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Leo O'Neil

This story is submitted by Elizabeth Clarke of Head Office in Charlottetown and is about her grandfather, Leo O'Neil.

"He was born in 1900, in St. John's, Newfoundland. His mother died giving birth to him, leaving a family of three girls and the baby. His father died 13 years later in a drowning mishap. The war broke out in Britain in 1914 and there was a call in Newfoundland, which was a colony of Britain, for men 16 years and older to sign up. Leo was then 14 and after his father's death, he was the only provider left. Winter was coming on and there was very little in the way of food. The family was happy when Leo caught a rabbit on the Southside Hills; it would provide them with the only meat they had seen in a long while. While his family was in a good frame of mind he told them that he had signed up to fight earlier that day. All hell broke loose and May, his oldest sister threatened to go to the War department and tell them his real age. He said "May, it's like this, if I fight, I'll get paid and it will help you girls through the winter, if I stay here with you we may all starve this winter," so she said nothing more.

He joined the Blue Puttees, one of the first 500, and known then and now as the "Fighting Newfoundlanders." He was sent in a convoy to France and Beaumont-Hamel, and he had his 15th birthday over there. He later told his family that the gunfire was non-relenting and there was nowhere to escape it. One day a hail of bullets came down like rain over him and his comrades in a trench. He said everyone there with him died that day and he thought he was dead, too. His left leg was severed and part of his left hand, and his back was opened up with shrapnel. He didn't remember anything after that. He awoke weeks later and thought he was in heaven as a woman dressed all in white bent over him. "Even her head was covered in a white veil". When she spoke to him in a foreign language, he realized he was wounded and in a French hospital.

He was sent home after he recovered enough to travel. He remembers being met by Lady Walyn as they came down the ramp of the ship, most of them amputees. She handed each one of them a pack of cigarettes, and said thank you. I won't repeat what he said about that part. He met and married Elizabeth Moores, from Avondale, Newfoundland. They raised a family of five girls and one boy. War broke out again in '44 and his oldest daughter Mary joined and became a WAC. He was given some crown land by the War Department. He got work with the Newfoundland Railway as a caretaker, sweeping floors and mopping up. He stayed with them until he retired in the 60s. He was limited in what he could do as most of his hand was missing; what was left resembled a claw with only a thumb protruding from it. I remember as a girl watching him, fascinated, as he removed his wooden leg each day after work and would hobble around on crutches. He said the wool sock he wore over his stump all day caused chafing and he found relief at night by taking it off. He spent the remaining 60 years of his life quietly, he never went away again. He died peacefully in his sleep in 1976."

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