The Kivell brothers were teenage orphans, surviving on odd jobs on farms when they decided to enlist, looking for adventure, a regular paycheck and some decent clothes and boots.
The boys had been on their own for three years before that and they always stuck together and stood up for each other.
Different in looks and temperament — Ed had red hair and was a leader, Clarence had blue-black hair and was moody, and Bert had white-blond hair and was laid back — they were nicknamed the Red, White and Blue. There was an unbreakable bond.
Ed’s daughter, Coldstream resident Lenore Streicker, wants to tell their story.
“I’m the family historian. I’m the last of my generation and I’m the last one to tell the story,” said Streicker, who is 84.
“Their mother died in 1899 and their father in 1903 and they lived with an uncle until Clarence was 13, and the others 12 and 10, but the uncle found they were hard to handle and turned them out on their own. In 1914 they walked 16 miles from Kennedy, Saskatchewan, to Moosomin, where they joined the First Hussars Canadian Light Horse because they knew horses and they thought it would be more interesting than the infantry. At first, their dreams came true.
“They were small men. Dad was the tallest at 5’6” and wiry and athletic. They did well with the training and horsemanship and Dad was the boxing champion of the unit.”
The first setback was when Ed was rapidly promoted to sergeant and ordered to stay in Canada to train new recruits. He lost no time in starting to grow a forbidden mustache leading to demotion to private so he could go overseas with his brothers.
Their first big battle was in Somme, France, July to Nov. 1916, under Allied command.
“They didn’t really talk about the war unless they were together and we kids would listen in to hear the horror stories – the disease and filth and fear – and the funny stories,” said Streicker. “The horse charges were used a lot in the beginning of the war but the German artillery would mow them down. Dad had three horses shot from under him and was wounded twice. They stopped using the horse charges later and used surprise attacks and skirmishes, where the Canadians were very successful.
“Dad got a reputation for being fearless but he said he had become a fatalist. One morning before a battle, a comrade came to him and said he knew he would be killed that day. Ed exchanged places with him to ride point, at the very front of the charge. The other man, in a position he was not supposed to be in, was killed and Ed, in his place, had his horse shot from under him and was wounded.”
Ed took his fatalism to the muddy trenches, where he would read and write letters as incoming shells whistled around him. He received four medals for bravery, included the Belgian Croix de Guerre, but he was modest.
“He said you got medals if an officer saw what you did but that everybody did brave things every day and they were all just trying to survive and help each other,” said Streicker.
Ed also served as a motorcycle messenger and building railways. He stayed in Europe in the occupation forces, which made him anti-war as he found the German people to be friendly and welcoming in spite of the suffering they had undergone. He remembered having a good time at dances behind the lines before the war ended, strictly forbidden but a chance to know the Germans as just people trying to make the best of things. He learned to speak fluent German and French to get to know the people.
The brothers also fought at Amiens, Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele and Ypres. In some battles, one in three servicemen died but all of the brothers came home.
There is a war time love story here.
“Dad carried Mom’s picture with him for the whole time he was overseas but he didn’t know then that he would marry her. It was a group photo of a lawn party which included the girl he was writing to and a younger girl who thought it must be very romantic to get letters from a soldier. The older girl lost interest in writing and the younger one, Eleanor, took over writing. They continued writing when Ed came home and went to work in Detroit and she was at university studying math,” Streicker said.
They were married when he came back from Detroit and raised their family in Moosomin. Streicker remembers a happy marriage and childhood for her and her siblings. Her father was a community leader and manager of the local credit union. Her mother said sometimes he would wake up crying but would never say why. He died in his 60s.
“When the Second World War broke out, he almost couldn’t believe what was happening. He was afraid it would go on long enough that my brother would be old enough to join,” she said.
Clarence went on to farm in Manitoba, where he and his wife and three sons died in a house fire in the 1940s. Bert never married and was a vacuum cleaner salesman in Winnipeg. He lived to be 95.
“I’ve been digging for the family history for years, they didn’t talk about it much, it was just what I overheard. I’m keeping up my research,” said Streicker, who went on to become a teacher and she and her late husband, Marty, had four children.
There are now seven grandchildren with the first two great-grandchildren expected this month.