Sailor marries sweetheart before sailing overseas

Reprinted from The Packet, June  12, 2019
by Lester Green

(Click on images to enlarge)

Seaman Eli Seward. (Photo courtesy of granddaughter, Elsie Demmer)

Eli Seward was a well-trained sailor by the time that the Great War was declared overseas. Days before marrying Elsie Cook in August 1914, he received orders by Royal Proclamation to prepare for deployment overseas. He would leave his wife and infant son on the home front.

Eli was the son of Enoch and Elizabeth Seward of Gooseberry Cove. Most all of Eli’s siblings died in infancy but one brother, Richard, survived to the age of 20 and died of tuberculosis on March 3, 1910 at Clarenville. The family moved from Gooseberry Cove to Clarenville sometime before 1910.

Eli first enlisted with the Royal Naval Reserve in February 1910 at St. John’s. He competed 28 days of training during the months of February and March. He returned the following three years completing a total of 86 days for a combined total of 112 days of naval training qualifying him as a well-trained sailor.

The summer of 1914 was one of excitement, turmoil and stress for Eli and surely must have seemed like a dream.

After Briton declared war on Germany, he received orders by Royal Proclamation on August 5, 1914 that he was to report for duty at HMS Calypso, St. John’s. This likely added stress to what should have been a joyous time, their upcoming wedding day.

Portrait of Eli’s family in 1917. (Photo courtesy of Elsie Demmer)

Eli already planned to marry his sweetheart, Elsie Critch, who had given birth to their son, Eli Richard, in January 1914. They were committed to each other and followed through with their plans at St Mary’s Church, St. John’s, on August 15, 1914. His next few months were torn between family and his commitment to the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve.

Naval records indicate that he sailed out of St. John’s harbour, along with 33 other sailors from the Southwest Arm region, aboard the SS Franconia on November 6, 1914 bound for overseas.

Upon arrival, he spent his first month at the HMS Vivid, a shore-based Navy barracks at Devonport, England. He was then assigned to HMS Oropesa and spent the next year serving with the 10th Cruiser Squadron.

While he served onboard, the ship successful sank a German submarine. The Oropesa was later re-named HMS Champagne and sank on October 9, 1917.

Luckily, Seaman Seward was not onboard but re-assigned to the shore-based naval station, HMS Vivid I.

Seaman Eli Seward and brother-in-law James Cook. (Photo courtesy of Elsie Demmer)

He was transferred to HMS Hannibal on November 16, 1916 where he spent 14 months of his deployment onboard the former battleship now serving as a depot ship based in Alexandria, Egypt. While serving in Egypt he spent four months on a tugboat known as SS Wapping (formerly Andrew Jolliffe). These vessels usually performed duties such as patrol vessels, minesweepers, and other routine work in naval port. His remaining time in Alexandria was likely spent on other similar vessels.

His final month overseas was spent at Devonport attached to the HMS Vivid III where he received his final orders. He was returned to HMS Briton and was demobilized on August 17, 1918.

He returned to Clarenville where he raised his family and upon the death of his son, Eli Richard, raised his grandchildren until his death on April 10, 1944.

Elsie Demmer holding portraits of her grandfather. (Photo courtesy of Elsie Demmer)

In June of 2018, the Southwest Arm Historical Society using information provided by his granddaughter, Elsie, located and retrieved a portrait of Eli that was located at the home of Eric Blundon, Bay de Verde. Eli’s wife, Elsie, had re-married to Eric’s father and had brought the photo of her first love with her to Bay de Verde.

The Southwest Arm Historical Society arranged with Eric and his wife for the pick-up of the photo. Eric’s wife removed the photo to clean the glass and discovered a family portrait hidden on the back of the main photo.

Arrangements were made with Elsie, now living in Colorado, to have the photos forwarded to her. Our society, with the co-operation of Eric Blundon, are elated to see the photos back where they belong, hanging on the wall of his granddaughter’s home.