Back Where he Belongs

For years a sailor’s photo lay in someone’s attic in Bay de Verde, waiting to be returned to its rightful home.

Reprinted from Downhome Magazine, December 2018
by Lester Green

(Click on photo to enlarge.)

Elsie Demmer, recently reunited with these family portraits of her grandparents.

For the past few years, I’ve been involved with the Southwest Arm Historical Society in Hodge’s Cove, NL, promoting knowledge and preservation of local history. We compiled the histories of 26 area men who served with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, and then turned our attention to the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve. Through contact with The Rooms and the Canadian Legion, Clarenville Branch, we identified 87 men from the Southwest Arm area who served with the Royal Naval Reserve during the Great War. There were about 30 known photographs of these men in uniform, and the daunting task of locating the photos and families began. Some of that research was used in the story I wrote for the November issue of Downhome, “The Tragic Loss of HMS Laurentic.” It also led to this amazing story of the rediscovery of one sailor’s photograph.

Eli Seward was born to Enoch and Elizabeth Seward of Gooseberry Cove on February 25, 1885. He first enlisted with the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve in February 1910. He married Elsie Cook on August 15, 1914, just a few weeks after receiving his Royal Proclamation orders to report to HMS Calypso. Their one and only child, Eli Richards, was born that same year.

When Eli returned from the war, they chose to live and raise their child in Clarenville. Their son, Eli Richards, married Mabel Goobie of Queen’s Cove and they had two children, Fredrick and Elsie. Upon the death of her father, Elsie was raised by her grandparents. She remained with them until the death of her grandfather in 1944. She moved with her mother to Corner Brook and eventually married a US serviceman and moved to Colorado.

Our task was to locate Elsie Demmer in the United States and have her positively identify a photo labelled “Eli Seward” that hung on the walls of the Royal Canadian Legion at Clarenville. We suspected that the photo was not her grandfather and more likely George Stringer of Little Heart’s Ease, but we needed confirmation.

Contact was made through email and her returning answer was a definite “no,” it was not her grandfather. She sent a photograph that she had carried and treasured all those years of her grandfather’s family, including him in his naval uniform.

I inquired about his medals and she informed me that her grandmother had remarried in 1947 to Moses Blundon at Bay de Verde. She suggested that maybe the medals were in that community and gave me the name of Eric Blundon, her grandmother’s stepson.

I called Eric, who said he’d never heard his stepmother mention any medals, but he had something else we might be interested in seeing. He described rescuing an oval-shaped photograph of a soldier that used to hang in the hallway of his father’s house. The house was being sold to Quinlan Brothers of Bay de Verde and was being demolished. He didn’t know who the soldier was, but he felt the photo should be saved, so he brought it home and stored it in his attic.

One day in June, I made the trip to Eric’s home in Bay de Verde. Eric brought out the framed photo and laid it on the kitchen table. The man was definitely in the Royal Naval Reserve based on his cap tally. However, I could not be sure if this was Eli. Then Eric smiled as he told me about a second photo he found tucked behind the soldier photo when he took the back off the frame. It was a family portrait of people I recognized from a similar portrait that Elsie had emailed to me months earlier. This photo showed Elsie Seward, her son and her husband dressed in a naval uniform. Seeing these photos framed together removed any doubts I had about the soldier’s identity. It was Eli.

With the photos positively identified, Eric entrusted them to me and I arranged to send them to Eli’s granddaughter. The parcel arrived in the States a few weeks later and Elsie was ecstatic to open the box. Today the oval-shaped photo hangs on Elsie’s wall and triggers the memories of time spent with her grandparents so long ago. For Elsie and her family, it was the perfect, priceless gift.


Back Where Belongs – pdf – Downhome Article