February 27, 2017
Chronicle Journal (A2)

Thousands of men and women from Port Arthur, Fort William and the region served in the armed forces during the First World War. The poppy was adopted as a national symbol of remembrance in Port Arthur in 1921.This monthly column will share stories and photos about life here in Thunder Bay and overseas during World War One.

The City of the Poppy initiative has many strands, including an emerging relationship between St Paul’s Anglican Church, Thunder Bay, and All Saints Parish Church, Orpington. A plaque in memory of Thunder Bay resident Victor Lilia was placed in the ‘Canadian Corner’ war graves cemetery at All Saints; and pavers marking 100 years of friendship between Orpington and Canada have been laid in the Labyrinth at St Paul’s. A short video telling Victor Lilia’s story has been produced, and the Vicar of All Saints plans to visit Thunder Bay in May. During his stay he will hold a service at St Paul’s.

One hundred years ago the following notice appeared in the St Mary Cray and Orpington District Times: ‘The first of three war shrines which it is proposed to erect at Orpington has already been placed at the foot of Church Hill on the north side. The names of those who have fallen and who are serving with the Colours appear in the panels, while in a receptacle provided for the purpose at the foot of the shrine are vases filled with flowers, which are replenished by loving hands every few days. It should be explained that it is proposed to place a permanent and substantial memorial in the parish after the war.’

Soon after this war shrine was placed at All Saints, another notice appeared in the St Mary Cray and Orpington District Times: ‘The second and third war shrines in Orpington parish will be erected almost immediately, the one in front of St Andrews Church and the other in front of St Paul’s Crofton. Writing in the current issue of the Orpington Parish Magazine, the Vicar says: ‘The primary purpose of the war shrines is to bear silent witness to the spiritual side of the war, and not merely to commemorate those on service, though they will serve this purpose until a more permanent memorial can be provided’.

In fact two memorials were erected in Orpington in 1921: a War Memorial to the 110 local men who fell in the conflict was placed in the town centre; and a Cross of Sacrifice to the 88 Canadians buried at All Saints was unveiled in Canadian Corner. This was the first Canadian War Memorial in Britain, and the ceremony was attended by officials from the British, Canadian and Ontario governments.

The name of my great uncle, Walter Pateman, appears on the War Memorial and the three war shrines. Walter was a Romany Gypsy and was born in a ‘house cart’ at Tugmutton Common, named after the village sport of throwing a leg of lamb into a tree, to see who could get it down to claim the prize. When 31 year old Walter was conscripted into the Middlesex Regiment in June 1916 he immediately took his five young children to be baptised at St Andrews Church.  Four months later Walter went through his baptism of fire on the Western Front when the Middlesex Regiment attacked Regina Trench, a German strong hold. He fought alongside some Canadian units during this engagement.

Walter lived in the trenches through the bitter winter of 1916-17, and was selected to take part in a trench raid on the German lines outside the village of Bouchavesnes on 27 February 1917. The aim of the raid was to discover the strength of the German forces as there were rumours that they were planning a strategic retreat to the Hindenburg Line. There are conflicting accounts of what happened during the raid but there was only one ‘Other Rank’ killed, and that was Walter Pateman.

Walter’s body was never recovered and his name – along with 72,000 others – appears on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.

This article runs on the fourth Monday of each month. John Pateman is a member of the World War One Thunder Bay Centennial Project committee. Please visit www.tbayworldwarone.com for more information about this project or to contribute personal stories and photos.