last of many

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2012 Forum Fantasy Football Champion
Jan 9, 2007
TORONTO (CP) - Lloyd Clemett was the youngest of a band of brothers to heed the call to battle and sign up to fight in the trenches of the First World War.

The enthusiastic teen set his sights on the battlefields of France, but three older enlisted siblings, his young age and fate ensured his safe return to Toronto when peace was declared on Nov. 11, 1918.

Late Wednesday, Clemett died in the city where he was born, raised a family, and lived for more than a century. He was 107.

His death leaves only two known surviving Canadian veterans of the First World War.

"It was something you had to do, so you went and you did it" was the explanation Clemett offered when asked why he went to war, his son David Clemett said in an interview.

"It's really something that he never elaborated on, he never talked about when I was growing up. It was just a fact, that at some point in time he was in the First World War."

The only indication his father had served in the conflict was a brass-bound war chest containing his service uniform, tucked away in the basement of the family home in north Toronto. It was only in recent years that Clemett shared his war stories with family.

Like so many others anxious to join their countrymen in the trenches of France, Clemett told the army he was 18 - the official enlistment age - when he signed his papers in January 1916.

"He went when he was 16, he got sent over to England and was working with the lumber group over there, doing timber," said his niece, Merle Kaczanowski.

"It was at the very last, when they needed more people, he actually did get shipped over to France."

Ten per cent of the roughly 600,000 Canadians who enlisted to fight in the First World War died on the battlefields of Europe - 170,000 more were wounded.

The war would ultimately claim 15 million civilian and military lives on both sides of the conflict.

"I think it's important to remember that we are as far today from the Great War as the men who fought the Great War were from Napoleon's battles," said military historian Jack Granatstein.

"In other words, it's a long time in the past, and it's not surprising that many Canadians don't know anything about the first war, don't even know that we were in it, aren't even aware that there are still one or two survivors left from those great battles and that great army of 600,000-plus Canadians who served."

Although Clemett's true age was discovered in England, his older brothers also did their best to ensure their younger sibling was kept out of harm's way.

"His brothers intervened, they said, 'No, no, Lloyd stays with us, he's not going anywhere,' " said Clemett. "I think that's how he ended up in the forestry division."

When his division was shipped to Aubin St. Vast, France, Clemett volunteered several times for the frontline. The sound of artillery fire in the distance only fuelled his company's desire for combat.

"That made them that much more compelled to go to the front," said his son.

One month before his 19th birthday, Clemett received his orders to join the others on the frontlines - but fate intervened.

"The day that the Armistice was signed was the day his battalion was supposed to go to the front lines," said David.

"Disappointed" at having never seen action in the war, Clemett returned home, along with his three brothers, and took a job as a railway agent.

A life-long hockey fan, Clemett played for the Brampton Maple Leafs in the 1920s and also coached a woman's softball team.

Clemett opened a lawn mower repair business and kept it afloat during the Great Depression, married his wife Catherine in 1936, and raised two sons in Toronto.

Clemett finished out his working years as a meter reader and repairman before retiring in 1965.

When his wife passed away in 1993, Clemett continued living, alone, in their Millwood Road home.

"He was in pretty good physical shape up until (about the age of 103)," said David.

"He'd whittle baskets out of peach stones. He'd read a western paperback book every day, bake his own cookies, muffins and bread."

Clemett's failing vision and hearing saw him move into the veteran's residence at Sunnybrook and Women's Hospital in Toronto in the fall of 2003, where he lived out his remaining years

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