WWI gunner Murray Benner was killed in France in September 1918 and he is commemorated on the Aylmer cenotaph where his name appears 7th on the left. Susan Gold’s years of transcription and research chronicles the story of her great uncle’s experiences as a member of the Canadian Field Artillery. “7th Name Down on the Left” is a fascinating narrative of the lives of one Elgin County family from 1903 to 1918. She presented it at the November meeting of the Elgin Historical Society in conjunction with the Elgin County Museum. The care, curiosity and dedication which she has devoted to her research and the passion with which she presents it make for a spell-binding and invaluable opportunity to gain a unique perspective on the lives of Canada’s WWI soldiers.
In the summer of 2002 she became re-acquainted with the letters and memorabilia that were now stored in boxes and were removed to her home that year on Christmas day.
Delving into those letters, she says, “I was awed by their words, experiences and contributions. And all of these windows were popping open in front of me.” But she wanted to go further, “I felt that I could honour them best by attempting to understand their world, their attitudes and their morals.” Her research highlights three of the sons of Mary and Thomas Benner – Frank, Murray and Arthur.
She presented excerpts from many of the letters which give insights into Murray Benner’s life before and during WWI and concluded,
“The Aylmer cenotaph inscription, seventh name down on the left, commemorates Murray Benner. His name is etched on the cenotaph but his essence is now etched in our hearts. It does not speak of Murray as a farmer and a homesteading pioneer. It does not speak of him as a world war gunner. It does not speak of him as an enthusiast, an optimist, a dreamer, a clown or a humorist. It does not speak of him as a son or a brother. He was all of these.”
The fortunate coming together of a caring, curious, and sharing researcher with a treasure-trove of letters and memorabilia and the increasing availability of other resources (notably many which have become easier to access with digitization) has meant that the veterans of one WWI family have been well remembered. Those who have had the privilege of hearing Susan’s presentation are likely to view all of the names on a cenotaph with a new perspective.
Find out more on Susan's website, www.canadaworldwarone.com.