The story of the Newfoundlanders who stopped on their way to war in 1917, played hockey in Windsor, Nova Scotia, and sat for a photograph, is one I wrote about more than a year ago — you can read it here. The photograph (that’s it again below) is a favourite of mine (the studio setting; the sticks and dated puck; those sweaters!). It’s also heartbreaking in the way that peaceable wartime groupings like this one always are when — because — we know the history of how bad it would get for these boys.
Last April, on a visit to the First World War battlefields of northern France, I walked the trails at Beaumont Hamel, where Newfoundlanders died by the dozens on the first day of the Somme in 1916. Afterwards, I stopped for lunch a few kilometres to the west, in Auchonvilliers, where the Avril Williams Tea Room doubles as a museum of World War I artefacts and memorabilia. There’s a copy of the photo of the Newfoundland Regiment hockey players hanging there, in the big main room, amid the armour and the ordnance, overlooking the battle maps, the regimental badges, the battalion histories. I studied the faces one more time, searched them all. And I read the names aloud.
White. Bennett. Strong. Winter. Williams. Strong. Duley. Newman. Churchill. Mews.
Duley was Lionel Thomas Duley, a St. John’s bank clerk who took his oath and joined the Newfoundland Regiment in 1916, attesting six days after the slaughter at Beaumont Hamel. He’s the goaltender in the Windsor photograph, taken the following year, when he was 19. The next time I saw his name written was a few days later, 120 kilometres to the north, across the French border into Belgium, when I went to see his grave in the Tyne Cot Cemetery near Zonnebeke. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission maintains thousands of cemeteries and memorials around the world; Tyne Cot, the final resting place for the remains of 11,961 servicemen from across the British Empire (and four Germans), is the largest of them all. Fourteen Newfoundlanders lie at Tyne Cot, along with 966 Canadians.
Drawing on records held in Newfoundland’s Archives at The Rooms in St. John’s you can chalk out an outline of Lionel Duley’s life.
I’ve been by the family house in St. John’s, the one he grew up in, where he was living when he left for the war, although I didn’t know it at the time I was passing by. 51 Rennies Mill Road, across from Bannerman Park.
His father, Thomas J. Duley, was an Englishman, born in Birmingham, who landed in Newfoundland. He married a daughter of Carbonear, Tryphena Soper — Phenie, she was known as. Together they had five children, Cyril, Nelson, Margaret, Gladys, and Lionel. I’m not sure of the proper order to put them in. I think Cyril was the eldest; he served in the Newfoundland Regiment, too, as a captain, survived Beaumont Hamel and then bad wounds later in 1916. Sister Margaret is often called Newfoundland’s first novelist: she wrote four books, including the novels The Eyes of the Gull and Highway to Valour.
Thomas was a jeweller and an optician and sold luxury goods on Water Street in St. John’s, T.J. Duley & Co. the business was called, The Reliable their slogan. I’ve been by there, as well — there’s a marijuana dispensary on the premises today.
Lionel did his schooling at the Methodist College in St. John’s. He was clerking for the Canadian Bank of Commerce when he presented himself for a medical check-up in April of 1916 at the Church Lads Brigade Armoury on Harvey Road. By July, Private Duley was duly enlisted, attested, assigned the regimental number 2945. His height was recorded as 5’7”; his pay was the regular rate of $1.10 a day, half of which he assigned to his father’s care. Promoted twice in those early months of training, he was Corporal Duley by the time he departed St. John’s aboard Florizel for Nova Scotia and the Windsor sojourn — puckstopping included — that delayed his arrival at the war.
It was April of 1917 when he sailed on the transport Northland for Liverpool. With the rest of the Newfoundland reinforcements he went from there to Scotland as part of the 2nd (Reserve) Battalion. He was promoted again, receiving his commission as a second lieutenant in May. He was in France by January of 1918, joining 1st Battalion just as they were ordered from positions they’d been occupying in northwest France, near Arras, and shifted to the Ypres Salient in Belgium.
It was at the end of September that Second Lieutenant Lionel Duley was killed. The Battalion had, by then, been incorporated into the 28th Infantry Brigade of the 9th (Scottish) Division positioned west of Ypres for the offensive across Flanders fields to seize Passchendaele Ridge from the German Army. On the second day of the advance, Sunday, September 29, the Newfoundlanders were on the move near the village of Keiberg. 2/Lieutenant Duley was leading his platoon forward when he was hit in the thigh by machine-gun fire.
Regimental records held at The Rooms describe the horror of it but briefly. “Before he could be taken back [he] died, probably from shock and severe loss of blood,” an officer wrote later. It was about 11 o’clock in the morning, 43 days before the Armistice. Subsequent paperwork testifies that his body was found by a fellow subaltern, 2/Lieutenant R.E. Evans, who buried it and erected a cross, taking note of the exact map reference. “This is not a military cemetery,” a memo in the file takes pains to record, “but at the place where he was found dead with some of our men also lying dead beside him. They were all buried together.”
Tyne Cot Cemetery isn’t far. The first British and Canadian war dead were buried there in 1917 while the guns were still thundering, before anything was decided. I’m not entirely sure when 2/Lieutenant Duley’s remains were moved, just that his family got confirmation in 1921 that he was resting there, in Plot 53, Row H, Grave 8.
I left a pebble on the top of the stone. I spoke his name.
He was 20 years old when he died.