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Lee Blackadar: Searching for his Story
by Ruth Kirk, Ottawa, Ontario (An earlier version of this article appeared in Anglo-Celtic Roots, Vol. 12, no. 2, Summer 2006 and in The Nova Scotia Genealogist, Fall,2007, XXV/3) The name of Lee Blackadar first entered my consciousness five years ago when I came across his name in a family genealogy. Lee was a gunner in the Canadian Field Artillery in World War I and died, age 28, in the Battle of the Somme. I remember Lee's mother, my " aunt" Mattie Blackadar, in the early 1950s in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Two of her three sons and her husband had died. At that time I had no idea of the sadness she had experienced in her life; today I recognize her sadness, her unsung heroism and the great sacrifices she made for her country. At first I was motivated primarily by curiosity to learn more about the life of this family member - my mother's cousin. I knew little about Lee-only the most basic genealogical data: his ancestors and family, that he was unmarried, and the bare facts of his death. Ensuing Remembrance Day ceremonies and the increasing publicity surrounding war veterans and casualties heightened my initial interest. Later my interest grew as I felt sad that Lee had died in the Great War and, as far as I knew, no one remembered him. My initial motivation soon expanded to encompass a wish to honour his memory. I later found that he was remembered officially in many places and in a more personal way by his community and family for many years after his death. Lee's Family and Early Life in Nova Scotia I have an old photo-graph showing Lee as a child with his family. But, other than one letter with a reference to him, there are no relevant documents or mementos in my family papers. Through the Blackadar family genealogy I was able to find and contact Lee's great niece only to find that she too had no documents. I had exhausted the family sources of information. That presented a challenge, the first of many in my search for the life story of Gunner Lee Blackadar. However, there were not only challenges, but also many rewards in my quest. I wanted to know more about Lee. What did he do in his 28 years? What kind of person was he? What did he look like? I started to search for more detail close to his home and began in Yarmouth. The obituaries in the local newspapers in the Yarmouth County (Nova Scotia) Museum and Archives as well as local histories and genealogies provided a wealth of information about Lee and his family. Although the family lived in Hebron, near Yarmouth, George William Lee Blackadar was born in 1888 in the village of Weymouth, near Digby, the home of his maternal grandparents.[1] He was the first child of John Archibald “Arch" Blackadar and Martha " Mattie" Goodwin. Two more sons were born to Mattie: Karl Kenneth in 1890 and John Archibald in 1899. His family lived in a large wooden two-storey home next door to Lee's Blackadar grandparents, John and Annie. His grandparents were prominent and respected members of the Hebron community. Both were graduates of the provincial Normal School (a school for training teachers), and John was a founder of Blackadars & Co., a logging and lumber mill operation. John's obituary notes that he retained his ideals of education while in business and that he was a trustee of the Hebron High School for many years. The family were staunch members of the Hebron Baptist Church. Lee's father, Arch, and Lee's uncles worked in the family lumber business, and Arch became an internationally recognized authority on wood. An undated letter (probably 1901) from Lee's uncle, George Blackadar, to his fiancé describes a loving and close-knit family. Lee's mother Mattie and his aunt Belle are teasing George about his recent engagement. As part of the family news, George tells his fiancé about Lee, age 12 or 13, who has just returned from a visit with his Goodwin grandmother in nearby Weymouth where he has picked up the cold that is going the rounds of the family. Lee likely travelled by train from Yarmouth to Weymouth, a distance of 60 kilometres. The family lumber business and the family ideals of education and religion were important influences in Lee's life as can be seen in his study of manual training, his career as a teacher, his attendance at the Nova Scotia university founded by Baptists (Acadia University) and his choice of an artillery unit when he enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. His Later Life in Nova Scotia In the Yarmouth County Museum and Archives there was not only a wealth of material but also a knowledgeable and helpful archivist with an interest in World War I. I asked to see the newspapers for mid to late November 1916. The archivist, with his white gloves, turned the brittle pages for me, and we found the notices of Lee's death. And the archivist told me of a book written about the soldiers whose names were inscribed on the Yarmouth War Memorial. I