Left, Wayne and Duncan Carey beneath the plaque showcasing their father and grandfather Pte Duncan Carey. In school in Vermilion, Wayne won a Legion poem contest for his poem titled, ‘I’ll never know him.’ Duncan still remembers his father’s scars. Photos submitted
Right, 16th Battalion Canadian Scottish L/Cpl Duncan Carey (left) went to England for two weeks leave with a friend. Photos submitted
Vermilion’s Duncan and Pat Carey recently returned from a trip to France where they traced Duncan’s father’s steps through World War II.
The interest developed when the Snelgrove family went over, and Pam and Cecil King called them from inside the Maison Blanche Cavern. She knew that Duncan’s father (Pte Duncan Carey) had been in the same Battalion and had enlisted the same day in Islay, Alberta as her great uncle Thomas Alban Snelgrove (who died at Vimy Ridge and his body was never found).
Wanting to see it for themselves, they travelled with Scott and Bernie Webb. The plaque carved shows 1917 Canadian Scottish with nine names listed below including D. Darey with his enlistment number.
“We actually walked the same ground that they fought on. We went down about 30 feet and the crest was high on the wall into the limestone. Bunks were three high, and we think whoever carved it had the top bunk,” said Duncan.
He went on to explain why purple ink was used. Soldiers were given a waxed pencil so that when messengers were taking letters back, if they got wet, they wouldn’t blotch.
The groups learned more about what he did each day from the Canadian War Diaries his war records show each time he was wounded. Pte Duncan Carey was housed in the Maison Blanche cavern on April 11, 1917 during the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The caverns were quarries left behind from people in the 15-1600s. According to Duncan, during the war, the Germans had previously occupied the territory but didn’t know about them, and the French Resistance showed the Canadians the tunnels. With nine hundred soldiers housed in the cavern, it was used as a staging area. From there they completed night time reconnaissance and work parties.
They were thankful for their tour from David Hedges from England with the Durand group (involved with the discovery of the cavern and work around Vimy as volunteers who specialize in clearing mine fields).
Pte Duncan Carey was born on July 13, 1890 in Ontario. He first homesteaded in 1913, and enlisted in 1916 (at 26 years old). Seven brothers came from Ontario to Islay, and his father didn’t want any of them to enlist. A letter to his sister in Winnipeg says, ‘Sorry to hear of our dad’s passing; I enlisted today.’
Pat Carey added that the 16th battalion trained all winter using their bayonets with bags training in trench warfare for the creeping barrage. Pte Duncan Carey was wounded on April 30, 1917 with a shrapnel wound to the right thigh.
Duncan had only found his father’s letters within the past six months and felt that they answered a whole lot more questions.
A letter to his mother after two weeks leave included a photo of him in uniform. He went to England to meet a friend, Hughie Randall, and the only piece they have left of his uniform is his sporran.
“In a battalion there were four companies and each one with the Canadian Scottish had their own bagpiper. This proved to be useful because they could tell where their companies were even in the dark; each one playing a distinct piece. The kilts however got caught in the barbed wire fence and were not effective,” said Pat.
Pte. Duncan Carey was hospitalized for a fever in April of 2018, and on August 28, 1918, he was promoted to Lance Corporal. He was awarded a military medal for his actions on October 1, 1918. A letter to his mother says he can finally sit up after being injured.
“I was only 40 yards from Fritz when I got hit and when I was coming out he put a bullet through my steel helmet; missed my head by an inch. It was the worst scrap that I had for two years and I seen some dirty ones, but we sure put him on the run in the end,” said the late L/Cpl Duncan Carey in his letter.
According to Duncan’s understanding, when they got close enough (40 yards) his dad crawled across to throw a grenade.
On May 3, 1919 he got out of hospital to come home to Canada with his Battalion, and he was discharged on May 14, in Edmonton; from there he went back to Islay.
Pat and Duncan Carey visited the town they freed for occupation in October 1918 just prior to his injury at the end of the war. Duncan figures the cemeteries in France are like the oil wells here.
“He never talked about it. I remember the scars on his back,” said Duncan.
LCpl Duncan Carey had received a gunshot wound to the back that took out all of his back muscles. A letter to his mother states, “I was lucky; it missed my spine and lungs.”
“I often say, ‘The courage of those people! He married my mom in the middle of the Great Depression; they were tough strong people.”
Pat added that they were always so positive.
“We would like to send sincere thanks to Scott and Bernie Webb for being so instrumental in the experience we were able to have. We appreciate all of their assistance in research, and driving; without them we never would have found all of the landmarks. Their passion for history is amazing," said Pat.
WWI - 151st Battalion
At least two local men are identified in this WWI photo. In the front row (second from left) is Duncan Carey, and Thomas Alban Snelgrove is thought to be third row, (fourth from left). The two men both enlisted the same day in Islay, and were part of the 9th Platoon of the 151st Battalion at Sarcee Camp in Calgary. Photo submitted