Kenora Great War Project

 

Personal Details
Date of BirthFebruary 19, 1888
Place of BirthKenora, Ontario
CountryCanada
Marital StatusMarried
Next of KinMrs. Edith Flett (wife), 201 Christina Street, West Fort William, Ontario
Trade / CallingLabourer
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental Number439045
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion52nd Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Infantry
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Date of EnlistmentDecember 23, 1914
Age at Enlistment26
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of Death19620629
Age at Death74
Buried AtMaryfield Cemetery, Maryfield, Saskatchewan

Flett, Hector George

Private Hector George Flett enlisted early in the war and served with the 52nd Battalion for four years in Canada, England, France and Belgium.

Hector was the son of Charles (Sr.) and Mary Flett of Kenora, Ontario. Charles came to the Lake of the Woods area from Selkirk, Manitoba and his wife Mary was born and raised in Fort Frances, Ontario. They had at least six children: Mary Jane, Andrew and Maria born in Fort Frances, and Alexander, Hector and Charles Jr. born in Rat Portage (later called Kenora). Hector was born in February 1888 and his mother passed away in February 1894 when he was six years old. In September that same year his sister Maria died at age 15 and in 1896 his brother Alex died at age 9. His oldest sister Mary Jane married Thomas Henry Cook in 1899 and two years later when the census was taken they were living in Rat Portage. Charles Flett Sr. was staying next door. Hector wasn’t listed in the household and he may have been in Elkhorn, Manitoba at the time. Hector and another local lad, Roderick Cameron, both attended Elkhorn Indian Residential School as children.

Charles Sr. worked on Lake of the Woods as a lighthouse keeper. In 1907 he married Ellen Young, a widow from Lac Seul, Ontario, and at the time of the 1911 census Hector was living with them on First Street South in Kenora. He was 23 years old and employed as a deck hand on a boat. In the fall of 1914 when the war started he was working in Elkhorn but he returned home to Kenora to enlist. By December 1914 volunteers were being recruited for a third overseas contingent and Hector signed up in Kenora two days before Christmas. Full time training with pay started on 3 March 1915. The men were briefly attached to the 44th Battalion but when the 52nd (New Ontario) Battalion was organized in mid-March they were transferred to the new unit. It was based in Port Arthur and the Kenora recruits were sent there in June to join the rest of the battalion.

While he was in training Hector married Edith Bailey on 27 October 1915 in Fort William. Edith was 16 years old and they were married with the permission of her parents, George and Elizabeth Bailey of Fort William. Edith was born in England and she had immigrated to Canada with her family in 1910. Shortly after their marriage the 52nd Battalion left for the east coast and the men embarked for England on 23 November, leaving from St. John, New Brunswick on the SS California. After a few more weeks of training the unit was sent to France on 20 February 1916. They spent the first night in tents in a snowstorm before being moved to Belgium by train the next day. On 23 February they joined the Canadian Corps, becoming part of the 9th Brigade, 3rd Canadian Division. In the first week of March  the battalion went into the trenches for orientation and training and the unit had its first combat fatality on the night of 11-12 March.

Except for his periods of leave Hector spent the next three years serving with the 52nd Battalion in France and Belgium. One of the fortunate few, his service file records no illnesses or injuries during that time. In 1916 his battalion was at the Battle of Mount Sorrel in June and the Somme Offensive in September and October. Roderick Cameron had enlisted in Kenora five days after Hector and he was missing and presumed killed at the Somme on 15 September. Hector had leave in December then spent a short time on duty with a railway unit. In 1917 the Canadians were at the Battles of Vimy Ridge, Hill 70 and Passchendaele and between the major battles they held sections of the front line, took part in raids, patrols and other operations, and carried on with training. Late in 1917 Hector had two weeks leave in the UK.

The final period of the war, known now as the Hundred Days Offensive, began in August 1918 with the Battle of Amiens and ended with the Armistice on 11 November. The Canadian units were heavily involved in the operations in those last three months and they had some of their greatest victories during that time. Following the Armistice the 52nd Battalion stayed in Belgium for a few more months, leaving there by train on 5 February 1919. They embarked from Le Havre, France on 10 February and landed in England the next day. The men were sent to Bramshott Camp and most of them were immediately given leave. After five weeks in England they left for Canada on the SS Olympic on 17 March. There was a huge reception when the men arrived back in Port Arthur and the unit was demobilized there at the end of the month. Two of Hector’s stepbrothers also served in the war: James Young survived and returned to Kenora but Lawrence Young was killed in France in April 1917.

Hector and his wife stayed in Fort William or Port Arthur for a year or so and their only daughter, Norma Edith, was born there in February 1920. By the time of the 1921 census they had moved to Kenora and were living with Hector’s sister Mary Jane Cook and her family. Sadly Edith died just a year later, passing away on 5 March 1922 at age 23. She’d been in St. Joseph’s Hospital for about three weeks and her death notice said she was survived by her husband and daughter. When Hector’s father passed away in June 1927 only two of his children were still living: Mary Jane, now in Vermillion Bay, and Hector, who was working on Lake of the Woods at the time.

Hector never remarried and over the next thirty years he lived and worked in several different places. Around 1955 he settled on the outskirts of Maryfield, Saskatchewan, a small village in the southeast corner of the province, not far from Elkhorn, Manitoba. He became a member of the Maryfield Legion and volunteered at local hockey games as an usher and ticket-taker. Hector passed away in Maryfield Union Hospital on 29 June 1962, at age 74, and he’s buried in the local cemetery. A veteran’s headstone marks his final resting place and his service to his country is remembered in a history book published in 1984: ‘Across Border and Valley: the Story of Maryfield & Fairlight & Surrounding Districts.’ Hector is commemorated in Kenora on the St. Alban’s Pro-Cathedral First World War Roll of Honour.

His daughter Norma (Mrs. Adrian Deporto)   passed away in Kenora on 13 April 1990, at age 70. Norma and her mother Edith are both buried in Lake of the Woods Cemetery. Edith also had a son, Leslie Flett, who was born in August 1917 in Thunder Bay, Ontario. He served with Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in the Second World War. Leslie was a member of the Canadian Legion, South Vancouver Branch, and he died in Vancouver in 1989.

By Becky Johnson

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