Curley Christian & Cleo McPherson: Historic Canadians in Our Records

Curley Christian’s Attestation Paper in Ancestry.ca’s records

Curley’s Marriage to Cleo McPherson

Ethelbert “Curley” Christian had a bent index finger on his right hand. As a chain maker in 1915, the finger may have bothered him slightly, but not enough that he wouldn’t have enlisted to fight for our country at age 34.

Curley was a remarkable man. Brave, determined and incredibly lucky.

On the WWI battlefield, Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917, he bet fellow Canadians that he could reach an equipment depot faster than them. Sprinting amidst the debris he was brought to his knees by artillery fire.

As luck would have it, his breath saved his life. Curley layed buried in a trench for two days, with his limbs crushed, until fellow soldiers put a mirror under his nose, saw breath and were able to carry him off the field. That was until the firing began again and the two stretcher-bearers carrying him off were killed.

Waking in a hospital in France, Curley found that he had been amputated below the elbows of both arms and below the knees of both legs due to gangrene. Medical staff are quoted as saying he awoke singing, “It’s a long way to Tipperary…” and shouting “I’m alive! I’m alive!”

Eventually, Curley was sent back to Toronto where he received artificial limbs. Determined, his chain maker skills helped him create tools to attach to his limbs to help with eating and writing.

He met and married a Christie Street hospital worker, Cleo McPherson. Curley and Cleo’s determination didn’t stop. Cleo wanted to care for Curley at home, but feared that she would be unable to do so as it would mean leaving her job to care for him full time.

After speaking with Cleo, the director of the hospital, armed with a petition from the War Amps, wrote to the Department of Soldiers Re-establishment presenting an argument for home care versus the costs of hospital care. Shortly thereafter the Attendance Allowance was born. (Along with Cleo and Curley’s son, Douglas, who joined the Navy in WWII.) The Attendance Allowance, in addition to pensions, ensures that seriously disabled people can stay at home and receive care.

He died from a heart ailment in 1954 and was eulogized as a man who was very active in the War Amps, who loved going to the races and playing gin rummy.

War Diaries from Canadian Infantry Battalions from the Canadian Great War Project. Curly’s Battalion: 78th Canadian Infantry Battalion is included.


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