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Matthew Archer was born in Bradford, Ontario, in 1896. A farm boy, he dreamed of being a teacher. But with the coming of war, he set his education aside and enlisted in May 1916.
In April 1917, Archer took part in the Battle of Vimy Ridge as a member of the 4th Canadian Division, 11th Infantry Brigade. It’s there that he earned his Military Medal for continuing to operate his Lewis Gun after the rest of his crew was either injured or killed. He continued firing for 48 hours straight in the face of the enemy counterattack.
He quickly rose through the ranks to sergeant, and maintained a strong concern for the men he led. On August 17, 1917, he was making the rounds through the trenches near Lens, France, when an enemy shell directly struck his position, killing him instantly. In a letter home to his mother Jennie Mae, a Captain Aiken wrote “From the Colonel on down, we all feel his loss terribly. His actions on Vimy Ridge will long be talked about in this battalion.”
Archer’s brave conduct only tells part of the tale, though. In letters home, another side emerges: that of a strongly religious son who seeks to reassure his mother that, despite wartime’s many temptations, he would remain morally pure.
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The war that changed Canada forever is reflected here in words and pictures.