Martha “Nellie” Richmire was my 2nd cousin twice removed on my father’s side. Like Emma Maud Law who I profiled in December, Nellie Richmire is also descended from Francis Joseph Langton and Sarah Bishop, my 3rd great grandparents, and Nellie’s great grandparents. As the abbreviated tree below demonstrates, Emma was in fact Nellie’s aunt.
Nellie’s mother, Margaret Eden Law, was the oldest child of Martha Jane Langton and John William Law. She was born in 1871, and married in 1889 to Ransom Richmire, a teamster in Cardinal, Ontario, when her youngest sister, Emma, was only one year old. Nellie was born in 1896 in Cardinal, where she lived with her family until marrying Edward Clinton Biccum in June of 1915. She was 19, and Edward was 18.
Of course, when they married, the war had already been raging in Europe for 10 months, and Canada was immersed with it. Local battalions were being created in counties across the country, and, starting in late 1915, the 156th battalion began recruiting in Grenville and Leeds counties. Cardinal, where Edward was born, was in Grenville county, and on February 6, 1916, almost exactly 102 years ago, he travelled to the neighbouring town of Iroquois, Ontario to attest to the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the 156th.
Cardinal is a beautifully situated village on the St. Lawrence River, directly across from New York State. It is still a small community described as and “industrial” village, as has been its primary industry since the late 18th century. Edward identified himself as a “labourer” on his attestation papers, and it is likely he worked in one of the mills.
On the day that he attested, his wife Nellie was 5 months pregnant with their first child. These were not the heady days of late summer 1914. The spirit of adventure that had inspired some men to enlist early on had turned to a sense of patriotism, duty, and even resignation perpetuated through the popular media of the day encouraging all men who were able to “do their bit.” From early 1915 onwards, Canadians had been in active combat. Many men had perished. Both Edward and Nellie would have known that enlisting was a dangerous thing for their little family.
The battalion spent its early days training close to home. Edward would have been close by on June 14 when his son, John Edward, was born. His son would have been just over a month old when the picture above of the entire battalion was taken. In October 1916, Edward and the rest of the 156th bade their families goodbye, and left for Halifax to sail to England. The 156th sailed on the Mauretania, sister ship to the famous Lusitania, and arrived in England on October 31, 1916.
Very soon after his arrival in England, Edward was temporarily promoted to Acting Lance Corporal. He was only twenty years old. He and the other members of the 156th were split up and assigned to other battalions as reinforcements. After being assigned to the 154th and the 6th battalions, once he reverted to his rank of Private, he was assigned to the 2nd Battalion in May of 1917.
Barely three months later, in August 1917, he was wounded in his arm in the Battle for Hill 70 near Lens, France. He was evacuated to Britain to heal, and was eventually able to rejoin his battalion in France in November.
On March 21, 1918, at the age of 21, Edward was killed at what I can only assume was the first day of the German offensive at St. Quentin–the same day and at the same battle that Stanley Frederick Gill from my maternal line was taken prisoner. I have had a hard time finding a war diary for Edward’s battalion, so I am making an educated guess that he was killed at St. Quentin based on the date and the number of men from the 2nd battalion who were killed on that day and buried in the Aix-Noulette Communal Cemetery.
Edward was posthumously awarded the rank of Corporal. I am honoured to share the CWGC commemorative certificate for my cousin’s husband here.
Back in Cardinal, Nellie Biccum and her toddler John, not yet two years old, were left without their husband and father. In the 1921 census, the two are listed as living on their own, but her parents and siblings were living in nearby Edwardsburg, so one hopes that she had some assistance.
In August of 1925, just over ten years after her marriage to Edward, she married Frank Brant, a 30-year old farmer from Michigan. Nellie and John moved with Frank to Michigan where the new couple had three more children, Margaret, James, and Dorothy, born in 1926, 1928, and 1930 respectively. Nellie died in 1978 at the age of 82, and John Biccum died in 1989 at the age of 72. Although Edward never got to see his son take his first steps, his descendants and his name are still in Michigan today.