Abenezer "Aby" Evans

"He would hide under the bed nearly every time he heard a noise. He would think he was back on the battlefield."

Many men returned from the Great War bearing physical scars — bullet wounds, gas lacerations, amputated limbs. But sometimes the unseen scars were worse — the mental wounds caused by a conflict so unimaginably horrific that it was declared by decimated nations as the “war to end all wars.”

For Abenezer “Aby” Evans of southwestern Ontario, the First World War didn’t end with the Armistice. He brought it home with him, replaying it in his mind over and over again.

“My mother said that right after they married… he would hide under the bed nearly every time he heard a noise. He would think he was back on the battlefield. This persisted for quite some time,” said James Evans, Aby’s son.

Like many veterans of the Great War, Aby was suffering from shell shock, a condition barely understood — or accepted — by medical officials. In the early years of the war, shell-shocked men were often labeled cowards for their unwillingness, or inability, to continue the fight.

Aby Evans, like his four brothers, was a stereotypically small-statured Welshman. He signed up to serve in Fort Frances, Ontario, and enlisted with the 52nd Battalion on June 1, 1915. He told his children that he was born in Stratford, Ontario, and was raised by his sister. James, who has recently taken an interest in genealogy, was shocked to discover that, in fact, no sister existed — there were only males in the Evans line.

Aby’s attestation papers state his age as being twenty years and ten months, but he had no birth certificate. Aby told his family he was born August 4, 1898, which would have made him seventeen at the time of enlistment — the same age his son James was when he enlisted to fight in the Second World War.

Now 87, James remembers his father as a man who preferred to keep quiet about most things — particularly matters concerning the Great War. He didn’t have many known hobbies and although he’d lived most of his life in Northwestern Ontario, he didn’t take an interest in things like hunting or fishing. A railway man by trade, Aby remains, in many ways, a mystery.

James said his father’s domestic life was not always a happy one. The military provided Evans with a small medical pension for his injuries due to trench feet, but his shell shock was largely dismissed as trivial. As a result, Aby turned to alcohol.

“At the time, growing up, we never appreciated the drinking problem. Now that I’ve read about it, I know that it was a method of escaping from the memories of the trenches,” said James. “When he was sober that he was a nice guy…but I remember every time something important would come up, he would drink instead…The railway insisted that he go away and try and shake the habit but it didn’t make any difference.”

Perhaps tellingly, Aby never once asked his son James about his experiences in the Second World War. “He never mentioned anything or asked me about life there,” said James.

Aby Evans died in Winnipeg at the Deer Lodge Veterans Hospital in the late 1960s.

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.