived on Commercial street in Yarmouth. A hard working family of modest means, it was a large one
with 4 sons and 6 daughters. One unmarried son, Matthew Jr. was working in Halifax when he enlisted early in the war (15
November 1914) at age 18. He joined the first NS battalion raised, the famed Nova Scotian Highlanders (25th battalion). His
enlistment paper was witnessed by the same Bobby Clements mentioned in the letter above. The second son to enlist was Thomas
in April 1915 when he turned 18. Private Thomas Giles enlisted with a group of about 40 Yarmouth men including Herbert
Cunningham (see picture).
In March 1916 the two other sons enlisted. The oldest Frank Giles (27) was married to Mary Nettie and they lived in Yarmouth
when he enlisted. James Henry Giles (24), his wife Nellie, son Frank (age 2) and daughter Shirley (6 months) were living in Halifax
when he enlisted. Matthew and Mary Ann must have been very proud of their 4 sons but very worried about their chances of
The first terrible news received by the Giles family was about Matthew Jr and his death was the news Herbert Cunningham
relayed to his sister in the letter above. Matthew Jr went to France with the 25th battalion and he had been killed 1 October 1916
in the trenches during the battle of Courcelette.
Private James Henry Giles, went to the front to join the 13th battalion, 6 December 1916. He was wounded at Vimy Ridge 10 April
1917 with shrapnel wounds to his left thigh and chest. He succumbed to his wounds the same day. The very same day Private
Thomas Giles with the 25th battalion suffered a gunshot wound in his right leg. The wound invalided Thomas to England for
recovery, temporally removing him from danger. Following the death of Matthew Jr just 6 short months previous to this, the news
of James’s death and Thomas’s wound must have been terrible for the family, especially with James leaving a wife and 2 small
In July 1916 on the journey to England Private Frank Giles had caught a bad cold and his medical condition got generally worse
after that. In March 1917 he was diagnosed with influenza and admitted to hospital. Following the news from Vimy Ridge the Giles
family and Frank’s wife Mary Nettie must have been relieved when in August 1917 Frank was declared medically unfit, having
developed chronic bronchitis and a heart irregularity. He was back in Yarmouth by the end of 1917.
Now only one Giles son remained overseas. After recovering from his wound, Thomas Giles returned to the front lines with the
2nd Canadian Machine Gun Battalion. On 10 September 1918, just 2 months before the end of the war, Thomas was one of a gun
crew providing relief for an artillery battery in the front line. About 3:15 in the morning, the gun crew was proceeding in single
file, along a railroad track. Just prior to turning right on a road crossing the railway track a shell exploded nearby killing one
soldier and badly wounding Thomas. He succumbed to his wounds before he could be taken to the nearest medical station.
Words cannot express how the Giles family must have felt. Three sons of Yarmouth, from one family, had been lost to the war. In
the years following the war Canada expressed our condolences to the family and sent the usual plaques, scrolls and memorial
crosses to the men’s mother Mary Ann and to James’s widow.
Matthew Giles died in 1934 and Mary Ann died in Plymouth, Yarmouth County 18 July 1943. In addition to their 4 sons, they had 6
daughters, Florence, Hilda, Grace, Margaret, Ethel and Mildred. At the time she died in 1943, Mary Ann’s sole surviving son, Frank
Giles was living in South Ohio. Her obituary said she was survived by 19 grandchildren and 8 great grandchildren. Its very likely
descendants of the family still live in the area. Perhaps now 100 years following the end of WWI, something more could be done in
remembrance of the sacrifice the Giles family made. Possibly Commercial street where they lived during the war could be
renamed Giles Memorial.
The Giles Brothers of Yarmouth
World War I - 100 Years of Remembrance
Yarmouth men enlisting in 40th battalion April 1915. Herbert Cunningham is #4 in 2nd row. Thomas Giles not identified.