RCMP Superintendent (Ret) Craig Hannaford, brother of Selwyn House Headmaster Hal Hannaford, told a tale of heroism and family when he spoke to SHS Senior students at their Remembrance Day ceremony on Nov. 8.
Appearing in his RCMP dress uniform, Superintendent Craig Hannaford was present at the school to tell the story of his and his brother’s great uncle, Captain Alfred Hannaford, a heroic soldier who died in France at the end of the First World War.
The Hannaford brothers’ great uncle Alfred grew up in Westmount, where he enlisted as a private at the outbreak of the First World War. Through a series of battlefield promotions, he rose quickly to the rank of Captain and distinguished himself in some of the most famous Canadian battles of the war.
“And then came Vimy Ridge,” said Superintendent Hannaford, referring to the battle that many historians say led to the recognition of Canada as a separate and independent country. Capt. Hannaford fought valiantly at Vimy and was awarded several medals, including the Military Cross, one of the highest honours given by the Canadian government. By the end of the war he had received a second Military Cross.
Word of Capt. Hannaford’s exploits soon got around back in Canada, but he remained a humble man. Writing home to his mother, he downplayed his role on the battlefield. ”Don’t believe all you hear,” he wrote. These things are always exaggerated. I simply tried to carry on the work allotted to me, and in this I did not do as I wished and planned.”
In one letter, written as he was waiting in a trench for the order to charge into battle, he told his mother he was saying a prayer. “A man realizes out here that he can’t get along without God’s help,” he wrote.
Capt. Hannaford survived that day, but was killed shortly before the war ended in 1918. His commanding officer wrote to Capt. Hannaford’s mother about the officer they knew as “Hanny.”
“No death has affected us so deeply as his,” his commander wrote. “If the sympathy of every officer and man in this battalion can lighten your grief in any way, you have it in the fullest measure.”
Capt. Alfred Hannaford was buried in France. In 2002, Hal and Craig Hannaford’s father, Derek Hannaford, and Derek’s brother Jim made a pilgrimage to the cemetery where Capt. Alfred Hannaford’s grave can be found. On that trip, as Headmaster Hannaford recalls it, his father and his uncle “rekindled their bond as brothers.”