especially hoped for a photograph of Lee as an adult. The archivist found a folder of old photographs from the Yarmouth County Academy. I was happy to see a photograph of Lee's 1907 graduating class with the students identified and was interested to note that his brother Karl was in the same class. I arranged to have this photograph and a head and shoulders image of Lee professionally copied from the original print. The photographs arrived at my home in Ottawa. Alas! The enlargement showed that Lee's eyes were shut. I hoped to find a better photo. From the newspaper notices of his death I learned that Lee studied manual training at the Yarmouth County Academy, attended the Nova Scotia Normal College in Truro for teacher training, and taught manual training in a number of communities in Nova Scotia. In those days manual training included woodworking, iron work and mechanical drawing. Lee was a student in applied science at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia when he enlisted in 1915. In October 2005 I made a family history research trip to Nova Scotia and visited Truro and Wolfville. The archives of the Provincial Normal College (1855 - 1944) are in the basement of the Little White Schoolhouse Museum in Truro. The archivist came in for the day and introduced me to a gold mine of records. He also showed me the nearby World War I commemorative plaque for Normal College graduates. I learned that Lee and his younger brother Karl attended Normal College together and boarded on Prince Street near the school. Lee graduated with a diploma in Mechanic Science and was recommended for a teaching license in Mechanic Science. It is not surprising, given that his Blackadar grandparents and two of his uncles were teachers, that Lee chose teaching as a career. However, with all this wonderful information, I was disappointed to find no photograph for the Class of 1908. In addition to the Normal College records, these archives contain old annual school reports for the province. The reports contain names of the teachers in the academies and manual training schools of Nova Scotia, and I was able to follow Lee's teaching career. For the first three years following graduation he taught in manual training schools in a different area of Nova Scotia each year, and each teaching assignment usually included two schools. After my day of research in Truro, I travelled to Wolfville. When I arrived at Acadia University, I first visited the Manning Memorial Chapel, and the University Chaplain showed me the Book of Remembrance where Lee's name is inscribed. I also stopped at the grounds of the War Memorial Gymnasium to view the monuments there. At the Acadia University Esther Clark Wright Archives the staff had gathered material for me, specifically Lee's university records and the 1911-1915 bound volumes of the student newspaper and university bulletins. The newspapers and bulletins provided an interesting picture of university life in those years. In October 1911 Lee, age 23, entered Acadia University as an engineering student in the two-year Applied Science program. His university expenses, including board, room, laundry, tuition and incidental fees, would have been in the range of $150 to $175 per year. For the next four years Lee demonstrated determination and perseverance as he worked toward his goal of becoming an engineer. He attended Acadia for two years, and in 1913-14 he returned to teaching, now in the towns of Middleton, Bridgetown and Annapolis Royal, in the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia. He was the head of the Manual Training Department in Annapolis Royal and received a total annual salary of $825 for the three teaching assignments. During that same year he was also an instructor in woodworking at Acadia Collegiate Academy. In the fall of 1914 Lee returned to Wolfville where he completed some of his unfinished courses at Acadia and taught in the Wolfville Manual Training School. The Acadia archivist kept referring to Lee's transcript to tell me when he attended Acadia and what courses he was enrolled in, but she kept the transcript turned away from me - I couldn't see his marks. As the day went on, I asked a lot of questions about his program which she answered by referring to the transcript. Finally I asked if I could have a copy of the transcript. The archivist asked the head archivist who telephoned the university privacy officer. The decision was that I could have a copy of the transcript, but without the marks - privacy issues! And was there a photograph? We looked in the files of class photos there was nothing for Lee's class. Then the archivist remembered a donation of papers from the family of a woman in that class. We checked the file and found a postcard of the class photo with tiny individual photographs and names. Thanks to my having an idea of Lee's appearance and his distinctively short first name and long surname, I was able to find him in the postcard photo. Ever the optimist, I ordered an enlarged copy