Lieutenant Colonel W.C. Craig, known to most as “Chum”, enlisted in the Canadian Infantry at the age 30 in Vermilion on December 29, 1914 with the rank of Lieutenant. He would two years later be the youngest Lieutenant Colonel to serve in the Canadian Army.
The story behind this man is a unique one. He paid a brave and tremendous contribution to local history and Vermilion’s war effort, yet not very much is known or celebrated about this individual. Nine Vermilion area men enlisted their services to join ‘the Great Cause’ in Europe and the first name on the list was W.C. Craig in 1914.
Craig went to the front as Captain in the 3rd Canadian Mounted Rifles and was the first officer of that regiment to be wounded in the trenches.
Shortly after Craig returned home from the war to recover from his wounds, he began rallying and raising men during the winter of 1915/16 to return.
Lieutenant Colonel W.C. Craig pictured on the steps of Toronto City Hall with, Mayor of Toronto Thomas Langton to his left, and behind him his force the 194th Battalion (Edmonton Highlanders), before he returned to the battlefield in 1916.
Photo courtesy of the Vermilion Armoury
At this time people had come to know what an evil war machine it was. Telegraphs and newspaper announced names that would never return. Despite this, Craig raised the 194th Battalion with strength of 937 men from Vermilion and surrounding districts.
Lieutenant Colonel Craig took command of the 194th Battalion unit (The Highlanders) in 1916, and the battalion sailed to England in November 1916. The battalion was absorbed into the 9th Reserve Battalion on January 21, 1917 and was disbanded in 1920. The 194th regimental colors hang in the rotunda of the Alberta Legislature building. The Legion in Vermilion has a cap badge on display of the 194th.
The First World War, also known as ‘the Great War,’ was one of the deadliest conflicts in history. More than half a million Canadians joined their British allies and an entire generation of Europeans and North Americans met to suffer and die in the mud, blood and terror of a new kind of warfare. More than 66,000 of the Canadians never came home.
Lieutenant- Colonel Craig however survived twice and returned to Vermilion from the war a second time.
He was a partner in the Craig Brothers Store and after the store expanded he went to work as the manager of the North Battleford store.
“I remember him,” said John Stewart (Chum’s nephew). “I was in Grade 10. He was a good all round good fellow; he had a good sense of humor. I never heard him talk about the war.
“He enjoyed the odd shot,” remembers Stewart. “He liked wine (laughs). The doctor tried to cut him off once and told him he couldn’t have any more but he didn’t stop... I guess, if you survived the First World War twice, wine wouldn’t seem that dangerous,” said Stewart.
“The people of Vermilion need to celebrate their history more, if you don’t know where you’re coming from, then you don’t know where you’re going!” said Walter Weir. It was the actions of Lt Weir in 1993, as the Commanding Officer of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment Cadet Corps that the Craig family agreed to the naming of the Armory.
“Lt Col Chum Craig was two times a citizen; first as a leader of men for his Battalion and Country, and then as a small business man, the backbone of Canadian commerce. It was an honour when the Craig family allowed the Armoury to be named after him,” said Don Henry, President of the Field Marshal Alexander Legion, here in Vermilion.
Lieutenant Colonel Craig never married nor had children and is buried today in North Battleford cemetery.
With Remembrance Day nearing and with wars still raging in our world today, maybe we should look to our past and remember what we do not want, and remember the huge sacrifice that was paid.
“The sun now it shines on these green fields of France,
The warm summer breeze makes the red poppies dance,
There's no gas, no barbed wire, there're no guns firing now.”
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man,
To a whole generation that was butchered and damned.
Did they really believe when they answered the call
Did they really believe that this war would end wars
The suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame -
The killing and dying - it was all done in vain.
It's all happened again and again, and again, and again, and again,”
An excerpt from the poem the Green Fields of France by Eric Bogle.