Doctors said heart failure killed Elizabeth Ellen Lomax in 1922, and caused her to leave behind two young daughters and a husband. Ed McDonald believes the grief of losing three sons to the Great War claimed the life of his grandmother, however. “She was really just heartbroken…. That’s all,” he said.
After battles were won and lost, and the war ended, families endured the aftermath of lost loved ones and strained or broken relationships. For the Lomax family, the aftermath of the First World War lingered for generations. Brothers George, William, and John Lomax signed up to serve in the First World War between April 1 and May 15, 1916, at ages twenty-two, twenty-one, and nineteen. They were living in Banff, and enlisted in the 31st Canadian Infantry Battalion, although the men were born in Lancashire, England.
The brothers went overseas as an ensemble. In October 1916, George was appointed as lance corporal, while William and John remained privates. One month later, however, George requested to be reverted to private. “I have never seen this before,” wrote Catherine L. Tremblay, Commemoration Directorate for Veterans Affairs Canada, in a letter dated May 30, 1997. “[I] can only surmise that he wished to carry the same rank as his brothers, William and John.” Staying close as a family was important to the brothers. “No Maggie, I never could think of forgetting you, nor any of you at home,” wrote William in a letter to one of his little sisters back home. “Is ma getting along, Maggie, after her fall? I’ll tell you what we will do. I guess we will have to buy her a pair of boots like Charlie Chaplin wears, then she may be able to stand up on her feet better,” he joked.
The jokes ended on April 10th, 1917 when the first of the brothers died. John, the youngest, was killed while fighting in the Battle of Vimy Ridge. He was buried in Barlin Communal Cemetery Extension in Barlin, Pas-de-Calais, France. George followed only a few months later. He had trench fever and was undergoing surgery at the Wharncliffe War Hospital in Sheffield, England for wounds sustained from battle when he passed away on August 24, the birthday of the last surviving brother. He was buried at home, in Preston (New Hall Lane) Cemetery in Lancashire, England. William died on January 1, 1919, after returning to Canada at the end of the war, from pneumonia—a condition, his mother believed, brought on by mustard gas poisoning. The boy’s parents, along with sisters Lil and Margaret, were left to mourn the three lost soldiers. He was buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Calgary, Alberta.
Margaret alone remained to tend to the family farm just outside of Calgary. This was a responsibility her brothers would have been expected to assume once they returned from the war, and the workload eventually became too much for her. “We have no idea what happened to the farm,” said McDonald, Margaret’s son. “We suspect they just let it go.”
Margaret’s brother John used to send her letters during his short time at war. No matter how many Remembrance Days passed, she never became less sad that the First World War tore her family apart. “When I think about it, I find it upsetting, too,” McDonald said, pointing out that at the time of the war, his mother was merely in grade school and he would not be born for years. “I never knew what these people would have been like,” he added. “We might have won the war, but we lost the family.”
Do you have an ancestor who served in the Great War? Submit their story and it could be included on this Great War Album website.