Mary Smith, Historic St. Marys
John H. and Bertha Near, their five sons and their daughter, Ada, posed for this family photograph in 1915. World War I was underway and two sons, Frank (nicknamed Red) at left in the back row, and William (Bill) at the right, are in uniform. Their brother Jack, also at the back, would enlist within the year. Harold, age 7, on the left in the front row, and Reg, age 10, on the right, are still much too
young to enlist.
Frank was also too young. When he enrolled in the 33rd Canadian Infantry battalion, he was still 17 but his attestation papers show that he added three years to his age. Bill, 24, enlisted in the same battalion a few weeks later — possibly to keep an eye on his younger brother. But they were not able to spend much time together. The 33rd Battalion arrived in England in March 1916 and was broken up to provide reinforcements to other Canadian battalions at the front.
Frank was sent to the Royal Canadian Regiment and Bill to the 7th Canadian Infantry Battalion, both fighting in Belgium. The two brothers kept in touch and actually spent a bit of time together in July 1916 near Ypres. They applied to have Frank transferred to Bill’s battalion but before that could happen, the RCR was sent south to take part in the Somme Offensive. Frank Near was among the heavy casualties, reported missing in action on Oct. 8, 1916. His body was never found.
Bill kept a small diary briefly recording his daily activities and noting the letters he received from friends and relatives. It was November 1916 before he received the news that Frank was missing. On Oct. 8, 1917, he noted the first anniversary of this loss. At that time, he was on leave in England and, according to his diary, was having a great time. That was good because he had only a month to live.
Back in Belgium, he became a runner, carrying messages back and forth between headquarters and companies at the front, often under heavy bombardment and machine gun fire. He was killed near Passchendaele, Nov. 7, 1917.
The Nears were a well-known and well-liked St. Marys family. Bill and Frank were involved in various clubs and organizations and had a host of friends that shared the family’s grief. This photograph and the diary were returned to Bill’s family with other personal effects. His nephew, Reg Near, made them available to the St. Marys Museum for copying several years ago. Frank Near and William Near are commemorated on the local cenotaph.