Sunday, November 11, 2007

Remembrance Day

My father's grandfather was David Aikin, born in Belfast, Ireland. David and his two brothers came to Canada in 1901 under the Dr. Barnardo scheme to take young children (mostly orphans) from the UK to live in other parts of the Empire.

By 1916, David had settled in Essex County, Ontario. He was married and he was the father of a two year old girl (my grandmother). David enlisted to fight in the Great War: he became a private in the 18th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry (Western Ontario Regiment).

David's brother John had already been killed by the time David volunteered. John had been a private in the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles (Quebec Regiment): he died on June 2nd, 1916. There does not appear to be a known grave for John Aikin since the records only show his name listed on the Ypres Memorial.

David wrote a letter to his family en route to the war. He left with his regiment by train from Chatham, Ontario probably in March 1917. They arrived in the UK on Easter weekend 1917 just as the battle of Vimy Ridge was about to start (Easter Monday 1917).

Within about four months, David Aikin had been killed. His grave marker says he was age 24 when he died on August 21st, 1917. David's last letter is incomplete so it is unknown when he crossed over to France or whether he saw action before his death. The Western Ontario Regiment seems to have been involved in resisting German counter-attacks (after the Vimy retreat) to the north. The fight for Hill 70 is one reference that appears to be at about the August 21 date of his death but all details of the fate of a mere private are lost in the big picture.

David Aikin is buried in the Aix-Noulette Communal Cemetery Extension. Aix-Noulette is a village in the Department of the Pas-de-Calais. It is within 10 kilometres of Vimy Ridge. One source says the Cemetery Extension was begun by French troops early in 1915, and the two French plots are next to the Communal Cemetery. It was taken over by the 1st and 2nd Divisions [of the Canadian Expeditionary Force?] in February, 1916, and used by fighting units and Field Ambulances until October, 1918. It was increased after the Armistice by the concentration of graves from the battlefields to the East. There are now nearly 750, 1914-18 war casualties commemorated in this site.

These pictures show the Aix-Noulette Communal Cemetery Extension and David Aikin's grave marker in September 2006. My dad was the first member of our family to visit the cemetery, 89 years after David's death. He has not been forgotten.

Source: Commonwealth War Graves Commission site

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