#Vimy101 – The Vimy Memorial

#Vimy101 – Did you know, the preserved tunnels and trenches at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial likely only exist by a fluke? While waiting for Walter Allward to arrive with the stone, Canadian engineers on-site in France decided to keep busy by preserving what they had found on the ridge.

Students of the 2017 Beaverbrook Vimy Prize walk through Vimy’s preserved trenches.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, The Vimy Foundation 2017.

#100DaysofVimy – March 20th, 2017
Ethelbert 'Curley' Christian

Curley seated with fellow disabled veterans during the 1936 Vimy Pilgrimage.
Courtesy: Private Collection.

Ethelbert ‘Curley’ Christian was born in the USA in the 1880’s (the recorded date and location vary by source). A man on the move, Curley traveled extensively in his early years while working. In 1915, Curley was in Selkirk, Manitoba when he enlisted with the 108th Battalion (Selkirk) of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Nicknamed “Curley” by his mother for the curls in his hair, Curley even signed his Attestation Papers as such.

Once overseas, Curley was transferred to the 78th Battalion (Winnipeg Grenadiers). During the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917, Curley was severely wounded, likely from artillery fire, and, according to his family’s account, was buried in mud and debris for two days. When he was finally discovered underneath the debris, gangrene had set in his wounds, prompting doctors to amputate all four of his limbs. Fortunately, Curley would survive the horrific ordeal and return to Canada as the nation’s sole quadruple amputee of the First World War.

Curley’s cheerful disposition enabled him to become a champion of war amputees.
Courtesy: Private Collection.

Forever a man on the move, Curley was not to be slowed down by the loss of his limbs. In post-war Canada, he became a sort of public figure, championing initiatives for the care of war amputees and disabled. While recovering at Euclid Hall in Toronto, he met a nursing aid, Cleopatra McPherson; the two would marry in 1920 and raise a child. In 1936, Curley boarded the S.S. Montrose and returned to Europe with the Royal Canadian Legion’s Vimy Pilgrimage. During the unveiling of the Vimy Memorial, Curley broke through the crowds and guards to introduce King Edward VIII to the blinded veterans.

Ethelbert ‘Curley’ Christian passed away on March 15th, 1954, at approximately 70 years of age. He is buried in the Prospect Cemetery section of the Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Toronto.

In this note from his Service File, Curley claims that “the two artificial legs forwarded me by the limb factory at the Dunnsville (sic) Military Hospital are not satisfactory, and I want the privilege of selecting the style and make of my legs.” (Editor’s Note: He may be referring to the Haldimand War Memorial Hospital, in Dunnville, Ontario est. 1920).
Credit: Personnel Records of the First World War, Library and Archives Canada, Reference Number: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 1695 – 54. Item Number: 100301.
Nicknamed “Curley” by his mother for the curls in his hair, Ethelbert “Curley” Christian even signed his Attestation Papers as such.
Credit: Personnel Records of the First World War, Library and Archives Canada, Reference Number: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 1695 – 54. Item Number: 100301.