A century later, one of 'Lambton's Own' veterans receiving proper recognition

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Sgt. Clifford Reed Duncan has lain in Brigden’s Bear Creek Cemetery since 1921. Now, as a century since Reed’s passing approaches, his resting place is close to being recognized with the proper honors befitting of a Canadian solider.

This is thanks to the efforts of Rev. Dr. Allan Miller, a retired minister with the Canadian Armed Forces. Miller took up an interest in Duncan during research into his own great uncle’s role in Canada’s 149th Battalion, which served in Europe during World War I. In fact, Miller has made it a goal to advocate for any soldier who has passed on to ensure their gravesites are properly marked and cared for, a problem he says is more widespread than many people realize.

Clifford Reed Duncan was born in Moore Township in the summer of 1898. Like many men in the area he worked as a farmer in Brigden before enlisting as an 18-year-old in the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force. The 6’1 Duncan, with light brown hair and grey eyes, signed his enlistment papers on Jan. 6, 1916. The Great War was well underway on several European and international fronts.

It would be more than a year before Duncan actually left to join the war effort though. He enrolled in the 149th Battalion – ‘Lambton’s Own’ – and began his training. Col. Thomas Bradley was in charge of the 149th, and was told to get 1,100 men to sign up for his battalion. The Colonel came close to this mark initially with more than 1,000 men of various backgrounds – even some Americans who had fought in the Mexican Revolution. Whether they were all of adult age was another story.

Retention was also an issue. Of the more than 1,000 men that signed up, only 435 boarded the transport ship left that left for Liverpool in March 1917. Duncan would not be one of them.

A medical issue had been found in the Moore Township recruit, and Duncan was kept behind. But there was still a place for him in the war effort. Duncan, a Private at the time, was transferred to the 122nd Battalion – part of the Canadian Forestry Corps. The Forestry Corps spent the war cutting down trees and even some wood homes (from families who volunteered them for the war effort) – anything to deliver the required supplies for the Allied forces.

Duncan’s new battalion left from Halifax on May 28, 1917, arriving in Liverpool on June 10. Duncan completed his sawmill training in England and set off for France at the end of June.

Duncan remained in France through the end of the war, and was promoted to Sergeant on Dec. 22, 1918. In a tragic turn of events, it was not gunfire, bombs or poison gas that ultimately killed Duncan, but rather the deadly tuberculosis following a severe cold at the end of the year. He was sent to England for evaluation, and then back to London, ON. Duncan was discharged as medically unfit on June 2, 1919.

The discovery of penicillin wouldn’t take place for several years, so the best medical treatment Duncan could receive was a spot in London’s Byron Sanatorium on Oxford St. West. Duncan was advised to spend a year in the sanatorium, and later passed away July 26, 1921, at just 23 years of age.

Duncan’s passing was even more devastating as his brother Thomas – who had enlisted in the air force – had been killed in a training crash at Toronto’s Leaside Airfield in 1918. Thomas is also buried at Bear Creek Cemetery, his gravesite bearing military honors. The only two siblings, the Duncan family died off upon the parents’ passing.

Now, Miller is determined to make sure the families’ service is properly acknowledged. The process is not easy though, and even to have Duncan’s case looked at took extensive communication and documentation with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission – the body that overseas graves of Commonwealth casualties during the First and Second World Wars.

Miller says part of the problem is that all inquiries must go to the commission’s headquarters in Maidenhead, England. “We do not have a spokesperson for us when it comes to the research, the immediate things being asked by Canadian families or researchers.”

After several months a breakthrough came when the commission acknowledged the pages of documents Miller provided and added Duncan’s name to their official war casualty records. The next step will be a visit to the Bear Creek Cemetery to inspect Duncan’s gravesite and make preparations for his proper commemoration.

Duncan will also be added to the World War One Remembrance Book in the Peace Tower at Parliament in Ottawa. “That’s a must,” Miller says.

Miller hopes enormously this can take place next year prior to the 100th anniversary of Duncan’s death. In the meantime, he is pleased that a local Canadian hero is finally receiving the commendation he deserves.

“Clifford wasn’t recognized. He’s just there. But now, there will be the recognition,” says Miller.

Alex Kurial, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Independent