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Researching grandfather a way to get to know him

Heidi Phillips never knew her grandfather. Researching his life during the First World War became a way for her to get to know him better. Clinton Alexander McPhee, born on Dec.
Clinton Alexander McPhee
Heidi Phillips, left, holds the photo of her grandfather, Clinton Alexander McPhee, during the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. McPhee was at the battle. Right is a photo of McPhee. Submitted photos

Heidi Phillips never knew her grandfather. Researching his life during the First World War became a way for her to get to know him better.

Clinton Alexander McPhee, born on Dec. 1, 1894 at MacPhee’s Corner in Nova Scotia’s Hants County, died before Phillips was born.

“I always grew up knowing my grandfather fought at Vimy Ridge but it wasn’t until the 100th anniversary of World War I that I started getting really interested in it and realizing this was part of my history and I needed to do research on it,” said Phillips, who teaches at Humboldt Collegiate Institute.

McPhee enlisted March 31, 1916, when he was 21 years old. He was a private in the No. 4 platoon in the 193rd Battalion, which in turn was part of the Nova Scotia Highland Brigade.

On Oct. 12, 1916, they headed to Halifax and boarded the SS Olympic to England. When they arrived, the brigade was broken up to reinforce other units. McPhee joined the 25th Battalion and went to France.

Phillips said she doesn’t have a lot of details on what he did during the war.

“Mom said he didn’t talk about the war much, that once he got home, that was it. He just wanted to carry on with his life.”

One thing the family did know is he was at Battle of Vimy Ridge, which took place April 9, 1917 to April 12, 1917.

Later that year, in August, McPhee had a gunshot wound to his right shoulder in Aug. 1917. A piece of the bullet remained in his body for the rest of his life. He went back to England to heal. In June 1918, he would receive a shrapnel wound to his head. For the rest of his life he suffered from headaches and ringing in his ears. McPhee would spend a total of six months in the hospital.

Due to the fact the war was over and his injuries, McPhee was honourably discharged. He returned to Canada Dec. 12, 1918.

Phillips said when she started to research her grandfather’s war record, she talked to her family. Her brother had some some research of his own. Then she looked on Archive Canada’s online records to find out more.

She spoke at her school’s Remembrance Day ceremony about her grandfather in 2016. After that, she took a trip with Humboldt Independent Travel Club to  England and France for the 100th anniversary of Vimy Ridge. She was there April 9 for the major ceremony.

After the 2016 ceremony, a space was open on the Humboldt Independent Travel Club’s trip to England and France for Vimy 100. Was there April 9 for the 100th anniversary.

“It was very powerful. It was very moving,” she said. “To be standing on the exact soil my grandfather had stood on 100 years before, it was very special to me.”

Phillips then spoke about her experiences for the Humboldt Legion’s Remembrance Day ceremony in 2017.

After the war, McPhee moved east to farm near Tisdale.

“He came from train to Melfort and then walked to Tisdale,” he said. “His original land grant was east of Tisdale in the Salopian district but it was under water so he obtained another one, which was a few miles east of Tisdale.”

He became a member of the school board. One of his duties was to guide new teachers to their home. One such teacher, Edna Loucks, became his wife and Phillips’ grandmother. They had seven children, the youngest of which was Phillips’ mom. Phillips herself is the youngest child in her family.

McPhee died Dec. 28, 1978 at the age of 85.

“I used to hear about how he was such a gentle man, so kind, would never hurt anything, very kind to animals,” Phillips said. “It’s interesting to think that this young man went off to fight in war, saw what he saw, did what he had to do for his country and then just lived out the rest of his life on a small farm near Tisdale, raising his children, knowing what he had witness but never talking about it.”

It’s something that makes Phillips appreciate all of the soldiers who fought and died for their country.

“Remembrance Day has always been special to me but being able to go to Vimy and being able to research my grandfather and to see some of his actual possessions has made it even more important for me to remember, for my family to remember and for Canada to remember.”