La morti a tutti trova e lu munnu s’arrinova. Sicilian Proverb.
English: Death finds everyone and the world gets renewed.
With acknowledgement to Patrick M. Dennis who brought the role of conscripts and conscription into a sharper realistic relief with his presentations and excellent book, Reluctant Warriors: Canadian Conscripts in the Great War. I strive to educate as he has and thank him for his passionate efforts to inform us on this, all too often, misunderstood part of our Canadian history.
There are times that the research for this blog leads to parallels and moments of discovery.
The connectivity of the institutional and individual memory of a battalion is between its members and the experiences they have shared which creates a strong bond for the people that experienced the life of the battalion as it moved through the linear space of time and place. As time passes, and those that served pass into the oblivion of time, these bonds of memory become more and more tenuous and eventually break completely – As there is no one to remember.
In Brussels, Belgium. There is a cemetery. In it are two men. Both very representative of Canada. One, born in Canada with a noble storied Loyalist Family and name. The other, an immigrant given an Anglicized forename of “Patsy” as he was not of the Commonwealth and the name Pasquale may have been given to him or changed by him to reflect his new country. One, a volunteer. The other, a conscript. Both would die not of the actions of the enemy. Both would die in separate tragedies. Each tragedy would unite them in one place. A cemetery in Brussels.
They were 5-years different in age. The elder of the two, William Tecumseh Sherman, as a 28-year-old painter when he enlisted with the 186th Overseas Battalion at Chatham, Ontario on February 10, 1916. With his enlistment he passed through his service with an expectation of overseas service. He was not quite an exemplary example of military discipline as he was subject to 14-day’s of being confined to barracks over four incidents. His service record does not allow us to see the behaviour that brought this punishment to fruition. However, once overseas, save for a spot of trouble with a social disease, his service file is devoid of any issues involving disciplinary action by the military authorities.
The younger man’s service experience was different. Pasquale “Patsy” Anile was an Italian immigrant who was conscripted by the Military Service Act (MSA). He was a 24-years-old labourer and was living at 88 Glengarry Avenue, Windsor, Ontario at the time of his engagement with the CEF at London, Ontario on November 16, 1917.
Both men represented the two paths to service with the infantry and this path would lead them to be united for eternity.
Sherman was of United Empire Loyalist stock[i], his great-grandfather, Lemuel (1763-1865) being born at Connecticut Colony[ii] in the American Colonies and moved to Thamesville, Ontario in the late 1700’s. Sherman’s middle name was probably a nod at the connection the family held with the Indigenous leader Tecumseh, who is reported to have been invited to the Sherman family for farm for breakfast but his scheduled breakfast was changed and Tecumseh met the family after having his morning repast at another location prior to this meeting. Thus, Sherman was a 3rd generation Canadian from a well-established and storied family, steeped in the local fabric and history of Thamesville.[iii]
In contrast, Anile was an immigrant new to Canada. His presence in Canada during the war and the terms of the MSA established his eligibility for service as a conscript in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. We know little of his life up until he is conscripted. His forename is Pasquale and is either adapted by him or changed by others to Patsy. He is the son of Giuseppe and Maria Anile of 28 Camporeale, Trapani, Sicily.
The men’s differences in background and heritage are illustrated by the differences of their wills. Anile’s will is simple and to the point. In the event of his death, he bequeathed his real and estate to his mother. Sherman’s will, on the other hand, is complex and outlines in some detail his wishes, taking up a whole page of longhand written instructions.
Indeed, by the very nature of the dates of their engagement of service with the CEF would shape experiences in their military service would differ. Sherman, a volunteer in 1916, would serve with the 18th Battalion from November 27, 1917, until he was ill from January 15, 1918, until he returned to the Battalion in the latter part of October or early November. It is not clear from his service record if he returned in time to be in active service before the Armistice, but we can be sure he served with the Battalion during its time of occupation duties in Germany from November 1918 to February 1919. Anile, having enlisted at the end of 1917 has the experience of arriving at the 18th Battalion for active duty on May 30, 1918 ,until he takes ill on August 9, 1918. From that date he is treated for trench fever and scabies until he is classed “A’ for duty on November 11, 1918. He then leaves to rejoin his unit and after a brief stay at the Canadian Corps Reinforcement Camp, leaves for his Battalion on December 23, 1918, arriving sometime around Christmas Day.
It was in Germany that both men would be bound by their military service. Private Anile would be the first to die. Of influenza on January 18, 1919, at No. 1 Canadian Casualty Clearing Station (CCS). Three days later Private Sherman would die under the wheels of a tramcar (click on link for blog article of this event). Private Anile was buried at a cemetery at Poppelsdorfer, Bonn, Germany and Private Sherman was laid to rest at Duren, Germany.
Their deaths would unite them. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission concentrated these men from Germany to the Brussels Town Cemetery at Brussels, Belgium where they rest, together, as comrades-in-arms. They lie with 124 other Canadians from both World Wars in the solemn rows of grey headstones denoting each of the valiant dead.
One cannot know if they knew each other. Did they sit in one of the halls resplendent with food and drink on Christmas Day and listen to the speech their Battalion Commander gave on that first Christmas after the war’s end? Did they break bread together or even know of each other’s existence? This will never be known.
It is known that both men served. Both came from different backgrounds and the reasons for their participation in the war was different. One man a volunteer. Fully a British Subject and probably inculcated with value of Empire and King and Country, though his life experience at the age of 28 may have tempered his attitude, he still enlisted. One man a conscript. This word, with its pejorative tone, in no way reflects the motivations of the man who was required by fiat of the law to serve. There were options open to him to fight this process. He could have bolted across the border, just a bridge and a river away. He did not. He reported. Trained – was probably better trained than those who enlisted – and served.
Fate would take these men and unite them in death.
Remember them well.
[i] CK cemeteries – Miscellaneous – Main – ShermanHistory. (2022). Retrieved 14 March 2022, from http://ckcemeteries.ca/miscwiki/index.php?n=Main.ShermanHistory
[ii] FamilySearch: Sign In. (2022). Retrieved 14 March 2022, from https://www.familysearch.org/tree/pedigree/landscape/LDJF-93C
[iii] According to reference i above, the family farm is still farmed by a descendant of the Sherman family as of 2013.