My grandfather David Lee Wetmore was born 12 September 1884 in Clifton Royal, Kings County, New Brunswick, Canada. He was the middle child of the seven children of Howard Douglas Wetmore and Clara Frost. His father Howard Douglas was a prominent farmer in the Kennebecasis Valley, the grandson and great grandson of United Empire Loyalists’ Judge David Brown Wetmore and James Wetmore both from Rye, NY. Dave’s mother Clara, a teacher, was the great grand daughter of prominent Loyalists William Frost and Sarah Scofield. Thousands of United Empire Loyalists evacuated the United States and emigrated to Canada at the close of the Revolutionary War in 1783.
A simple entry in Howard’s farm diary announced the birth of David… “Fri 12 Fine (weather). Working in raspberries. Our boy David Lee born this evening”.
Circa 1886….Early picture of David Lee (foreground seated) with his brother Lewis on the right and his sisters Elsie and Annie in the rear.
Dave’s siblings included his two older sisters Elsie and Annie, older brother Lewis and three younger brothers Howard, Harold and Herbert. There is little known about his childhood, but when he was 13, his brother Lewis was found dead in the fields, it was believed he was kicked by a horse he was leading.
It is not clear whether Dave finished high school, but upon the death of his father in 1905, his mother sold the farm and moved with the children to St John, NB. It is around this time Dave, age 20, moved out west to Manitoba and took on a rugged life as a trapper, cowboy and hunting guide.
Picture of David Lee Wetmore circa 1905
In August of 1914 he had plans to build a hunting camp in the Riding Mountains near Lake Dauphin, when World War One broke out. He was in a local militia and volunteered for service overseas. He and many other militia members headed back East to the big military base at Valcartier Quebec where he signed on with the Royal Canadian Dragoons (RCD) on 22 Sep 1914. At Valcartier, the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force (CEF) was being mobilized and trained for combat service in Europe. On Oct 1914 the CEF departed for England in a large convoy and Dave was embarked on the Laurentic a White Star Line passenger liner converted to troopship.
Upon arrival in England the RCD went to the British Army base at Salisbury Plain for more intensive training. Dave recounts in one of his writings that the regiment was reviewed by King George V who passed so close “I could have spit on his boots”. He also talks of visits by one of his military heroes, Field Marshall Frederick Roberts “Bobs of Kandahar” and his favorite writer Rudyard Kipling.
|David Lee Wetmore, pictures from England – Circa 1914-15|
Top--- Formal pose in dress uniform with riding crop
Middle – Dismounted with his horse
Bottom – with buddies… he is on the right seated on the wall
Dave was with the RCD for most of the Regiment’s combat actions and subsequent occupation in France and Belgium from 1915 to 1919, but the most significant life event was meeting his future wife Hilda Annie Case (she went by Annie or Nancy) while on leave in Nottinghamshire in 1915. They married 23 Jan 1916 in her hometown of Selston, Nottinghamshire, England at St. Helen’s church, a small 11th Century Norman church. She was a young bride at 18 and he was 31. The marriage was witnessed by her brother Robert and sister Sarah (Sally), she is the daughter of William Case, coal miner and Caroline (Pearce) Case.
Top.. 1917.. Nancy and Sally, Case cottage on Church Lane, Selston
Dave survived the Great War without injury, but in early 1919 he was hospitalized with the Flu and while at the Army hospital in England he met his younger brother Harold, who he hadn’t seen since 1905.
Sometime in mid-1919 he returned to Canada with his war bride and was discharged from the service at Valcartier on 9 Aug 1919. He returned to Bloomfield, Kings County, New Brunswick where he took up residence with extended family helping run a farm. Dave and Nancy started a family there with son Robert Vaughn (Bob), born 5 Jul 1920 followed by Gordon William (my dad), born 9 Oct 1922, then Colby Smith on 7 Jul 1926.
