Marbick Royden “Roy” Drolet was the son of Philip Drolet and Rebecca Rawson. Rebecca’s grandfather, Saintlaw Rawson had a very colourful military career, incuding the initial battle of Lexington-Concord in the American Revolution. After Drummond Island was given back to the Americans at the end of the War of 1812-14, and the military base was established in Penetanguishene (today’s Discovery Harbour), Saintlaw’s role was barracks sergeant. Roy was a first cousin to my grandmother making him my third cousin.
Roy enlisted in September, 1914 and trained in Valcartier, Quebec (just north of Quebec City) and on the Salisbury Plains in England before going into battle in France.
In early autumn, 1916, Roy found himself near Courcelette, France. Soon, Roy was listening to thousands of exploding shells raining down on the enemy lines. His orders were to ‘lean on the barrage’ which meant as soon as the shelling stopped and the enemy soliders were still deep in the defensive dugout tunnels, he and the other Canadian soldiers, were to leave their trench and quickly advance across ‘no-man’s land’ to surprise the enemy as they returned to their positions in the trenches.
Hearing the high shrill of the signal whistle, Roy grabbed his rifle and ‘went over the top”. It was difficult to see through all the smoke. Slowly making his way through the muck and around water-filled bomb craters with his heart pounding while thinking about when the enemy guns would start firing made Roy very alert. Much of the fighting was at close quarters using a rifle with bayonet and hand grenades.
The Canadians captured the village of Courcelette but unfortunately, Roy was not able to celebrate the victory. A bullet or shrapnel had damaged his spine and he lay helplessly in the mud watching the chaos around him. He was carried on a stretcher back to a front line dressing station and then to a field hospital where the doctors did their best to patch him up for transport back to England.
While badly wounded, Roy was very lucky to survive the battle. Some soldiers took a wrong step and drown in the water-filled craters. Some were blown to pieces when an artillery shell landed close to them. Others were cut down by enemy machine gun fire.
After a lengthy recuperation in Britain, he was brought back to Midland and lived with his brother Edward on Fourth Street. Roy was hopelessly paralyzed, but, with a cheerful spirit, he ‘soldiered bravely to the end’. He only survived a year before he died on July 31, 1918.
Roy’s funeral service, on August 2, was the first military funeral ever seen in Midland. All the stores were closed in Roy’s honour. The ministers in Midland took part in the service with Rev. (Captain) John Coburn giving the address. A long procession of automobiles with the band and returned soldiers slowly travelled from Midland to the St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery in Victoria Harbour for Roy’s interment. His burial was given full military honours. Roy had been awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, and Victory Medal.
Read Roy’s 26 part fully illustrated story “The First Military Funeral Ever Seen in Midland” on the ‘Huronia’s Past and Present’ site at: