Hedley researchers rediscover Hedley’s rich First World War past

Hedley researchers discover a gold mine of information about community’s long lost First World War vets

Andy English and Jennifer Douglass look over two binders of research the two have discovered about Hedley's World War 1 veterans.

 

Andy English and Jennifer Douglass are  immersed in a research project in Hedley that has taken on a life of its own after a simple beginning.

English began researching the 11 names inscribed on the Hedley cenotaph about 18 months ago, following a Remembrance Day ceremony.

“It was a well attended service,” he remembers “as all our Remembrance Day services are.” English said roughly 30 per cent of the town of 325 turns out for services on November 11, as a rule.

In studying the names inscribed on the aging Hedley monument, it struck English that “we need to know more about these guys.”

English’s original motives were to restore the cenotaph, and perhaps find out a little more about the 11 men whose names are inscribed.

The timing for his research was almost perfect. First, he found archived copies of the Hedley Gazette, recently digitized and made available on line, for free, through the University of British Columbia.

“It was slow work, going through the issues, page by page,” he said, “but what a resource to have available, for a small community like this.”

Like  past miners  working the famous Nickel Plate Mountain behind Hedley, English quickly found he could mine a wealth of information from the archived copies of the old newspaper. What he found piqued his curiosity and fired his imagination to do further research.

“The news stories of the day told us how the 11 men on the cenotaph enlisted,” he said, “I also found out that Hedley was known as ‘the machine gun town’ because they raised $3,000 to buy machine guns for the war effort.” English described a newspaper story that told the tale of recruits marching from Hedley with a banner labelling the men as “recruits from Hedley – the machine gun town.”

“I was interested to find out,” English said, “that five of the 11 names on the cenotaph were machine gunners during the war.”

English and Douglass have opened a small exhibit in the Hedley Museum to display some of the research they have uncovered so far. In one cabinet, four of the cenotaph names have been researched and some biographical information along with photographs are displayed, in addition to a few artifacts and photographs. Douglass points to a photo in the middle of the exhibit.

“That’s a picture of a Lewis machine gun,” she said, “they were large, bulky guns that weighed 28 pounds. The Germans tended to focus on the soldiers who carried them because they were so visible. We suspect the reason so many Hedley boys died is because they were picked off because they were machine gunners.”

The four names featured in the museum display present to the public some of the fruits of English and Douglass’ research over the past year and a half. There’s Corporal Thomas Calvert, who was a friend of legendary North West Mounted Policeman Sam Steele; he and Steele served together in the Boer campaign. After enlisting, Calvert stopped in Winnipeg for a visit with Steele. He ended up serving most of the war as Steele’s batman, only seeing action in the last four months of the war. English’s research discovered that he was badly wounded and died just after the armistice was signed.

Then there was John “Jack” Lorenzetto,  who English discovered was the grandson of Barrington Price, of Keremeos Grist Mill fame. Lorenzetto died just before the signing of the armistice.

Bert Augustus Schubert’s name  is also on the Hedley cenotaph. He was the son of Hedley’s first general store merchant. Douglas pointed to an old photo of a number of men standing on the porch of Schubert’s second store in Hedley.

“He was probably just a youngster at the time of that photograph,” she said, “we looked for him in there – no doubt he’s somewhere on the porch with the rest of the men.”

Thomas Cameron Knowles was the only one featured in the display to return from the war – he came back to Hedley, eventually serving as Postmaster for 22 years.

Another historic treasure trove of information discovered by English is the National Archives. It’s proven to be a  mother lode of information because of the details available in the soldier’s attestation papers.

“We’ve discovered that 50 men enlisted in the war from Hedley,” English said. Seventeen men enlisted on the same day – August 24, 1915.” English said many of the men from Hedley became part of the 54th Battalion, a unit which was considered to be the local one for southern B.C. soldiers.

The attestation papers provided a number of details about Hedley’s First World War  vets, including their birthplace, address, date of birth, occupation, age, religious orientation and more, providing English and Douglass with many new leads to follow. (The two have also used their research discoveries to put names to the faces on many of the museum’s historic photographs.)

“Canada’s war records just went online this year,” English said. “It’s the accessibility to all this information that has made this research possible. We’ve  been able to find surviving relatives and have contacted them, and as a result are finding out more about the soldiers. In return, we are sometimes able to shed some light to the families about little known, but revered past relatives.”

English and Douglass both noted that only three of the Hedley recruits were married.

“Most of those who died left only nieces and nephews,” they observed.

The lives of two men credited with being Hedley recruits are more familiarly associated with Keremeos, English also discovered. William Liddicoat – whose name is first on the attestation papers – “he led the charge,” said English – and Blair Mills, were actually from Keremeos but worked at the Nickel Plate. William Liddicoat moved to Keremeos after the war, (family members still residing here include former Keremeos Mayor Francis Peck) but Blair Mills died the same year he enlisted, at 19 years of age. Curiously, in his attestation papers, Mills is listed as being of the “apparent age” of 18.

One of the problems with researching the Hedley Gazette has to do with the demise of the newspaper early in the war.

 

“We have all these wonderful stories of the Hedley soldiers, including letters written to their families,” English said, “but the newspaper ceased publication in 1917 after the 44 year old editor enlisted.”

Perhaps the most profound element coming out of English and Douglass’ research into Hedley’s largely forgotten soldiers is the realization of the small community’s contribution to the Great War.

 

“Basically, Hedley’s population in 1915 was the same as it is today, around 400,” English said, “so on that one day – on August 24, 1915 – just over four per cent of the population enlisted.

“Nationally, about 660,000 Canadians were involved in the war, and roughly 60,000 were killed – roughly nine per cent of those enlisted.

Hedley’s numbers at this point – we’ve researched 50 names, all but one voluntarily having enlisted – with 11 killed in action, puts Hedley’s losses at 22 per cent.

“I feel there are more conscipts out there  –  Jack Lorenzetto was the only conscript (drafted)  that we are aware of at this time. The data base is still being built.”

English also noted a large number of Hedley men made officer’s rank.

“The more you look at it the more you realize, this was a remarkable group of men,” he said.

English and Douglass continue their research, with plans to expand the exhibit. Increasingly, they are receiving emails and visits from family members of the soldiers whose lives they have rediscovered, as their respective families attempt to find out more about relatives previously only known from sketchy family lore.

This August 4, the anniversary of the start of the First World War, will see English and Douglass present their findings at the Seniors Centre in Hedley. Plans are also in the works for a talk at the Grist Mill in Keremeos, but no date has been firmed up yet. The two plan to continue their research and add to the museum exhibit, which is expected to run for four years. They hope to restore the cenotaph, as well as correct some errors discovered, in addition to adding more information.Their research has triggered a number of family contacts initiated and interviewed through telephone and email.

“It’s quite amazing, really,” said English, “in researching Hedley’s soldiers, I’ve discovered the history of the war could be traced through the  lives of the Hedley participants.

“The more we find out, the more we are able to give new meaning to the lives of these men, and to their remaining families.”

 

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