Remembering Claude Nunney, MM, DCM, VC
From left, Judy Neville, President Ontario East British Home Child Family; Captain Jim Devine, SDG Highlanders; Sgt Shawn Stoness, SDG Highlanders; Bill Bresse, President Branch 544 Royal Canadian Legion; George O’Dair, President Glen’s Association; LCol John Denner, Honourary LCol, SDG Highlanders; and Col. William Shearing, former Commanding Officer SDG Highlanders.
by Carolyn Thompson Goddard
Special to the Record
Just over 100 years ago, Canadians participated in the Great War for Civilization or as we have learned to call it, World War I. Great Britain declared war on Germany and her Allies on Aug. 4, 1914, a few months after the assassination of Grand Duke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife. Canada was automatically at war alongside Great Britain and Canadian servicemen were on the front-lines of the conflict by early 1915 until its conclusion in November 1918.
Canadians responded to the call to arms in record numbers and among those were many residents of the Chesterville area and the United Counties. There are photographs of soldiers at training camps in the Heritage Centre in Chesterville and I have seen a piece of art by local artist Ron LeClair depicting some of our local soldiers at the Chesterville train station (hope I got this right Ron!). In late 1915, the 154th Battalion Canadain Expeditionary Forces – CEF (perpetuated by the SDG Highlanders) began recruiting people for overseas service, but since the war began citizens of the counties had been volunteering to serve.
One of these young men was a British Home Child named Claude Nunney, who was born in Hastings, Sussex, England, came to Canada when he was 13 years old in 1905 with the Catholic Emigration Service (the same year and the same organization as my Grandpa Conroy came to Canada with – although on a different date – I checked to make sure) and became part of the rural community of North Lancaster where he had been indentured on a farm. In 1914, when war was declared he was away from Glengarry but returned there to join his friends from the 59th Stormont Glengarry Battalion of Infantry as they signed up first in Alexandria and then re-attested in Ottawa.
He served with the 38th Battalion CEF (perpetuated by the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa) in Bermuda and France, receiving the Military Medal, Distinguished Conduct Medal for bravery displayed at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, and the Victoria Cross for actions along the Drocourt-Quent Line near Arras France on Sept. 2, 1918, dying a few days later of wounds he had received during that battle.
Great Britain, as part of the commemoration of the Centennial of WWI, is honouring Victoria Cross recipients by having a blue plaque, sometimes referred to as a blue stone, placed on their homes. This recognition program has been in existence since 1867 and is currently administered by the English Heritage. On July 19, 2017 on the 125th anniversary of the birth of Claude Nunney, a blue plaque will be unveiled at his childhood home at 42 Bexhill Road in Hastings.
Peter Silk, from across the pond in England, has been a moving force in having the plaque installed and spent years researching this man. I am certain it hasn’t been an easy task because like many British Home Children, there is conflicting information that needed to be sifted through. Silk was up to the challenge researching in both England and Canada to confirm details about this man’s life as elementary as the place and date of his birth – it was in Hastings on July 19, 1892 – not Dublin in December 1892 as mentioned in various sources and his actual name which is Stephen Sargent Claude not Claude Joseph Patrick Nunney.
Claude Nunney came to this area as a “little immigrant, worked on a farm in Glengarry, won the hearts of the people who knew him and was one of an estimated 10,000 British Home Children, many who served their adopted country in WWI. Our local war hero has not been forgotten in Glengarry, or for that matter in SDG. The Royal Canadian Legion Branch in Lancaster is named after him with an historical plaque outside it which tells the story of Claude Nunney, also in Lancaster the 253 Claude Nunney VC, Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron and the annual Claude Nunney Dinner held in the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders Sergeant’s Mess annually. Also located in the Sgt’s Mess are replicas of Nunney’s medals, the originals of which were donated to the Highlanders many years ago.
On July 12, a group of people, who gathered outside the Lancaster Legion, near the Ontario Archaeological and Historic Plaque dedicated to Claude Nunney, recounted some of this gentleman’s story and a photo taken. This photograph has been sent to Silk by Judy Neville, President of the Ontario East British Home Child Family, so those who will be honouring Nunney in Hastings on July 19 will know that here in Glengarry and SDG we remember Nunney, or as Captain Jim Devine of the SDG Highlanders commented “Once a Glen, always a Glen.”
Post Script or P.S. I am thinking that next year on Sept. 2 and it is a Sunday (checked on Wikipedia) perhaps the same group and a few more should get together and have a luncheon to commemorate Claude Nunney – I will keep you posted on that plan!