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Historical fiction chronicles Lambton County war heroes

By Melissa Schilz, Postmedia Network

William Wright of Wyoming died in action during the First World War. Relative Allan Miller has released an e-book that details Wright’s life and wartime experience. (Handout/Postmedia Network)

William Wright of Wyoming died in action during the First World War. Relative Allan Miller has released an e-book that details Wright’s life and wartime experience. (Handout/Postmedia Network)

 A Belleville-based writer with roots in Plympton-Wyoming has released an historical fiction that chronicles the lives as well as the deaths of several Lambton County men who went off to war over a century ago.

Allan Miller, a retired church pastor who served in the Canadian Armed Forces as a soldier, chaplain and cadet instructor, has memories of visiting his grandfather’s farm not far from Reece’s Corners. His mother, Doris Campbell Wright Miller, would often speak of a great uncle, William Wright, who had died in the First World War.

After several months of family research, Miller has released his book, called The Wyoming Kid. Inspired by the life of his great uncle, the story revolves around 17-year-old William Bright, while examining the community and relationships that existed amongst the young men of Lambton’s Own, the 149th Canadian Expeditionary Force.

“The main character represents a cross section of young farm boys from Lambton County, who at age 15 probably left school… they were not well educated,” he said.

Miller’s purpose is to not only tell the story of wartime and its local impact, but to give readers a deeper understanding of the social conditions at the time. People weren’t much different 100 years ago, he said, while taking the reader into Lambton’s past, walking them down Wyoming’s Broadway Street and experiencing life as it was in the early 20th century.

“There were some great people in the community,” he said. “All the stories are coming together… they did what they had to do at the time.”

The book details Bright’s journey overseas, as well as the intense training he and fellow soldiers underwent at the Watford Armoury, among other places, before heading into battle.

“It was the rehearsal for the real thing,” he said.

The book isn’t only about Bright; it examines several other storylines, including the suffragette movement. Before the teens went off to war, a farewell parade in Sarnia sent them off in celebratory style. Little did they know what they would face in months and years ahead.

Miller said there wasn’t much of a paper trail or war diary detailing events, so finding the information was no easy task. He relied on archives for most of his research. He also traveled to Belgium and France, visiting major sites and his great uncle’s grave in a farmer’s field.

“You can almost see in your mind exactly what happened,” he said of the trip. “A lot of these men did come back to do some pretty amazing things and help guide the county to these more modern days.”

Some of these men include Harold Parr, who lost an eye to machine gun fire and was later ordained by the United Church of Canada; and W.S Haney, who became a well-known Sarnia lawyer; and David Harding, who came out a qualified pilot and became a Wing Commander in the RCAF during the Second World War.

Miller’s great uncle was killed on Sept. 29, 1918 while approaching Cambrai. At that point, he was with the 49th Alberta.

Miller said his uncle was the black sheep of the family. His father, John Denyer Wright, was resistant to his son’s wanting to go to war and they had a falling out.

“His dad didn’t want him to go off, his dad was a very good up and coming farmer,” he said.

When William Wright died, his mother received his medals and his bank account. The cross that marked his battlefield grave was never inscribed, and it now sits in the Camlachie museum, where all that remains of him is his portrait, the cross and his medals.

You can purchase The Wyoming Kid on Amazon. Any profits he makes from the e-book, Miller said he plans to give to the archives and museum.