Part 31- Thomas Edison Hatt at the Sharp End of Battle
When Thomas Edison “Ted” Hatt had his portrait taken in England, probably in 1917, he seems to have done it with a humorous touch in mind in the middle of horrific events happening on the Western Front. His picture postcard seen here was sent to a family member and shows five individuals sitting around a table relaxing with a magazine. However, if you look closer you realize that the five men are all the same person-Ted Hatt. This trickery using mirrors by the photographer is called a multigraph, an uncommon method used by studios in the early twentieth century to attract customers. This added a moment of levity to the otherwise unspeakable and unbearable events surrounding the devastating impact on battle weary soldiers.
Ted had just turned twenty when he volunteered for service on 19 November 1914. The son of James and Catherine (Thorpe) Hatt of North Head, he was born at North Head on 1 August 1894. He was the sixth of seven children and by 1911, it was quite a crowded household of thirteen people including his sister Blanche Lawson and her daughter Helen; and, sister Ethel Hickey with her two daughters, Kathleen and Ruth. In addition, for some years the family had made room for John Thorpe, widower, from Letang and father of Catherine. Therefore, it was not surprising then that Ted, by the time of his enlistment, had moved out and off the island to Saint John where he obtained a position as a fireman aboard a train. His job was to shovel the coal and tend the boiler on the steam locomotive. He and his brother Roy may have gotten work on the railway at the same time because Roy declared on his border crossing documents in Feb. 1914 that he held a job as a brakeman. Other records suggest they may have initially been employed in St. Andrews with railroad jobs where the ferry landed from Grand Manan and connected daily with McAdam.
When he joined the 26th Battalion, the recruiting officer took special note of his three months of military experience with the 28th Dragoons which was formed in Saint John in 1911. Training carried on through the winter of 1914-15 at the South End barracks and likely Ted got a furlough or two to visit home. Likewise, he seems to have become infatuated with a young McAdam girl whom he may have previously met as a railway employee when visiting that major train junction before the war. Whatever the circumstances, he married Hazel M. Green, daughter of James and Augusta (Nason) Green on 20 Feb. 1915 in Saint John three months after joining up. Her father was the local postmaster in the village. With Ted’s departure with the rest of the 26th Battalion from the port city aboard the S.S. Caledonia in June, payroll records indicate Hazel went back to McAdam to live with her widowed mother.
After further training up for the 26th in England, Ted, as a member of “D” Company, found himself on French soil at Boulogne by September, 1915. For the next year the battalion saw some of the bloodiest engagements so far with exposure to the earliest encounters with trench warfare, fighting across a No Man’s Land that sometimes was literally hundreds of feet from German defenders. Ted suffered throughout the winter of 1915-16 from the continual wet conditions in the muddy trenches compounded by the fact that since childhood he had very flat feet. Just after being attached to No. 5, “F Company”, in the Canadian Engineers Battalion on 31 August 1916, he had to be admitted to No. 5 Canadian Field Ambulance where doctors confirmed that his arches had completely collapsed. It was diagnosed that painful swelling of his feet from wet conditions on a prolonged basis or any extensive marching was unbearable. On the 19th of September he was sent back to England to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital at Folkestone and then for light garrison duty at Camp Hastings for two more weeks. Even at that point his medical condition did not improve and he was assigned to office work at Camp Crowborough for three months.
On top of his chronic feet ailments, his service record shows that sometime in 1916 he was exposed to poison gas, probably phosgene or mustard gas, which left him physically weakened in the lungs and with a slight enlargement of the heart. Ted also reported that his experience during this period of service left him very nervous. The primary poisonous gases employed by the Germans were chlorine, mustard and phosgene. The last one often showed side effects to lungs and skin tissue many days after an attack.
Historian Tim Cook reports that the first use of chemical shells by the enemy occurred in 1916 and meant their delivery by artillery could be more controlled than dependence on unpredictable wind directions by both sides. When the Germans first released their canisters of gas they were dependant on a favourable wind direction to carry the green poison across No Man’s Land and into the trenches of the unsuspecting Allies. In the early days of its use, attacking soldiers were not made aware of its deadly potency by their leadership; they sometimes dashed forward too early and caught up with their own poison which was ultimately as fatal to them. By war’s end it is estimated that gas warfare killed at least 100,000 and wounded more than a million soldiers in all armies. Twelve thousand cases of gas victims are confirmed for Canadians; Ted was one of those unfortunate ones.
His feet issues compounded by the effects of gas on his system no doubt contributed to his further transfer to the New Brunswick Regimental Depot at Shoreham for an additional six weeks in March of 1917 and eventually reporting to C.D.D. Buxton, an orthopedic specialty hospital, for eventual transfer to Canada on July 10th. After arriving in Halifax he entered the Military Hospital on the 24th for a further week’s stay and then transferred to Pine Hill as an outpatient. Here Ted stayed on light duty tasks until 15 January 1918 and finally got transferred to Saint John where he underwent a medical examination which determined that he be placed in Category E for discharge due to being medically unfit to return to duty. Following a formal hearing in Fredericton, Ted was granted a full discharge on 31 January 1918.
He returned to Saint John where he resided at 59 St. James St. in the South End but apparently not with his wife, Hazel. Perhaps because he was now facing unemployment in the city or unable to adjust to civilian life, Ted chose to sign up again on February 9th, but was found unfit for service because of his chronic flat feet situation. However, he appears to have been accepted at the 1st Depot Battalion, New Brunswick Regiment, with the rank of Sergeant. At the same time as he attested for service, he indicated his wife was living at 144 Slater Street in Ottawa after a brief stay in Moncton. Records do not suggest that she ever returned to join him or to her family home in McAdam.
Further research seems to suggest that they parted company and he went on to secure a position with the Dominion Police by May, 1918 and gave his address to the military paymaster as Bathurst in October. The Dominion Police Force was a predecessor of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. By May, 1918, when Ted joined them, the 969-member force was assigned under the Dept. of Militia and Defence. Their responsibilities extended to protecting government buildings like the Parliament Buildings and key installations like railways, naval installations and port facilities. As a civilian branch of the Canadian Military Police Corps., they played a major role in apprehending deserters and draft dodgers. Therefore preference was given to experienced soldiers and those of large stature—Ted was five feet ten inches in height and a barrel-chested forty-six inches coming out of the army.
The Dominion Police were active until the Corps was disbanded on 1 December 1920, and, their members merged with the North West Mounted Police to form the current Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Ted seems to have stayed with them until at least October when he is reported crossing the border at Houlton, Maine, and, states his occupation as a labourer and marital status as single. Little is known about his movements beyond Houlton until his death on 30 Dec. 1926 in Salem, Massachusetts for which there is no detail. We can only speculate that he sought work in this business seaport community with his mechanical and fishing experience. His body was returned to Grand Manan and interred at the North Head cemetery on 1 January 1927.
Library and Archives Canada
New Brunswick Provincial Archives Vital Statistics
St. Croix Courier