of the postcard and a head and shoulders image of Lee. From the information in the archives in Yarmouth, Truro and Wolfville I put together a picture of an ambitious and determined young man. From the time of his high school graduation in 1907 until his enlistment in the fall of 1915 - eight years - he worked and studied in pursuit of a university education and a career as an engineer. I especially admire his perseverance, as I could see from his academic records that, despite his aptitude for science and the technical subjects, some of the other compulsory subjects like English and French were difficult for him. His War Service In November 1915 Lee and a fellow Acadia student, George S. Atkins, left Acadia and enlisted in the 46th Battery2 at Kingston, Ontario. The 46th was composed mainly of Queen's University students; for years I wondered why these two Nova Scotian students would enlist in an artillery unit so far from home. In March 2006 I discovered the children of George S. Atkins, now in their 70s and 80s. It was from his son, also named George, that I found the answer to this mystery. Why did they enlist at Kingston, Ontario? “Oh, I know that,” said George and explained to me that Nova Scotians Guy VanAmburg and Eric Leslie had been at Acadia in the same engineering program as Lee and George S. Atkins; however, Guy and Eric went to Queen's University to finish their engineering degrees. One of their professors, Lester Gill, was forming the 46th (Queen's) Battery and enthusiastically encouraged his students to join. The story told in the Atkins family is that Guy telephoned George (long distance in 1915!) and said "Come up here and we'll go in the army and see what the noise is all about." And so George and Lee did, but because George, or “Gammie", was the captain of the football team, they didn't leave until the end of November when football season ended.[3] The question had been answered; friendship and adventure were key motivations for these young men. I later discovered further evidence of their friendship; Lee and Guy VanAmburg were "chums of many years standing."[4] These four friends, and a fifth - Bill Cook, later of the National Hockey League Hall of Fame - vowed that they would look out for each other and stay together as gunners, not seeking or accepting commissions. The four who survived the War remained friends and often visited each other's homes; indeed Guy VanAmburg was "Uncle Van" to the Atkins children. Linda Atkins Camp recalls her horror at hearing her father and friends recollect their war experiences, always with joking and great laughter: "You were the lousiest." "That rat didn't get you." "You remember that rat that came and you got it.”[5] Entirely different sorts of information about Lee's war service came from the Internet, books, and Library and Archives Canada records. I scanned a number of books ranging from the official history of the gunners of Canada to L. M. Montgomery's journals from World War I. On the Internet, especially the Library and Archives Canada web-site, there is a great deal of information about the part Canada played in World War I and particularly in the Battle of the Somme. From his attestation papers on the LAC website I obtained a copy of Lee's signature and a description of his appearance - 5’ 5 I/2” tall with brown hair and brown eyes. I ordered the Blackadar military service records from Library and Archives Canada. Lee's file showed that he trained in Kingston and crossed over from Saint John to England with the 46th Battery in February 1916. In the file was his handwritten will naming his mother as beneficiary. The 46th Battery of the 11th Infantry Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery, embarked for France in mid-July. For nearly four months Lee fought in the Battle of the Somme without injury. On November 9, 1916 he was killed in action in the struggle for Regina Trench. The on-line war diaries for the 11th Brigade reported, "'A minor operation of heavy artillery and shrapnel took place...." [6} Arthur Thurston describes Lee's death: “As an artilleryman Blackadar was serving guns. He had just left the siege gun for lunch. He was actually in the process of eating when a shell from the enemy crashed through the roof of the dugout and exploded, killing him and three other gunners instantly." The flags in Yarmouth flew at half-mast when word was received of his death.[7] On December l0, a memorial service was held in the Hebron Baptist church. Extracts from letters of sympathy from the President of Acadia University, the President of the Normal College and Lee's commanding officer, Major L. W. Gill were read. “Especially touching, pathetic and significant were the words of the commanding officer as he referred to the willing, efficient and faithful service rendered by Lee on the battlefield Somewhere in France.”