Brothers and Eldest Sons

Although I’ve collected all kinds of family history tidbits (and tucked most of them safely away on ancestry.ca), I’m often drawn back to the tidbits in a renewed effort to find meaning. For me, it’s not enough simply to collect the facts; I’m always trying to read between the lines for the untold stories.

In this post, I’m looking at Richard Ruddy Brett (1869-1937) and his older brother, William James Brett (1864-1943). R.R. went by the name “Bert” for most of his adult life. More predictably, his brother was known as “Bill”.

(Aside: If anyone ever explained to me how Richard Ruddy came to be called Bert, I must have quickly forgotten. I do have many memories, however, of town elders telling me about my great-grandfather, Bert Brett, walking through town whistling. Apparently it was his thing! Unfortunately I don’t have any anecdotal asides to offer in the rest of this post, just some facts.)

John Alexander Brett

John Alexander Brett
John Alexander Brett (1892-1918)

A while back I wrote a post called 2nd Generation: John Brett & Ann Elliott. Near the end of that post I listed their children and provided a few details on each. Under William James Brett, I mentioned that he and his wife Etta had four children. John Alexander Brett was their second-born and eldest son, born on 24 February 1892 in Ruthven and killed in action near the end of World War I.

When I was looking through the new batch of photos I received from Sandy, I was amazed to find this photo of John Alexander Brett. On the reverse it says: “John Brett – 241st Regiment – Killed Sept 1918 – Buried in France”.

At age 24, John enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on 9 September 1916. The 241st Battalion was based in Windsor and the unit was known as the Canadian Scottish Borderers (a precursor to the Essex and Kent Scottish), hence the kilt and the sporran. The battalion had one commanding officer, Lt.-Col. W.L. McGregor (or at least that’s what Wikipedia says).

It would appear that John was overseas for the next two years. At the time of his death on 27 September 1918, he was a Private in the 15th Battalion of the 1st Central Ontario Regiment, which fought in France and Flanders (Belgium).

When the village of Sains-les-Marquion in France was captured on 27 September 1918, John A. was there. His military burial record says that he was killed in action: “This soldier was instantly killed by an heavy enemy shell, during operations in the vicinity of Keith Wood.”

On the following day, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade established a new cemetery, the Sains-Les-Marquion British Cemetery. It contains 255 WWI burials. John Alexander Brett is buried in Plot 1, Row B, Grave #24.

Ruddy Brett

Ruddy Brett in cadet uniform
Ruddy Brett in cadet uniform

John Alexander Brett’s cousin Ruddy also enlisted. Bert Brett’s second-born and oldest son was an18-year-old drug clerk when he signed his enlistment papers on 1 July 1915. Ruddy was planning to become a pharmacist, a goal he accomplished after the war was over, and had been working at a local drug store.

In this photo, also received as part of Sandy’s collection, Ruddy is wearing military gear, probably his cadet uniform from high school. By September 1916, just about the time that his cousin John was enlisting, Ruddy was stationed in France with the 13th Canadian Field Ambulance, which was assigned to the 4th Canadian Division. Soldiers in that division were at the Battle of the Somme, Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. As a medic, Ruddy probably worked near some of the worst battles that the 4th Division fought. He stayed in France until the Armistice in 1919.

To refresh your memory about Ruddy, re-read my post called 4th Generation: Richard Ruddy Brett Jr.

Bert and Bill

IOOF Centennial Lodge, Windsor, May 12, 1927 - Bert Brett sitting on the far left and William Brett on the middle right
IOOF Centennial Lodge, Windsor, May 12, 1927 – Bert Brett sitting on the far left and William Brett on the middle right

Brothers Bert and Bill must have shared a great deal of anxiety and sorrow about their second-born and oldest sons. Although Bill lived in Windsor and worked in Detroit for many years, I believe the brothers also kept in touch and shared something else – a club.

The brothers were both members of the charitable organization known as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows or IOOF. Bert originally joined Rose Lodge No. 28 in Amherstburg around 1891, then moved to Enterprize Lodge No. 218 in Essex when he and William H. Auld purchased the Essex Free Press in 1896. He was elected as Grand Master in 1907 and was the oldest living Grand Master in Ontario at the time of his death.

According to Bill’s obituary, he joined Rose Lodge No. 28 in Amherstburg around 1886, then joined Centennial Lodge No. 463 in Windsor upon its founding in 1919. At his death, he was a Past Grand Patriarch of the Grand Encampment of Ontario and one of the oldest Oddfellows in the district.

This IOOF photo from 1927, shows the two brothers seated in the front row, Bert on the far left and Bill on the middle right. The names and number of years of service for each person is listed on the reverse. Bert is listed as having 36 and Bill with 41 years of service. You can certainly tell that they’re brothers!

2 thoughts on “Brothers and Eldest Sons”

  1. Thanks for this ,I am lea Brett’s grandson David Moore,son of royal Moore,my son is Jeffrey ,his son is Tyler

    1. Hi David. I’m glad you found my blog. I have some sketchy details on Ada Leah Brett on Ancestry.ca, but I don’t have spouse or children. If you have any details to share, I would be happy to add them to my Ancestry records.

      There’s actually more to my story about John Alexander Brett. My husband and I were in Scotland in June 2014 and spent some time at Edinburgh Castle. As a military installation, the castle contains the National War Memorial. In a small antechamber there were many books that people were leafing through. Turns out they were Rolls of Honour listing soldiers who served on behalf of the British Crown. Because John Alexander Brett served with a Canadian Scottish regiment, his name and date of death were listed. I have a photograph of that listing that I could send if you’d like to have a copy. My email is lbrett7@yahoo.ca.

      I’d be interested in knowing if your family still lives in Essex County.

      Laurie

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