Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Charles Reaper, Quarrier Boy, last living infantry man from Vimy Ridge by Rose McCormick Brandon

Charles Reaper
Between 1869 and 1939, more than 100,000 children immigrated to Canada from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. More than 10,000 of them enlisted for Canada during WWI. That was almost all of legal age and a few that fibbed.
Charles Reaper, a boy who immigrated through Quarriers of Scotland,  was Vimy Ridge’s last remaining infantry man. He died in March, 2003.
At twelve, Charles, a Glasgow orphan, arrived in Canada on April 8, 1912. Four years later, he lied about his age and joined the military. "It was," he said, "the only lie I ever told."
At Easter, 1917, before he turned eighteen, Private Charles Reaper was one of 20,000 Canadian soldiers who formed the "creeping artillery barrage" that took Vimy Ridge.
Decades later, when Charles was interviewed about his Vimy Ridge experience, tears filled his eyes as he recalled the battle that took the lives of hundreds of his fellow soldiers. As his comrades fell around him, there was nothing to do, he said, but to keep moving forward with his unit, over the Douai Plain. Charles was hit by shrapnel. He counted himself
Vimy Ridge Victory
fortunate; 3600 died during that hard-won battle.
Charles spoke little of his war experiences, not even to his wife, but when he did, he always added, "What kept me alive was the man above.” Charles recovered from his Vimy Ridge wounds and by the Fall of 1917, he was entrenched in the third battle of Ypres, on Flanders Fields.
WWI trenchIn trenches filled with mud, his uniform soaked, his body chilled, he survived mustard-gas attacks by pressing underwear soaked in urine over his mouth and nose. Canadian troops prevailed and overtook at Passchendaele, a Belgian village, but not without heavy losses, on both sides - 500,000 soldiers died in that epic battle.
Charles was wounded and sent to a hospital in England for a long recovery. "Because of my accent, they called me an Old Country kid in the hospital," he recalled. "But I said, `No, I'm a Canadian.' "
Though he’d been in Canada only four years, Charles developed a strong sense of devotion to his new country. At the end of the war, he settled in Winnipeg where he worked as a transit supervisor and driver for forty-eight years. After the war, Charles met and married Anna, whom he was married to for sixty-nine years. She said of her husband, “Charles hasn’t talked much about his war experiences, but he has always believed that serving his country was his duty and a glorious moment in his life.”
Charles and Anna had no children but were close to many nieces and nephews. A month shy of the 86th anniversary of the battle at Ypres, Charles Reaper, age 103, died in Winnipeg on March 1, 2003. Charles’ obituary read:
CHARLES REAPER Peacefully at the Riverview Health Centre, on March 1, 2003, Charles Reaper passed away into the arms of the Lord. Left to mourn are his dearly beloved and dedicated wife Anna; his nephew Darren Stirling (Debbie) and Janice Gill (Don) who were always there for him with endless love and kindness. Also many loving family members including numerous nieces and nephews. Charles was born on July 27, 1899 in Keith, Banffshire, Scotland. Charles Reaper, who died in Winnipeg a week ago today, aged 103, was the last of the 20,000 young Canadians who "went over the top" at dawn on April 9, 1917 to attack Vimy Ridge, and by lunchtime had given the young nation its first grip on a fragile national identity.

Promises of Home - Stories of Canada's British Home Children by Rose McCormick Bandon  is a collection of 31 stories of destitute children who immigrated to Canada and worked as indentured servants until age eighteen. Their coming helped to make our country great. Promises of Home, both the book and blog, seeks to give these children the honour they deserve. To purchase the book, visit http://writingfromtheheart.webs.com.


Peter Black said...

I really enjoyed this piece, Rose. Thanks for sharing the remarkable story of Charles Reaper. During my years in Glasgow, Quarriers Homes were still actively caring for orphaned and homeless children, and I would occasionally encounter people who had been resident there.
If memory serves me correctly, my brother-in-law's grandfather and his siblings had been Quarrier's children. It's a tremendous broad-ranging social care charity nowadays.~~+~~

Rose McCormick Brandon said...

Quarriers has provided care for children for more than a century. I believe that Mr. and Mrs. Quarrier were impacted by the revival that swept through the U.K. around the 1860s and were impressed by Christ to minister to destitute and impoverished children.

Peter Black said...

Amen, Rose. The Gospel / Good News of Jesus Christ at work in it's power to generate loving purpose and produce true philanthropy in His name.~~+~~

Carolyn R. Wilker said...

Thank you, Rose. I find your stories of the children of great interest.

Glynis said...

Absolutely fascinating. What a brave young soldier Charles surely was. And to live to that wonderful age. Imagine the stories he could tell. Well done, Rose. I loved to read your stories. And I didna' live too far from Glasgow, although I was a wee lass and don't remember the Quarrier homes. Fascinating and good for you for keeping these personal stories alive - such an important part of history.

David Kitz said...

It's wonderful to keep the memory of such a gallant man alive.

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