Christensen’s name appears on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial at Pas de Calais, France. Photo: Veterans Affairs Canada.

Christensen’s name appears on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial at Pas de Calais, France. Photo: Veterans Affairs Canada.

The story of Edward Greenwood Christensen, a soldier from Canada’s smallest city

Eddy was assigned to the 16th Reserve Battalion, strenuous training being the order of the day.

by SUSAN DAHLO

Boundary Historical Society

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Eddy Christensen’s story is the unique story of an ordinary young man from a typical family in a Western Canadian city — Greenwood.

In many ways, his story is representative of thousands of others from the 43,000 British Columbian men who served overseas in The Great War. In fact, half of the Canadian infantry in the First Wold War came from west of Ontario, an area that contained only one quarter of the population of Canada!

British Columbia had experienced a huge boom of immigration from the 1890s onward. The Government of Canada had gone out into the world to sell the country with the slogan “Free Homes for Millions,” and many people had moved in. The population of B.C. at the census of 1901 was 190,000 and by 1914, the population stood at 435,000.

Edward Greenwood Christensen, 1916. Photo: Veterans Affairs Canada.

Edward Greenwood Christensen, 1916. Photo: Veterans Affairs Canada.

The Christensen family had immigrated from Denmark in the 1880s; and on hearing of the great mining activity in the Boundary area, moved their family up into Canada in 1895.

Edward Greenwood Christensen was born in Greenwood on April 8, 1896, one of the first children born in the city.

The Christensens had totally adopted their new country. The always spoke English and kept no Old World customs. They wanted to ensure that their children had all the benefits possible in a land of English-speaking Canadians.

Edward went to school in the little one-room schoolhouse in Boundary Falls, where his family moved so that his father Mark could work in the newly built smelter.

In 1903, Mark was a trustee of this little school with 10 pupils. Eddy grew up in a large family on nine children and, like all pioneer kids, he had to be tough, daring and self-reliant to survive. These attributes were later absolutely necessary to survive the horrible conditions in the muck and mire of Northern France.

Like many boys of his generation, Eddy received a British education. British history was the stuff of the textbooks used in Canadian schools and British culture was dominant.

So, when the British Empire was threatened, a strong patriotism came out in the Canadian people. When Robert Borden said in the House of Commons, “We stand shoulder-to-shoulder with British Dominions in this quarrel,” everyone shouted their approval.

When Eddy signed up in Phoenix on May 30, 1916, he felt this patriotism for his country, as well as a sense of duty and adventure. By 1916, the stories and photos coming back form the front showed some terrible things.

Who can explain why these men continued to sign up in droves? Certainly, from today’s perspective, we cannot understand how these men could volunteer to be cannon fodder on the foreign soil of Europe!

His attestation papers state that Eddy was 5’9”, with a 35” chest. This is very scrawny by today’s standards, but he was quite tall for his time — if wiry.

Initially, Eddy and the other Boundary recruits did their basic training at the fair grounds along a stretch of the Kettle River, south of Grand Forks.

On Sunday, July 8, 1916, they boarded a special 13-car train along with 700 officers (including their commander, Col. J. MacKay) and enlisted men from the Kootenays. It brought them to an army camp in Vernon, where they underwent further training. Of that number, 312 came from Fernie, 122 from Cranbrook, 178 from Nelson and 55 from Grand Forks.

They made a stop at the wharf in Penticton, where they were greeted by throngs of people.

As a contemporary reporter for the Penticton Herald wrote, “It seems as if the entire population of the town turned out to see the soldiers.”

They immediately boarded the steam-wheeler the SS Sicamous and headed up Okanagan Lake. At Vernon, they joined other volunteers, so that when the Duke of Connaught visited the camp later that summer, he reviewed 4,000 troops.

In the fall of 1916, the battalion was moved to New Westminster, B.C. in final preparations for their overseas journey. They boarded a train there and travelled for five days across the great expanse of Canada in the cold of January of 1917.

The men set off from Halifax, N.S., on the SS Grampian, bound for England on Jan. 26, 1917, arriving at Plymouth, England on Feb. 6.

Canada had planned to send over a Fifth and Sixth Division to her army in France, but because of the devastating slaughter at the Battle of the Somme, the 225th Battalion and all the other battalions were absorbed into the ranks of the existing four divisions.

A wide-angled shot shows the Kettle Valley cenotaph set against the snow-capped hills. Veterans Affairs Canada / veterans.gc.ca

A wide-angled shot shows the Kettle Valley cenotaph set against the snow-capped hills. Veterans Affairs Canada / veterans.gc.ca

Eddy was forthwith assigned to the 16th Reserve Battalion, strenuous training being the order of the day.

On April 9, the 54th Kootenay Battalion, which Eddy was later to join, entered the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The battalion was part of the Fourth Canadian Division, tasked with assaulting the highest and most heavily-fortified point on the ridge. They suffered extensive casualties, but the Canadians proved their worth when they accomplished their objective.

Their achievement in capturing Vimy Ridge owed its success partly to sound planning and through preparation, but above all else, to the splendid fighting abilities and devotion to duty displayed by the battalion’s officers and men.

Historians agree, their victory marked a decisive turning point in Canada’s long march to nationhood.

The ties with Imperial Britain were forever loosened. Canada entered the war as a junior partner of the United Kingdom, only to emerge as her equal, so much so that Canada would be assigned an independent vote on the League of Nations.

On May 3, 1917, Eddy was proud to be posted to the 54th Battalion, embarking for Le Harve, France the following day.

Daily training re-commenced, while sports were also freely indulged in.

Christensen’s name appears halfway down the lefthand column on the Kettle Valley cenotaph. Photo: Veterans Affairs Canada

Christensen’s name appears halfway down the lefthand column on the Kettle Valley cenotaph. Photo: Veterans Affairs Canada

The Canadians continued operations in the Arras area of Northern France, where the 54th alternated between holding the front line and being relieved.

On July 11, His Royal Highness King George V drove through the area and an opportunity was given for all the ranks to see him.

At the end of July, the 54th moved into the Vimy Salient in preparation for an assault on the nearby town of Lens. Eddy and his battalion were exposed here to German gas attacks and 5.9” shells that sent bricks flying into the air.

On the fateful day of Aug. 13, Eddy was killed in an explosion. His body was never found.

The most feared and dreaded telegram, edged in black, soon reached his parents in Boundary Falls.

The family went into deep mourning for their son and brother, just 21 when he died.

His memory still burns bright in the Christensen family.

Eddy’s is among the 11,285 names of soldiers on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial at France’s Pas de Calais. His name is among 30 others on the cenotaph at Ingram Bridge, erected in 1924 and in the First World War Book of Remembrance in the Peace Tower at Ottawa, Ont.

The Christensen family applied to the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks to have a geographical feature in Southern B.C. named for Edward Greenwood Christensen.

On Nov. 11, 1998, the province and the Canadian Permanent Committee on Geographical Names gave Eddy’s name to Christensen Creek, 13 kilometres north of Greenwood.

Lest we forget.

Grand ForksSecond World War Medals