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I felt it would be appropriate to write this post on November 11, 2018, the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.  The painting that I just finished, titled Mat No More, is based on the diaries of Mary Capling Hyde that are in the holdings of the City of Edmonton Archives.

Mat No More by Marlena Wyman. Oil stick and image transfer on Mylar and birch panel, 16”X24” diptych

Detail of Mat No More by Marlena Wyman

Originally from Ontario, Matthew (Mat) and Mary Hyde arrived in Edmonton, Alberta on April 29, 1911. They had four children, one who died in infancy. On July 7, 1915, Mat enlisted in the Canadian military. On April 21, 1916, he left with the 66th Battalion from Edmonton by train, and then departed for England on the S.S. Olympic from Halifax on April 28th. Mat was killed in action on September 26, 1916, likely near Courcelette, France on the Somme Front. His name is on the Vimy Memorial, one of 11,000 Canadian servicemen who died in France who have no known grave.

The Hyde family. l-r: David, Matthew, Mary, and Alice; Robbie on Matthew’s knee, 1916. City of Edmonton Archives #EA-806-1

Mary’s diaries a cover a large span of time (1900-1944) and she writes about the many everyday activities of the family. While Mat was serving overseas, she noted in her daily diary entries “Mat in England” or “Mat somewhere in France”. After Mat died in 1916, Mary wrote “Mat no more” every day in her diary passages until her last diary entry on December 28, 1944, shortly before she died. Mary never remarried.

Mary did not know that Mat had died on September 26th until she received a telegram on October 13th. Particularly poignant is her October 4, 1916 entry, where she notes “Mat somewhere in France. Got a letter from him – seems to be fine”.  After hearing of his death, she went back into her diary and between the dates of September 26th and October 13th, she crossed out where she had originally written “Mat somewhere in France”.

Page from Mary Capling Hyde diary, October 17 – 18, 1916. City of Edmonton Archives, Mary Capling Hyde fonds #MS253 (Note: Mary referred to herself in the third person in her diaries)

In a further chapter to the tragic story, as he was dying, Mat handed a wallet of his photos to a fellow soldier. That soldier also died, and after passing through further hands, the wallet ended up with the chaplain at a hospital in France, who sent them to Mrs. F. Shortreed in Edmonton. Her husband had also been injured and was at that same hospital. Mrs. Shortreed did not recognize the photos so she sent them to the Edmonton Journal, who published one of the photographs on Oct 30, 1916 with the headline “Dying Soldier Sends Photos; Recipient Now Seeks Owner”. Mary saw the Journal article and in her October 31, 1916 diary entry she writes” …over to Mrs. Shortreeds to get the photo. Mat last dying message. Poor Mat.”

Mary’s diary tells a story of the war from a very personal perspective of heartbreak and mourning. Canada’s service and losses were extensive for our young country: more than 650,000 men and women from Canada and Newfoundland served, more than 172,000 were wounded, and over 66,000 gave their lives, including nearly 3000 Edmontonians.

On the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day, of the eleventh month of 1918, fighting in the First World War ceased, but sadly it was not “the war to end all wars”. Nearly one of every ten Canadians who fought in the war did not return, and those who did were scarred both physically and emotionally. Remembering both the horrors of war and honouring those who sacrificed in that war is a task that is complex and difficult, and one that requires sincere reflection. We must learn from the past and remember.

I would like to thank Paula Aurini-Onderwater, an archivist at the City of Edmonton Archives, for bringing Mary’s diaries to my attention.

This is one in a series of paintings that I am creating as artist/Historian Laureate for an upcoming exhibit in 2019. More info to follow. 

Posted by Marlena Wyman

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