10 Stories We Must
On this — the most solemn occasion of the year — we pause to pay special tribute to 10 soldiers from throughout the Okanagan. Some made the ultimate sacrifice 100 years ago, while others returned here after the First World War and did the best they could to return to normalcy.
Each Saturday, The Okanagan Weekend publishes a special feature called the Top 10, but today we remove that banner in respect to the hundreds who died or served and their families.
Instead, this is simply 10 stories we want you to remember as you prepare to honour Canada’s veterans on Sunday, Remembrance Day.
Each of these soldiers served Canada overseas in the First World War as — no doubt you are well aware — ended 100 years ago Sunday.
In closing, we say “thank you” to all of our nation’s servicemen and women, from all conflicts and all branches of our Armed Forces, who served at war and during peacetime.
JOHN MacGREGOR he most highly decorated soldier in the Canadian Army during the First World War was from an Okanagan regiment
But he lived so anonymously after the war that the provincial government had to take out newspaper ads to try to find him.
John MacGregor was a 25-year-old immigrant from Scotland working as a trapper in northern B.C. when the war started in 1914. He snowshoed several hundred kilometres to join the army at Prince Rupert.
MacGregor was eventually assigned to the Okanagan-based 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles, the predecessor of the BC Dragoons.
He won the Distinguished Service Medal at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, and the Military Cross for a trench raid in January 1918. Later that year, at a battle near the French town of Cambrai, he singlehandedly took out a German machine gun nest.
“He ran forward in broad daylight, in the face of heavy fire from all directions, and—with rifle and bayonet singlehanded—put the enemy crews out of action, killing four and taking eight prisoners. His prompt action saved many casualties and enabled the advance to continue,” read MacGregor’s citation for the Victoria Cross, the highest medal for bravery awarded to soldiers from Britain or Commonwealth countries.
MacGregor survived the war and returned to B.C. In 1929, the Prince of Wales announced a gala dinner for all surviving Victoria Cross recipients in London.
By then, MacGregor’s whereabouts were unknown to the British Columbia government, so it took out ads asking if
Tanyone knew where he was.
Someone who knew MacGregor told Victoria he was living in Lumby. Initially reluctant to attend the dinner in London, he was eventually persuaded to do as a tribute to his fallen comrades.
A decade later, MacGregor tried to enlist in the Second World War as a private so he could get into combat. But his status as a war hero prevented that, and he was assigned to command training camps instead.
His last military role was to oversee the Vernon Army Camp.
CHARLES GRAHAM soldier from Kelowna, along with four of his comrades, managed to capture 80 German prisoners during the First World War.
For his bravery and heroism, Private Charles Creighton Graham received the Distinguished Conduct Medal, second highest to the Victoria Cross.
In France, Graham was wounded twice. The first time he was shot in the right knee, the second he was shot in the hand.
That second wound came in September 1918, after Graham and five others crawled along a drainage ditch to sneak into the German-held town of Blecourt.
Incredibly, the Canadians tricked 150 Germans into surrendering simply by telling them a larger group of Canadians was about to arrive in the town.
While being marched back to Canadian lines, many of the Germans realized they vastly outnumbered their captors, and that no reinforcements were in fact coming.
“The prisoners, who outnumbered their captors about 25 to one, seeing the weakness of the attacking force, began to dribble away,” Michel Gravel wrote in article on the daring episode published last month in Canada History.
Although dozens of Germans ran off, Graham and his mates still returned with 80 German PoWs.
Graham died in a veteran’s hospital in Vancouver on Oct. 23, 1966, at the age of 67.
AJOSEPH FITZPATRICK Kelowna soldier who kept fighting after being badly wounded won the military’s second highest distinction.
But Joseph Howard Fitzpatrick did not live long after the war ended, dying in 1925 before his 30th birthday.
Fitzpatrick was one of the few men with an Okanagan connection ever awarded the Military Cross, the second highest distinction that can be given a soldier, after the Victoria Cross.
Fitzpatrick, whose family arrived in Kelowna in 1913 from Ontario, won the Military Cross in the fall of 1918 during the Battle of Cambrai in France.
“He led his platoon to the attack and formed a defensive flank, encountering a heavy enemy counter-attack in so doing,” his citation reads.
A“In the attack on Sept. 30, 1918, after being badly wounded, he kept on and led his platoon to the attack, only going out when ordered by his superior officer.”
Fitzpatrick survived three years of trench fighting and returned to Kelowna in 1919, the year after the war ended. He never married and never had children.
FREDERICK HEATHER n one terrible day in 1917, seven men from Kelowna were killed in the First World War.
All died at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, along with 3,684 other Canadian soldiers.
Like many of those men, Frederick Amblec Heather was actually born in England but had been living for many years in Canada. When the war started, they felt an immediate need to return to the Mother Country and join the battle.
Heather was a 26-year-old married man, working as a contractor in Kelowna. Since he had previous military experience, he went into the 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles as an officer.
He stood five-foot-seven, had a chest that could expand to 37 inches, and was a parishioner of the Church of England, according to his enlistment records.
In the first few hours of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, the 2nd CMR, a 687-strong unit made up primarily of men from the Okanagan, suffered 47 fatalities.
Heather died shortly after he scrambled out of the trenches, according to his official death notice: “Killed in Action. He was instantly killed by a high explosive shell immediately after leaving the trenches preparatory to the attack on Vimy Ridge.”
Heather was awarded both the Military Cross and the Military Medal.
OLEON GILLARD orn in France, Leon Isodore Gillard returned there in 1916, at age 41, to fight in the First World War.
He wasn’t awarded any medals for his wartime service. But his life still merits recognition for both its extraordinariness of adventure, and ordinariness in that reflected a simple can-do attitude among men of his generation.
Gillard’s family was among the first settlers in Kelowna. They had left France when he was just 10, sailing around the tip of South America to get to California.
Arriving at Hope four days after the fabled Lequime pack train had left for the Okanagan, the Gillards walked through the mountains to catch up.
In Kelowna, Gillard learned English, and worked as a rancher and sawmiller.
In 1916, he was 42 years old, with three daughters and one son. He nevertheless volunteered for service and sailed back to France — the first time he’d returned to the country of his birth — that fall.
He survived the trenches and after his discharge in 1919, his doctor remarked on Gillard’s good health.