The first Mayor of Vermilion, Matt Brimabcome, served in WWI. Enlisting at 49 years old, Brimacombe departed from Sarcee Camp in Calgary. Spending much time in England, he was eager to go to France, and even took a drop in rank and pay in order to go.
Working his way through Belgium and France, Brimacombe was placed in charge of Farm #2, sending train car loads of vegetables to supply the men at the front lines, and moving camp often as they advanced.
In a letter dated December 3 1916, Brimacombe wrote, “We were to start across the Channel but had to turn tail and run again because there was a raid on and some German submarines in the Channel. The next night we started earlier than usual and made a run for it and got through okay; and got our troops out to camp in good shape. Nearly all our boys are right up in the front lines on the Somme front now, so we will have to watch the papers pretty close now.”
Brimacombe also noted Vimy Ridge, and Ypres; and several times commented on the ‘Vermilion Boys’.
In letters to his niece regarding the cabbage order he was to fill at a new location Brimacombe said, “My first order is five million plants. In spite of the weather, the troops must be fed. We supplied 26,000 lbs during the past six days and as I only have 11 men, it keeps us very busy. I am cutting more than three tonnes of cabbage each week and three tonnes of potatoes a week.
Tomorrow I have got to cut seven tonnes of cabbage, up to the present I have sent out 40 tonnes of cabbage and 41 tonnes of carrots, and you can hardly see that I have cut any cabbage yet.”
Throughout his letters at different times, Brimacombe was in charge of serving thousands of people breakfast, overseeing dozens of men, and the growth and harvesting of a few animals and other vegetables including brussel sprouts, cauliflower, celery, parsnips, radish, lettuce, onion, and leeks.
In a letter dated April 1917, he wrote, “We had hardly been in camp three hours before old Fritz got our range with high explosive shells, and we sure had a lively time nearly all the first night and part of the second. Rain nearly every day - mud, mud, mud; this is some country.
We’ve been shelled three times since coming here, but not much damage done. We’ve had plenty of excitement today, it is clear, and the aeroplanes are busy, guns going in all directions. They are very daring; they squared over our camp this morning and not very high either, you could see the cross on the bottom of the plane.
The whole earth shook for about twelve hours. I am unable to give any more definite information but the fight will be historical. I took a short walk out over what was once no man’s land this morning and it was quite interesting.”
Brimacombe noted that moving camp was difficult work, but showed that the troops were gaining ground.
“The country here outside the trenches and shell holes is under cultivation. It is wonderful to see the men and women out cultivating the land, and shells screaming over their heads; but I have seen times when we have to run for shelter,” said Brimacombe on May 4, 1917.
November, 1918 letters read, “Word has just reached camp that all fighting has ceased. I can hardly believe it but I hope it’s true.
Now that the war is over there is not the same incentive to work; everybody wants to go home,” said Brimacombe.