A portrait of Charles Laking after his enlistment in the army in 1917. Photo courtesy of Charles Laking.A portrait of Charles Laking after his enlistment in the army in 1917. Photo courtesy of Charles Laking.
A portrait of Charles Laking after his enlistment in the army in 1917. Close-up detail.A portrait of Charles Laking after his enlistment in the army in 1917. Close-up detail.
Charles Laking on horseback during his service, 1918. Photo courtesy of Charles Laking.Charles Laking on horseback during his service, 1918. Photo courtesy of Charles Laking.
A battle weary Charles Laking near the end of his service, 1918. Photo courtesy of Charles Laking.A battle weary Charles Laking near the end of his service, 1918. Photo courtesy of Charles Laking.
Charles Laking's enlistment papers dated April 14, 1917. Page one. Copyright National Archives.Charles Laking's enlistment papers dated April 14, 1917. Page one. Copyright National Archives.
Charles Laking, age 104, at home in his apartment.Charles Laking, age 104, at home in his apartment.
Clare Laking. 27th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery. My name is Charles Clarence Laking, but my dad's name was Charles, so my grandmother started calling me Clare, and it's stuck with me ever since. When I was 18 my father was absolutely against war, and they'd have recruiting meetings in different schools, and all that rot, and he'd get up, and he embarrassed me so much running everything down that they were doing, I told him I was going to enlist. He says: "You do, I'm through with ya." That made me pretty serious.
So I did a carry-through, and went up to Guelph and enlisted. I felt in my own mind that he thought I would come back a bum - between women, and gambling, and booze. And I was determined I was going to show him up, I was as good a man as when I left, and I never took my rum issue all the time I was over there. Even when three of us went on leave to Edinburgh, the other two fellows wanted some women, I said: "You fellows go ahead." I said: "We have two rooms in the hotel, I'll slip into another room when you're finished, I'm not interested." So, (chuckles) so that was another angle.
I never thought it'd last any more than a couple of years. There was one time, it was in the latter stages of the war, I was in with signalers in the artillery, and one of our duties was to go up to the front lines with an officer, two signalers, and observe the enemy with field glasses. If you saw any activity of interest, phone back and give the guns the necessary directions. The main job of the signalers was maintaining communications between all the different batteries, and it was all done through just stringing wire along the ground and we had our field telephones. If a shell came over and broke the communications our job was to go out and repair that during night.
But on this particular day, in the latter stages of the war, there's a two-story building and the occupants had just moved out, and there was a garden in the backyard, and all the cooking utensils, and wood, and everything was all there so we thought well we'll have a nice vegetable stew tonight. So a fellow by the name of Wade from St. Catharines and I were the two signalers, we drew to find which one would go up and observe upstairs with the officer, and the other one would stay down and get the vegetables all out of the garden, all in the pot cleaned up. Everything was all hunky-dory, he had everything all set to light the fire when it got dark and a shell came over and just took the corner of the building, took the kitchen, but left a big hole right in the kitchen. Carried the stew, and stove, and Wade, and everything down to the basement. The building just trembled, we thought it was going to cave in on us. We struggled down, and we thought to ourselves: 'Well, where's Wade?' We thought: 'Well, boy, if that building does crumble we'll never get him out.' When the smoke cleared up, Wade crawls out the cellar window. (Laughter) It never touched him, but we didn't have our stew.