November 2020 Historical Tidbit

What would you have read if you were serving overseas as a soldier during World War One?  Would you have scanned the newspapers hoping to glean some hint of the war’s ending and your return home to Canada?  Would you have read and reread the letters of loved ones in order to keep alive the hope that one day you would see them again?  Perhaps you would have read the Bible to prepare your soul if tragedy overtook you in battle.  Or maybe, you would have read a book of poetry- for that is what Lt. Cameron D. Brant read.

Cameron Daniel Brant (1887-1915) photo credit: New Credit Public Library

Cameron Daniel Brant (1887-1915), was a member of the Mississaugas of the Credit Band and was one of the first enlistees soon after war was declared in 1914.  Commissioned a Lieutenant, Brant sailed for England in October 1914, completed training at Salisbury Plain, and soon thereafter was sent to France.  A capable soldier and confidant leader, Lt. Brant was killed leading his men in a counter attack at the 2nd Battle of Ypres on April 24, 1915.

Although a plaque has been placed in the New Credit United Church to commemorate Brant’s sacrifice and his name is etched on the New Credit Veterans Memorial, the First Nation had no personal object of his that tied him to his military service.  It was not until 2014- 100 years after the beginning World War One, that the New Credit Public Library, seemingly out of nowhere, received such an item.

In July 2014, the library received a call from the Town of Picton, Prince Edward County, Ontario.  The caller introduced herself as a worker at a used goods store and asked if the library would like to receive a book owned by Cameron Brant.  Evidently, while arranging the used books in the store, she had opened up a book of poetry, Songs of a Sourdough by Robert Service, and was intrigued by the inscription inside its front cover that contained Brant’s name, battalion, brigade, camp and the date, 7/1/15.  Additionally, in a different hand and ink, was written: ”Died in Action Flanders April 1915”.  After doing a bit of research, the worker decided that the book should go to Cameron Brant’s first nation and reached out to the MCFN library.  Although skeptical as to whether the book had actually belonged to Brant, the library accepted the offer and waited in anticipation for the book to arrive in the mail.

The book arrived at the library a few weeks later in early August.  A quick comparison of the inscription inside the book to Brant’s signature on his attestation paper proved that Songs of a Sourdough had belonged to Brant. The library had gained a precious addition to its collection.

Songs of a Sourdough by Robert Service owned by Cameron Daniel Brant

The poems that Brant was reading were rich with images of Canada and would have brought memories of his home, an ocean away, to mind.  The fact that Brant was reading poetry ran counter to the thinking of the time that “Indians” were “Noble Savages” and naturally militaristic and uncivilized when engaging in warfare.  Sir Sam Hughes, Canada’s Minister of the Militia at the time, worried that the enemy, encountering First Nations soldiers on the battlefield, might refuse to extend to them the privileges of civilized warfare.”  As he sat reading poetry in the trenches or a bomb proof shelter, Brant presented a refined image of “Indians” to those around him, and challenged many stereotypes held regarding First Nations people back then and even today.

No one is sure how the poetry book made its way to Canada from Europe.  Perhaps, shortly after his death, the book was sent along with Brant’s other personal effects to his grieving widow.  Perhaps the unknown person who wrote, “Died in Action Flanders April 1915” carried the book to Canada.  No matter how the book arrived, a grateful First Nation is glad to have it as it helps to remember New Credit’s contribution to the Great War.

A few lines borrowed from the poem “Spell of the Yukon” as found in Songs of a Sourdough, seems fitting to remember the time when the Mississaugas of the Credit sent its “boys” off to war:

“Send not your foolish and feeble; send me your strong and your sane.

Strong for the red rage of battle; sane, for I harry them sore;

Send me men girt for the combat, men who are grit to the core;

Swift as the panther in triumph, fierce as the bear in defeat,

Sired of a bulldog parent, steeled in the furnace heat.

Send me the best of your breeding, lend me your chosen ones;

Them will I take to my bosom, them will I call my sons; …”

                                                                       -Robert W. Service