Veteran one of first in Field of Honour

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An Okotoks man who proudly served his country overseas chose never to speak of his war experience.

Thomas John Lucey (John) fought in the First World War. He enlisted at 22 years old in the military and served with the 10th Battalion of the Calgary Highlanders from 1914 until he was discharged in April 23, 1919.

“He was there the entire four years,” said his son, Bill Lucey. “He fought in five of the major battles.”

John received service medals for his efforts at Vimy Ridge, the Somme and Passchendaele, he said.

In the Second World War, John was with the Veterans Guard of Canada in Lethbridge, where German prisoners were held until the end of the war.

“They brought them over here, inland, so it would be very hard for them to get back and start fighting again,” said Bill. “He got medals for that, too.”

His father had gone to war before marrying and starting his family, but Bill said he got to know some of his dad’s veteran friends as he grew up.

They never spoke about the war in earshot though, he said.

“You’d hear them talking over on the side,” said Bill. “It was a terrible slaughter. They’d lost their buddies. And they were in those trenches with rats, they were soaking wet, their feet got half rotted off.

“It was terrible. They weren’t put on this earth to put bullets in people’s heads.”

John and his two friends, George Sharman and Clint Jones, were the first three men to be included in the Veterans Field of Honour when it was installed in Okotoks in 1956, said Bill.

They had all lived very poorly after the war, he said. Jones lived above the pool hall on McRae Street, Sharman had a small cabin with a dirt floor and no electricity near the old Creamery barn, and the Lucey family lived in a small shack near the railway, he said.

“The vets were so faithful to Canada, I never heard them complain, but they sure didn’t treat them very good,” said Bill. “Their pension was about $25 a month, but I never heard them turn against Canada or say a bad word growing up as a kid. They were faithful to their country.”

John returned to Okotoks after the First World War, married his wife, Margaret, and raised three children. Bill was the eldest.

In 1956, John passed away at 63 years old, in the Col. Belcher Army Hospital in Calgary. It took some convincing for his funeral to take place in St. James Church.

“My mother was a devout Catholic and my dad was a Protestant,” said Bill. “But he never went to church, I think a lot because of the slaughter in the war, he just backed away. He never said anything bad about the church, he just never went.”

Father Melville was the parish priest in Okotoks at the time, and he would not proceed over the funeral because John wasn’t Catholic. But the Lucey family wouldn’t stand for that, and they drove into Calgary to visit Bishop Carroll.

The bishop asked Bill whether his father had ever been in St. James Church in Okotoks.

Bill said he had, many times – something of a white lie. During winter months, the pot-bellied stove of St. James Church had to be lit on Saturday evenings, but Bill couldn’t do it himself at 13 years old, so his father would come with him to light the fire.

“So I said he’d been there many times, which he had,” said Bill. “And the bishop said he’d tell Fr. Melville to bury him in St. James or he’d be out there himself.”

After his death, a memorial cross was sent to Margaret in recognition of her husband’s service in the Canadian military.

“It’s for losing your life for your country, a commemorative thing,” said Bill. “I’m very proud of my father, for all he did for his country.”

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