Ruddy Brett was the eldest son of Richard Ruddy Brett and Frances Lillian Roberts, born on December 25, 1896. To differentiate himself from his father he signed his name “R.R. Brett Jr.”
Like all of the Brett children, Ruddy progressed through the Essex school system, often with honours (as newspaper reports of the day show), and graduated from high school around 1914. He immediately went to work as an apprentice druggist with T.B.S. Tweedale, both at the Essex and Windsor locations, but his workplace education was about to be interrupted.
On July 1, 1915, Ruddy enlisted as a Private with the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force. According to the September 3, 1915 edition of his father’s newspaper, the Essex Free Press, Ruddy shipped out on August 7, 1915 and arrived at Plymouth, England on August 18. A year later, on Sept. 8, 1916, the newspaper reports that Ruddy is stationed in France with the 13th Canadian Field Ambulance, a unit that was newly established in August 1916.
Parts of a letter dated October 23, 1916 were reproduced in the November 17th edition of the Free Press that year. The 13th Canadian Field Ambulance unit was assigned to the 4th Canadian Division, which fought at the Battle of the Somme from July to mid-November 1916, claiming over 24,000 Canadian lives and securing the Canadian unit’s reputation as a formidable assault force. Ruddy was working as one of two night dispensers, administering tetanus shots to one patient after another – “500 or 600 come in in three hours,” he wrote. Although he reports being three or four miles away from the firing line, he was witness to the muddy conditions that the soldiers had to endure:
The weather here is rotten, the mud in the trenches waist deep. Men got stuck fast, and could not get out till morning. Yesterday it turned cold and froze, now it is raining again. I tell you, the men that come in here are in an awful state, mud all over. The face is hardened with mud. You cannot remove it or you are liable to take skin and all.
He also writes about “the rum”, how it saves lives and keeps thousands from pneumonia:
It keeps them warm for a few minutes anyway, and a man cannot possibly get warm in wet clothes and mud to the knees, feet wet, week in and week out, and yet some men try to stop the only thing that gives them a little warmth.
Ruddy remained in France until the Armistice in 1919 and probably worked with the medics near some of the worst battles that the 4th Division fought. These would have included Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele.
At the end of the war, a report in the Free Press for January 17, 1919 says that Ruddy, now 22, had been promoted to Sergeant and was at Namur, Belgium with the 4th Division, marching towards the Rhine.
After the war, Ruddy enrolled at the Ontario College of Pharmacy and graduated in 1921.
On September 14, 1922 he married Berniece Beech of Leamington. In 1928, a daughter named Betty Lou joined the family.
After his father’s death in October 1937, Ruddy worked at the Essex Free Press, sometimes listed as the assistant publisher.
Ruddy Brett died at the age of 43 in a tragic turn of events. On August 16, 1940, he was a passenger in a car driven by Lee Shanyfelt. The two men and Shanyfelt’s wife had driven from Essex to Belle River collecting subscriptions for the North Essex Baseball League. From a newspaper clipping that came from the Windsor Star, it appears that Ruddy started to experience chest pains and asked Shanyfelt to take him back to Essex. Driving down the Belle River Road, Shanyfelt failed to stop at Highway 2 and hit a car full of soldiers. One man was fatally injured. Although Ruddy climbed out of the car and sat on the running board for a time, he collapsed just seconds before Dr. Dupuis of Belle River arrived at his side.
The clipping that appeared in the Essex Free Press is attached here.