It has been 100 years since the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 killed millions of people worldwide. Some families and communities were devastated by the virus, while many others survived the deadly disease without incident. I’d like to remember the members of one New Brunswick family who was torn apart by the pandemic.
William joined the CEF in April 1915 at Fredericton, N.B. and went overseas with the Canadian Army Service Corps (C.A.S.C) but had transferred to the Canadian Forestry Corp by 1917 when he married Maud.
Maud Carson was several months pregnant when she travelled to Canada with her new husband on April 24, 1918, as a war bride. Her husband was returning home as he was longer fit for service. They sailed from Liverpool on the SS Aquitania and landed at Halifax, Nova Scotia at Pier 2 on April 29, where they boarded a train to her new home in Holtville, N.B. Maud obtained an Emergency Certificate of British Nationality for Canada in order to travel to the Dominion during the war.The harbour in Halifax was still being rebuilt after an explosion, rocked the city on 6 December 1917. Two boats collided in the harbour; one was a munitions ship loaded with explosives destined for the battlefields in Europe. It destroyed much of the downtown core around Pier 6, killing over 1,900 people and injuring more than 9,000. Pier 2 also sustained damage and was unable to support the large numbers of passengers that it had in previous years.
Maud settled into life in the small town of Holtville to await the birth of her first child. She was one of the many people who was counted during in the Canadian National Registration of 1918 which was taken on June 22, 1918.
Maud Carson gave birth to her only son, William James Carson (“Jim” as he was known) on November 6, 1918. Tragically, life for this family would be forever altered. Influenza swept through their household killing her father-in-law on November 4. Both Maud and her husband William contracted the flu shortly after and succumbed to the virus about a week later, leaving their only child an orphan. Records indicate Maud gave birth while fighting the virus. The only other person who lived in the house at the time was Christina Carson, Maud’s mother-in-law. She survived the ordeal and went to live with her daughter.
A reverend from the church in nearby Boiestown, N.B. took the young orphan into his household but refused to surrender the infant to his family. A custody battle ensued. William’s sister, Christina Plume, travelled from nearby York County to fight for custody of her nephew. She applied for guardianship of him, which she was granted on 12 May 1919. William’s WWI personnel file shows that Rev. Smith of Boiestown was issued a cheque as the guardian of William and Maud’s son in the amount of $424.90 in April 1919.
Her lawyer, Charles D. Richard, of Fredericton advised that with guardianship papers in hand and a provincial constable at her side, she should be able to obtain custody of the child by any means possible, given that “you do not commit any definite act of violence or assault” in order to do so.
Christina Plume finally gained custody of her nephew six months after his birth. Fortunately, his aunt was able to provide him with a loving and stable household despite that the fact that her husband Samuel died five years later after a threshing accident on the farm.
The following poem was written about the death of William Carson and his wife Maud by a neighbour of Plume family, Mrs. James McKinnon of Tay Falls.
Back to old New Brunswick,
The war-worn hero came,
And one there was beside him
Who had chosen to bear his name.
One of Old England’s daughters,
Faithful and true and brave,
She crossed the broad Atlantic
To sleep in a foreign grave.
One short year together,
In love and hope and joy;
Then they passed from earth for ever,
And left a baby boy.
Just a little gift from Heaven,
Sent with a Father’s love,
To turn our thoughts from this sad world
To the better world above.
For a little child shall lead them
Over the stormy tide,
Till they meet their own dear soldier
And his little English bride.
So weep no more, dear mother,
For those that have passed away,
For the loving Father called them
Into Eternal Day.
Jim Carson grew up with many siblings. Christina and Samuel Plume had ten children of their own. During WW2, he enlisted in the Canadian army and served overseas with the Royal Canadian Engineers (RCE). While overseas he was able to meet his mother Maud’s siblings and spend time with them.
In a letter home to his mother, Christine Plume, in 1943 he wrote:
Dear Momma: just a few lines to let you know that I am well and hope this letter finds you all the same how is Mack getting along with the work suppose Bert is helping him have you sent any smokes yet hope you have as I am out of tobacco now and this English tobacco is so dear and besides I don’t like it either have you got any of my letters yet I sent you an air mail letter just after I arrived here so I hope you have it by now I was up to my aunt last week end and they are all well they don’t live far from here my Bond will be paid up this month so you let me know as it should be there by the middle of November how is Ella and Margie suppose they stay with you most of the time I like this country but at the same time I would like to be back in Canada but o the war will soon be over and then I will be home I have eleven months in the army to day well Momma I guess I have said all for this time so will close.
Bye Lots of Love Jim XXOO
|Rhoda Carrier collection|
Jim survived the war and returned home to his family. He married Rhoda Jordan in 1950. They had four children together. Jim died in October 1992 at the age of 73. He is buried at the foot of his parent’s grave in the Cameron Hill Cemetery in Holtville, N.B. He was not able to spend this lifetime with them but they will be together for all eternity.
Sources: William Jonathan Carson, Regimental No. 42, Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF), RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 1536 – 50, Personnel Files of the First World War, Library and Archives Canada
The Canadian Encyclopedia: The Halifax Explosion
The Halifax Explosion
National Registration of 1918
(C) Annette Fulford, November 2018