Advocate for Wounded Veterans

Ethelbert "Curley" Christian

On left: One of Canada’s best-known black soldiers of the Great War,
American-born Ethelbert “Curley” Christian, 1936 Vimy Pilgrimage.

Ethelbert “Curley” Christian

Enlisting in 1915 with the 108th Battalion CEF, Curley Christian served on the Western Front with the 78th Battalion CEF, a unit of the Fourth Canadian Division. At the Battle of Vimy Ridge “Curley” Christian was crushed and trapped for two days, his wounds becoming gangrenous requiring the amputation of his forearms and legs. Curley’s recovery story seems a familiar one, falling in love with his caregiver a volunteer aide named Cleopatra McPherson, they were married in 1920 and raised a son, Douglas.

Curley’s life as the only CEF soldier to survive four amputations is not so familiar. After his surgeries at London’s Bethnal Green Military Hospital, Curley was transported back to Canada aboard the SS Llandovery Castle, and once in Toronto stayed at Euclid Hall for seriously wounded veterans. Curley was then moved to the Christie Street Veterans Hospital where he met his “Cleo”. Tending to Curley’s needs was a full time commitment for the couple but with the hospital director’s assistance, an appeal resulted in the establishment of a financial supplement for full-time carers of Canada’s wounded veterans. Such is the legacy of Curley’s Great War circumstance that the carer’s Attendance Allowance remains in place today.

Prosthetic arm

Prosthetic arm. Imperial War Museum, London, England.
(P. Ferguson image, March 2017).

In 1936 Curley Christian with his wife Cleopatra returned to Vimy as part of the pilgrimage and memorial dedication. At the ceremony Curley spoke with King Edward VIII who had met Curley previously when, as the Prince of Wales, Edward was on a Canada wide tour promoting the 1919 Victory Loan and taking part in many civic engagements.

Active with The War Amputations of Canada* organization for many years, Curley Christian, an advocate for Canada’s wounded veterans passed away in Toronto in 1954 and is buried at Prospect Cemetery.

Record of Amputations within the Canadian Expeditionary Force

Both Legs and Both Arms – 1
Both Legs – 47
One Leg – 1,675
One Foot – 232
Both Feet – 11
Both Arms – 6
One Arm – 667
One Hand – 141

Sir Andrew McPhail Kt., OBE, The Official History of the Canadian Forces in the Great War, The Medical Services, 1925, pages 393 – 394.

*The War Amputations of Canada was first organized in 1918 as The Amputation Club of British Columbia.

About The Author

Paul has worked with the Paradigm Motion Picture Company since 2009 as producer, historian and research specialist. Paul first met Casey and Ian WIlliams of Paradigm in April 2007 at Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul's sensitivity to film was developed at an early age seeing his first films at RCAF Zweibrucken, Germany and in Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was further amazed by David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Film captivated Paul and with time he became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography and soundtracks. At the University of Victoria, Paul studied and compared Japanese and Australian film and became interested in Australian film maker Peter Weir and his film "Gallipoli" (1981). Paul was entranced when he learned Weir had visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. The film "Gallipoli" alone led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii and Gallipoli. It was, however, when Paul watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", that Paul understood how his own experience and insight could be effective and perhaps influential in film-making. Combining his knowledge of Museums and Archives, exhibitions and idea strategies with his film interests would be a natural progression. Paul thinks like a film-maker. His passion for history and storytelling brings to Paradigm an eye (and ear) to the keen and sensitive interests of; content development, the understanding of successful and relational use of collections, imagery and voice. Like Paul's favorite actor, Peter O'Toole, he believes in the adage “To deepen not broaden.” While on this path Paul always remembers his grandmother whose father did not return from the Great War and how his loss shaped her life and how her experience continues to guide him.


One Response to “Advocate for Wounded Veterans”

  1. William Griffiths says:

    Is there an advocate for soldiers wounded 100 years ago and their families? My father, William Griffiths, was in the 16th Canadian Scottish Battalion in 1917. He was one of the more than 10,000 Canadian soldiers killed or wounded at Vimy Ridge. He and many other wounded Canadians were sent to a “hospital” in England where they were subjected to electric shocks to force them to return to the trenches. He was unable to work after the war and was awarded a small disability pension. He later died of causes related to his war service. The pension was then drastically reduced, leaving the family in poverty. Was this a fit reward for loyal service?

    I am also a veteran,. Now the Government of Canada has specifically and deliberately acted against me personally and destroyed my life. Now I am living in poverty again. So who cares? Nobody that I can find.

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