[8] From the Commonwealth War Graves Commission web-site I learned that Gunner Lee Blackadar is buried in Adanac Military Cemetery in Miraumont, near Arras in northern France. In April 2004 I visited Lee's grave and was moved by the experience and by the beauty and peacefulness of the military cemeteries. Remembering Lee Lee was remembered in significant ways by his community and by his family. On May 22, 1917 twins were born to Emily and Roy Ryerson of South Ohio, the village bordering Lee's family home in Hebron. The baby boy was named Lee Blackadar Ryerson. Lee and his brother Karl were close, and Karl honoured Lee's memory by naming his daughter Mary Lee. Recently, I had access to Karl's 1941 and 1942 diaries and was touched to read the first line of the entries on August 4 both years - "Lee's birthday" Twenty-five years after Lee's death, this was Karl's first thought on his brother's birthday. Karl's stepdaughter told me of a fire in the 1930s in the home of Arch and Mattie Blackadar. “Grandma B (Mattie) said that all she wanted to save were the three photographs of her sons in their uniforms.” [9] Lee's name is inscribed on his parents' tombstone in the Hebron River-side Cemetery with the words "Killed in action- France”. In 1921 in Hebron Baptist Church there was a memorial service and unveiling of a commemorative tablet honouring the three Hebron soldiers who died in the First Great War. The church burned in 1931, and in November 1932 two memorial windows were dedicated in the new Hebron United Baptist Church. As my research progressed, I realized that there are many memorials to Canadian soldiers who have died in war. In Canada, Gunner Lee Blackadar is remembered by monuments and books of remembrance in Yarmouth, Truro, Wolfville and Ottawa. His name is inscribed on the War Memorial in Yarmouth. Every November the Yarmouth weekly newspaper, The Vanguard, publishes the roll of those whose names appear on the monument. In Truro his name is on the World War I commemorative plaque honouring Normal College graduates who died during the War. In Wolfville his name appears in the Book of Remembrance in the Manning Memorial Chapel and also on an obelisk in front of the Acadia Memorial Gymnasium. Early in my research I discovered that his name is recorded in the World War I Books of Remembrance in the Memorial Chamber of the Peace Tower in Ottawa. These books commemorate the men and women of Canada who have died in war. There is a daily page-turning ceremony of the Books of Remembrance in the Memorial Chamber, and every year on February 13, the World War I Book of Remembrance is turned to page 55 where the name of Lee Blackadar appears. In 2004 a Blackadar cousin and I attended this brief and impressive ceremony, and we saw the name of Gunner Lee Blackadar of the 11th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery. In April of this year, a further tribute was paid to Lee Blackadar. Senator Norman Atkins (the son of Lee's friend George S. Atkins) attended the 90th anniversary ceremonies commemorating Vimy Ridge. While in France, he was interviewed by a CBC reporter and talked about his father's experiences during World War I. Senator Atkins described how his father had gone to war with friends, how important these friends were; and he specifically named Lee Blackadar.[10] Ninety years after Lee's death, his name lives on. Some Closing Thoughts Lee's short life and the lives of many members of his family show the value that the family placed on education and service to Canada. Two of Lee's uncles graduated from university, Ross as a doctor and George as a teacher; and Lee's brother Karl was a teacher and a doctor. Lee himself combined teaching and university study for many years. Lee and both his brothers served their country in World War I. Karl enlisted in the Medical Corps in February 1917 and John enlisted in March 1916. Both served in France. Lee's uncle, Major George D. Blackadar, commanded the Yarmouth County Academy Cadet Corps for many years; and, after a number of attempts to be sent overseas during World War I, he was assigned with the Canadian Forestry Company to Scotland where he commanded a lumber camp near Inverness. The Rewards of my Search In doing my research, there were three rewards. The first was the immense satisfaction of getting to know about Lee and his life - what he did, what kind of person he was, what he looked like and what fine and interesting people his family and friends were. The second was the satisfaction that came from honouring his memory: I visited Lee's grave in France and planted flowers. I felt it was important to support the people I met by showing appreciation and encouragement for the work they do. These are the people who keep the archives and memorials, tend the graves and perform the ceremonies. I also made donations to the smaller organizations. I have been able to extend the availability of information about Lee Blackadar by posting his life story to the Blackadar Rootsweb list, giving biographical information and a photograph to the Normal College Archives in Truro, and sending a photograph and other images of Lee to the Veterans Affairs