Todd Battis finds lost family connection to Battle of Vimy Ridge
Published Friday, April 7, 2017 9:59PM EDT
Family histories have a curious way of hiding out for decades under layers of dust until, one day, they reveal themselves.
For CTV News Atlantic Bureau Chief Todd Battis, the details of his great-grandfather’s service in the First World War became clearer after a trove of decades-old letters and postcards were found in a family attic.
Growing up, Battis heard little about his ancestor James Sydney Battis, other than that he fought at war. In fact, family members recall that conversations about the soldier -- who died before the war was over -- were a tender topic for his son.
“You know, (he spoke about him) just once and then he got actually a little bit mad that his father actually went away and left the family,” recalled grandson Bob Battis.
The attic discovery has since helped the Battis family stitch together their ancestor’s past. James Sydney Battis was known simply as “Syd” to his friends in the 85th Battalion, or the Nova Scotia Highlanders, and he often wrote letters to his wife to learn about life back home in the Maritimes.
In one letter written from the frontlines of war, James Sydney Battis asks about his son.
“I won’t know the baby when I get back. He’ll be a big boy,” he wrote.
The family also learned that the patriarch was trained to use a Lewis machine gun, and that his battalion fought in the historic Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917. He survived the hard-fought battle and continued to send letters home -- but was not allowed to give updates on the war.
“And the children -- oh how I wish I could just run in and give them a surprise. And you too,” Battis wrote to his wife.
Sadly, he was never given the chance. Battis was killed in action on June 19, 1917. He was 31 years old.
It was a loss that his son struggled to cope with for the rest of his life.
“In my feeling, he was very sad,” said granddaughter Nancy Battis.
In the Cabaret-Rouge cemetery in France, a white tombstone engraved with a maple leaf marks the resting place for Private J.S. Battis. It is one of more than 7,600 graves at the site that honour Commonwealth soldiers who died during the war.
In total, 66,000 Canadians were killed during the First World War. Of those, 11,285 have no known graves, and instead have their names etched onto the Canadian National Vimy Ridge Memorial.
To mark the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge on Sunday, a ceremony will be held at the site, with guests including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Gov.-Gen. David Johnston, French President Francois Hollande, Princes Charles, William and Harry, and an estimated 12,000 students.
CTV National News will be broadcasting live from France on the morning of Sunday, April 9 to mark the special event.
With a report from CTV Atlantic Bureau Chief Todd Battis