|Date of Birth||August 31, 1894|
|Place of Birth||Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario|
|Next of Kin||Mrs. Thompson Smith Durham (mother), 149 Pim Street. Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario|
|Trade / Calling||Clerk|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Date of Enlistment||September 22, 1914|
|Age at Enlistment||20|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||Yes|
|Date of Death||May 9, 1981|
|Age at Death||86|
|Buried At||Greenwood Cemetery, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario|
Private Thompson Edwin Durham was one of the early volunteers in the war, enlisting with the 1st Canadian Contingent and going overseas in October 1914. He was wounded and captured at the 2nd Battle of Ypres in April 1915 and he spent more than three and a half years as a prisoner of war.
Edwin was the son of Thompson Smith Durham and Rachel Manery of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. He was born in Sault Ste. Marie on 31 August 1894 and he had two sisters (Harriett and Theo) and three brothers (Elbert, Elliott and James). Edwin graduated from a local high school, the Sault Collegiate Institute, then moved to Grandmere, Quebec where he worked for a lumber company. He was saving money to attend McGill University but the war put his plans on hold.
Britain declared war on 4 August 1914 and three days later mobilization orders were issued in Canada. Volunteers were told to enroll with their local militia then go to Valcartier, northwest of Quebec City, where the Canadian Contingent would be assembled. Edwin returned to Sault Ste. Marie and signed up with the 51st Regiment (Soo Rifles) then left for Valcartier on 20 August with the other local lads. His medical at Valcartier found him fit for overseas service and he enlisted in the 2nd Battalion on 22 September. His unit embarked with the 1st Canadian Contingent in early October, sailing on the SS Cassandra in a convoy of 32 transport ships. They arrived in Plymouth, England about two weeks later.
The Canadian recruits trained on Salisbury Plain in southern England for several months. The 2nd Battalion was sent to France in February 1915 as part of the 1st Infantry Brigade, 1st Canadian Division. The battalion spent a few weeks south of Ypres, in the area between Hazebrouck and Armentières. In April the Canadians were moved north to the Ypres Salient, to a section of the front line near Gravenstafel. The first large-scale use of poison gas by the Germans took place at Gravenstafel Ridge on 22 April, the start of the 2nd Battle of Ypres. Canadian units, including the 2nd Battalion, were brought in to reinforce the front line and they suffered heavy casualties over the next few days.
Edwin was one of his unit’s casualties on 24 April, reported as missing in action. He had suffered wounds to his hips and abdomen and a German officer found him lying on the ground. The officer covered him with a blanket and put another one under his head. Edwin was taken to a dressing station and from there to a German lazarett (hospital). After his wounds healed he was sent to a prisoner of war camp at Stendal, Germany, where he spent the rest of the war. The Armistice ended hostilities in November 1918 and Edwin was repatriated to England seven weeks later, arriving in Ripon, North Yorkshire on 2 January 1919. After another four months in the UK he sailed for Canada on 3 May on the SS Mauretania, landing at Halifax. He was discharged on demobilization on 11 May in Toronto.
Edwin returned to Sault Ste. Marie after the war, working as a dredge inspector and for a pulp and paper company. He married Jessie Freeman Seelye, the daughter of Raymond William and Jessie Amanda Seelye. Edwin and Jessie raised two sons, Thompson and John. Edwin had a long career as a customs officer, spending five years at Michipicoten Harbour and thirteen years (1947-1960) in Kenora. By 1965 Edwin was retired and he and his wife moved back to Sault Ste. Marie. He was very active in the community, serving as lieutenant adjutant in the 49th Field Regiment and getting involved in the St. Mary’s River Boat Club, the Sault Orchestral Society and the Sault Historical Society.
Edwin passed away at Plummer Memorial Hospital on 9 May 1981, at age 86, and Jessie died in November 1990, at age 83. They are both buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Sault Ste. Marie, along with Edwin’s parents.
The Durham Gallery at the Sault Ste. Marie Museum is named after Edwin.
By Becky Johnson
Photo of Edwin and information provided by the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library (Thompson Edwin Durham fonds).