Canadian Virtual War Memorial. Thirdly, I have met and talked with wonderful, interesting people in my search: the Atkins family, Karl Blackadar's stepdaughters, Mary Lee Blackadar's best friend from childhood, a cousin in Minnesota and the people in the archives in Yarmouth, Wolfville and Truro. And finally, I have a good likeness of Lee from his Acadia class photograph - a fine looking young man with his eyes open. When I next attend the February I3 Turning of the Page Ceremony in the Memorial Chamber, the ceremony will be even more meaningful to me because I have found Lee's story. Endnotes: I. Yarmouth Herald, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, August 29, 1888, n.p. 2. A battery is a military unit of guns, personnel and vehicles. 3. Interview with George Atkins, by Ruth Kirk, March 22, 2006. 4. Yarmouth Light, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, December 7, 1916, 8. 5. Interview with Linda Atkins Camp, by Ruth Kirk, April 2, 2006. 6. “War Diaries of the First World War”, Library and Archives Canada Genealogy Centre, ( e.html: accessed 2004), entry for 11th Canadian Infantry Brigade, November 9th, 1916. 7. Arthur Thurston, A Monument Speaks ... and Tells the Story of its Dead (Yarmouth, N.S.: A. Thurston Publications, 1989), 54. 8. Yarmouth Light, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, December 14, 1916, n.p. 9. Interview with Lou Henderson, by Ruth Kirk, May 15, 2007. 10. Interview with Norman K. Atkins, by Ruth Kirk, April 19, 2007. References/Sources Books: Christie, Norm. For King and Empire: The Canadians on the Somme September to November, 1916, a Social Historv and Battlefield Tour. Winnipeg: Bunker to Bunker, 1996. Christie, Norm. Futility and Sacrifice: The Canadians on the Somme, 1916. Nepean, Ontario: CEF Books, 1998. Montgomery, L.M. Rilla of Ingleside. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Limited, 1920. The descriptions of World War I are based on Montgomery's journals. Nicholson, Colonel G.W.L. Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1918. Ottawa: Queen's Printer, 1962. Nicholson, Colonel G.W.L. The Gunners of Canada: The History of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery, Vol. I, 1534-1919. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1967. Nicholson, Colonel G.W.L. ”We Will Remember. . . Overseas Memorials to Canada War Dead”. Ottawa: Published under the authority of the Minister of Veterans Affairs for Canada, 1973. Rubio, Mary & Elizabeth Waterston, editors. The Journals of L.M Montgomery, Vol. II 1910-1921. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1987. Thurston, Arthur. A Monument Speaks . . . and Tells the Story of its Dead. Yarmouth, N.S.: A. Thurston Publications, 1989. Electronic Sources: Commonwealth War Graves Commission. “Debt of Honour Register.” Database. Commonwealth War Graves Commission. accessed 2004. Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons. This is the email address for the Deputy Speaker, who will assist in arrangements for attending the Turning of the Page Ceremony. Library and Archives Canada. “First World War.” Resource pages and databases. Canadian Genealogy Centre. 2005, updated March I 2007, (war history, battles, unit diaries, individual service records including attestation papers). Queens' University Archives. “Queens Remembers : A Memorial to Those at the University Who Have Given Their Lives For Their Country.” Exhibition. Collections and Partnerships. 2005. Veterans Affairs Canada. accessed 2007. Veterans Affairs Canada. “The Canadian Virtual War Memorial.” Database. Canada Remembers. 2005. Archival Sources: Esther Clark Wright Archives, Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Family records in the possession of Ruth Kirk, Ottawa, Ontario. Family records in the possession of Ritta Wright, Elmsdale, Nova Scotia. Little White Schoolhouse Museum, Truro, Nova Scotia. Queens' University Archives, Kingston, Ontario. RG 150, acc 1992-93/166, Box #780-14, W.W.I Records, Library and Archives Canada. Yarmouth County Museum and Archives, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Interviews: Atkins, George, March 22, 2006, Clifton, New Jersey, USA. Atkins, Senator Norman K., April 2006, April 19, 2007, Ottawa, Ontario. Camp, Linda Atkins, April 2, 2006, Toronto, Ontario. Henderson, Lou, October II, 2006, May 15, 2007, Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. Sollows, Eleanor, October 20, 2006, Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Wright, Ritta, October 8, 2006, May 2007, Elmsdale, Nova Scotia
Lee Blackadar (front left) with his family. ca. 1898
Yarmouth County Academy " B " Class 1907. Lee is second from the left in the back row. His brother Karl is at the far right in the second row from the back. (Permission of Yarmouth County Museum and Archives)
Adanac Military Cemetery, Miraumont, France.
War Memorial, Yarmouth N.S.
Lee Blackadar at Acadia University, age 23. (Permission of Esther Clark Wright Archives, Acadia University)