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REMEMBER THIS: Teen soldiers grew up quickly on battlefield

Clifford Wiseman arrived in France on July 18, 1916 and died at the Somme exactly 15 weeks later

Editor's note: The following is the second instalment in a two-part series on 'The Boys'. Click here to read Part 1. 

“Dear Sister: I received your parcel this morning and also some Barrie papers. You don’t know how pleased I was to get the parcel and the papers. I was reading about poor Clifford Wiseman being killed.”

Just a couple of teen boys they were. Mere months earlier, they had set down their football helmets and jerseys, and exchanged them for a very different kind of uniform.

Seeking adventure and the chance to do their bit, Donald Kelcey, writer of the letter, and his chum, Clifford Wiseman, set off for the battlefields of France in the summer of 1916. Likely, they expected to return home in time, and to tell their war stories to the other lads of Barrie.

When he wrote home on Dec. 8, 1916, Donald Kelcey had already experienced more living and near dying than he had perhaps bargained for.

On Sept. 14, 1916, the 16-year-old soldier broke into his own iron rations and ate them without permission. What was meant to be an emergency food supply must have been mighty tempting to the hungry lad. Donald Kelcey must have relished the meat, cheese and biscuits contained within, right up until the moment that his commanding officer learned about the unauthorized meal.

His punishment was known as Field Punishment No. 1, or F.P. No. 1 for short. The offender would be shackled and handcuffed before being tied to a fence or other stationary object. Donald Kelcey was sentenced to three days.

On Sept. 17, Donald Kelcey completed his punishment. The very next day, he was shot in the head by enemy fire. His left eye was surgically removed that same day.

Evacuated from the battlefield in a precarious state, transferred from hospital to hospital, only semi-conscious most of the time, the teenage soldier underwent multiple treatments and surgeries. He can be excused for not knowing what was going on in the world beyond his hospital bed.

It would have been the Nov. 2, 1916 edition of the Northern Advance that gave Donald Kelcey the terrible news as he recovered in the Third London General Hospital in London, England.

“The heavy toll of life from the ranks of 76th battalion continues. The name of Frank Clifford Wiseman is this week added to the list. “

Six weeks. This is the generally accepted life span calculated for the average soldier in the trenches during the First World War.

Clifford Wiseman left the Sandling training camp at Maidstone, England on July 17, 1916 and arrived in France the following day. He died at the Somme exactly 15 weeks later.

The Somme Offensive had been raging on since July 1 and, by the end of August, reinforcements were desperately needed. Three divisions of the Canadian Corps, our young Barrie lads among the ranks, were sent.

Clifford Wiseman found himself at the village of Courcelette in September. On the first day of the battle there, the ruined village was taken by the Canadians. That battle is considered to have lasted six days, but the Somme hostilities continued through September, October and November.

Pte. Clifford Wiseman, who died on Oct. 8, 1916, was one of 24,000 Canadians killed at the Somme.

Pte. Donald Kelcey returned to Barrie in August 1917 and visited with his sister who lived on Caroline Street. The Barrie Examiner of Aug. 9, 1917 reported that the injured soldier had spent nine months in various English hospitals and since June had been having further treatment in a Toronto convalescent hospital.

“That he is living is quite remarkable.” concluded the reporter, and he was not wrong about that.

Each week, the Barrie Historical Archive provides BarrieToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past. This unique column features photos and stories from years gone by and is sure to appeal to the historian in each of us.

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Mary Harris

About the Author: Mary Harris

Mary Harris is the Director of History and Research at the Barrie Historical Archive. The Barrie Historical Archive is a free, online archive that centralizes Barrie's historical content.
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