In the mid-1920’s Dave took a job as a carpenter with the Boston & Maine Railroad in the USA where he would travel with construction gangs building bridges and other structures along the rail lines in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. It was at this time he decided to move his family to the States and in 1928 they rented a flat in a two family house at 35 Chase St., Methuen, Mass which was on the Lawrence/Methuen line adjacent to the Arlington Mills (now Malden Mills).
|Circa 1928..Wetmore’s on front stoop, 35 Chase St Methuen, Mass|
The family grew in Methuen with their only daughter Anne Caroline, born 9 Feb 1929 and the youngest, David Case, born 17 Jun 1930. In 1929 Dave and Nancy purchased a home on 20 Railroad St, Methuen (Shadylawn) and they would struggle to make ends meet throughout the Great Depression. My dad spent 1937-38 school year in Bloomfield Canada working on a family farm for room and board, which meant one less mouth to feed in Methuen.
During this time Dave began writing, he published a monthly family newsletter, using an old Underwood typewriter with multiple carbon paper copies, sending copies to family in Canada and England. When his three oldest son’s Bob, Gordon and Colby entered the USMC in World War 2, the newsletter took on more importance by bringing the family news to his sons in the far reaches of the Pacific theater.
In the summer of 1946 Dave’s wife Nancy died of cancer. Now retired from the railroad, he re-married to Annie Shepard. In his retirement he continued writing short stories about his life and experiences, adding sketches (watercolor and pencil) to his works. He also enjoyed reading, with Rudyard Kipling being his favorite author and another was Kenneth Roberts (Northwest Passage, Arundel, Boon Island, Rabble in Arms).
Dave was also a very talented woodworker. His handiwork included decorative garden windmills and whirligigs, log cabin style Nativity stable with straw thatched roof, and detailed sailing ship models. He also enjoyed fishing with nearby Cobbetts Pond a favorite spot.
In 1955 Dave’s sister-in-law Sally (Nancy’s sister) and her husband Charlie visited from England and Dave was able to introduce them to the US family and they also travelled to Canada to visit the extended family there. This was the first time Sally and Dave were together since the end of WW1.
Dave and Annie sold the house (Shadylawn) in 1959 and moved into elderly housing in Methuen. Dave was able to continue his writing and woodworking, although he had limited workshop facilities. As their health deteriorated, they needed additional care that was not available at the elderly housing, so they had to enter Hillside Manor nursing home (Methuen). Dave could not bring his tools, so his woodworking was no longer possible and it really upset him. He did continue writing and the following captures his feelings at that time:
He’ll Nevermore Be Fit For The Sea
In my day, I was quite a man and feared nothing that walked, swam or flew, but the time came, as it eventually must come to us all, when “the bullets and the gout have knocked his hull about that he’ll nevermore be fit for the sea”.
I was fuddle-footed. I must see what lay on the other side of the mountain.
I shouldered my bundle and set off on the long, long trail.
Since then I have walked many trails, have sat by many campfires, have told and listened to many tales, but after all is said and done, the only thing that I found on the other side of them mountains was Hillside Manor, where I sit contentedly in the sun today.
My rifle rusts in the grass beside me and my traps are broken. My boats are stove in, and my ponies are dead.
And the only thing I found on the other side of the mountain, after a long, long trail is an undertaker, waiting beside a coffin that is just my size.
Annie passed away 24 Jan 1971. Dave remained in the nursing home and it was fortunate for me that he was able to attend my wedding in June 1971.
Five days after his 91st birthday, on 17 Sep 1975, David Lee Wetmore passed away. My grandfather was an incredible man. While lacking formal or advanced education, he had wisdom and knowledge that can only come from extraordinary life experiences. I am fortunate to have his written stories and by sharing these he lives on. In closing, it is best to sum up Dave’s life in his own words……….
When the tale of my life shall come to be told
This shall be said of my earthly span
“He has cracked his bottle and spent his gold
Kissed his woman and killed his man”