(PPCLI (Eastern Ontario Regt)) Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF)
Private 1233, Elson Petrie Cunningham
By Colonel P.J. Fleury MSM, CD1
As we reflect on the importance of the Armistice that ended fighting in Europe 100 years ago, on the 11th of November, 1918, it is important to understand that this conflict produced casualties unheard of before, or since, in Canadian history, with more than 60,000 dead and hundreds of thousands wounded.
The Citizens of Aylmer were not immune to the sacrifice being made by families across Canada. Although it was the British declaration of war on the 4th of August, 1914, that brought Canada into the war, the Canadian Government had the freedom to determine what the country’s level of involvement would be. The immediate response of many was to seek voluntary enlistment to join the fight. For many Canadians, the chance for adventure and the mistaken belief that the war would be over by Christmas, meant an immediate visit to the local armory.
One of the first volunteers to enlist from the Aylmer area was Elson Petrie Cunningham. Born in Aylmer on the 9th of June, 1888, likely in the rectory of Christ Church at 101, rue Symmes, Elson was the son of the Reverend T.E. Cunningham and Jesse E. Cunningham. Reverend Cunningham was only the 5th Rector since Christ Church was founded in 1842, serving from 1883 to 1891.
Elson volunteered to serve in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) on the 26th of August, 1914, and joined the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI (Eastern Ontario Regt)). Following a brief period of training at Valcartier Quebec, he sailed with the first Canadian contingent, arriving in the United Kingdom on the 14th of October, 1914. Following additional training on the Salisbury Plain near Warminster, England, Private Cunningham deployed on the 20th of December 1914 to France and later to Flanders. He was reported missing in action, believed killed in action on the 8th of May, 1915, at Bellewaarde Ridge. This location was the scene of frenzied fighting as part of the continuous ebb and flow of battles in the area of Ypres, Belgium.
When Private Cunningham’s unit – the PPCLI – was finally relieved from its position on the forward slope of Bellewaarde Ridge, its total trench strength was four officers and 150 men. Casualties were in excess of 392, which included Private Cunningham.
While Private Cunningham’s body was never found, his name is recorded in Ypres, Belgium at the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial South, Panel 10.
The Remembrance Day Ceremony on November 11 will start at 10:30 at the Parc Commémoratif in Aylmer.
In honour of the Centennial of Armistice (1918-2018) the Aylmer Legion Branch 33 is inviting you after the ceremony to a Special Reception which will take place at the Aydelu Recreation Centre from 12:00 to 18:00. To mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, there will be an historical exhibit, WW1 re-enactors; free lunch; live band; and much more.
On November 11th 2018. Honour. Thank. Remember.