Re­mem­ber­ing a Vic­to­ria sol­dier

Times Colonist - - News - DAVE OBEE TIMES COLONIST ED­I­TOR AND PUB­LISHER

As we mark the cen­ten­nial of the end of the First World War this week­end, we should think of peo­ple like Robert Parker, a Vic­to­ria man who died serv­ing his coun­try.

Parker might have seemed like an un­likely choice for the vol­un­teer army that Canada hastily as­sem­bled in Au­gust 1914, in the heady hours af­ter the start of the Great War. Not only was he 38 — get­ting old for over­seas ser­vice — but the mil­i­tary was re­luc­tant to take men with fam­i­lies. Parker was mar­ried with seven chil­dren, rang­ing in age from five months to 14 years.

But Parker had ex­pe­ri­ence in the mili­tia, hav­ing served in Vic­to­ria for 12 years as a mem­ber of the 5th Reg­i­ment of the Cana­dian Gar­ri­son Ar­tillery. Canada needed to as­sem­ble an army as fast as pos­si­ble, and mili­tia mem­bers could pro­vide the ex­pe­ri­ence that was des­per­ately needed.

So when Parker vol­un­teered to go over­seas, his su­pe­ri­ors didn’t hes­i­tate. He was ac­cepted and shipped to Val­cartier, Que., where the Cana­dian army was be­ing as­sem­bled. A month later, he was taken with 31,200 other Cana­di­ans to Sal­is­bury Plain in Eng­land. The fol­low­ing spring, af­ter help­ing train other sol­diers, he fi­nally saw ac­tion in France.

“The war came, and he had to go,” his last sur­viv­ing child, Gla­dys Ge­orge, said in an in­ter­view in 2005. Gla­dys was just two years old when her fa­ther sailed away.

There is not just one story about the Great War. There are more than 600,000 sto­ries — one for ev­ery sol­dier who signed up to serve in the Cana­dian Ex­pe­di­tionary Force. This is Robert Parker’s story. Robert Parker was born in Caen, in the Nor­mandy re­gion of France, on Dec. 28, 1875.Caen had a large, wealthy English pop­u­la­tion through the 19th cen­tury, based mainly on a busy trade route link­ing it with Ne­whaven, Sus­sex. Sev­eral English ho­tels and restau­rants catered to the clien­tele from across the Chan­nel. The Parker fam­ily was a key part of the English com­mu­nity.

Records at Caen City Hall show that Robert was the 16th child born in Caen to Fred­er­ick Parker, an English teacher, who prob­a­bly worked at the pri­vate Protes­tant school at 75 rue St. Jean in Caen.

Fred­er­ick, who was born in Ep­ping, Es­sex, in 1810, was mar­ried three times. The files at City Hall show that his first wife Char­lotte Seaton had one child in Caen, six years af­ter mar­ry­ing Fred­er­ick, and François Robi­nard of the Caen ar­chives guessed that “there were surely more else­where.” Fred­er­ick’s sec­ond wife Emma Crab­tree had nine chil­dren, and his third wife, Ly­dia Miles, had eight.

Be­tween 1842 and 1880, Caen City Hall reg­is­tered 18 of Fred­er­ick’s chil­dren. He was 65 when his son Robert was born to Ly­dia in the fam­ily home at 1b rue de la Poudrière, and 70 when his last child, Christo­pher, en­tered the world.

De­spite spend­ing half a cen­tury in France, Fred­er­ick Parker al­ways saw him­self as English. He even en­sured that his mar­riage to Ly­dia was en­tered in Eng­land’s cen­tral registry in Lon­don.

Robert Parker would have un­der­stood at an early age that he was English, not French. The names of the wit­nesses to the births of his chil­dren in­di­cate that Fred­er­ick Parker was rub­bing shoul­ders with the crème de la crème of the English ex­pa­tri­ate com­mu­nity. One of Caen’s English land­marks, La tav­erne anglaise, was run by Robert’s un­cle, Henry Humby.

In the early 1890s, when Robert was a teenager, Fred­er­ick de­cided it was time to go home to Eng­land — even though his wife and his chil­dren had all been born in France, and Nor­mandy was the only home they had ever known. When Fred­er­ick and Ly­dia packed for Eng­land, Robert and his older brother Herbert had an­other idea: The Cana­dian West.

They headed to the Assini­boia dis­trict of the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries, buy­ing land just north of the Cana­dian Pa­cific Rail­way’s main­line so they could try their luck with farm­ing. Their farm was south of the Qu’Ap­pelle River Val­ley in the Sum­mer­berry dis­trict, east of Regina.

About the same time as the Park­ers ar­rived, Wil­liam and Mary Ann New­berry brought their fam­ily from Eng­land and took out a home­stead in the Chick­ney dis­trict, north of Sum­mer­berry. Soon af­ter, Robert met one of the New­berry daugh­ters, Chris­tine Ma­bel. They were mar­ried on March 30, 1898, and made their home on the Parker farm. Their first child, Florence Amelia, was born on Sept. 27, 1899.

The fed­eral cen­sus taken in the spring of 1901 shows Robert, Chris­tine and Florence on 160 acres in the Sum­mer­berry dis­trict. Robert’s brother Herbert isn’t listed, though — at the time, he was in Eng­land, vis­it­ing his par­ents as he made his way back to Canada af­ter fight­ing in the Boer War as a mem­ber of Lord Strath­cona’s Horse.

On July 29, 1901, Robert and Chris­tine’s sec­ond child, Bessie Lev­ina, was born. A few months later, the Park­ers — as well as most of the New­ber­rys, Robert’s in-laws — packed their bags and moved to Vic­to­ria.

In June 1902, soon af­ter ar­riv­ing in Vic­to­ria, Robert signed up for the 5th Reg­i­ment of the Cana­dian Gar­ri­son Ar­tillery, based at the Work Point Bar­racks. He re­mained in the mili­tia for more than a dozen years.

Robert worked at first for John Tay­lor, who owned a sawmill near the north end of Gov­ern­ment Street. The Park­ers lived in the North Park area. Soon af­ter, Robert be­came a car­pen­ter, and the Park­ers moved to a home at 1119 Quadra St., be­tween Fort and View. The New­ber­rys lived just around the cor­ner on View, to­ward Blan­shard.

In 1905, Robert turned over to his brother Herbert his share of the farm in Saskatchewan. The fol­low­ing year, he re­ceived word from Eng­land that his fa­ther Fred­er­ick had died at the age of 96.

The Parker fam­ily kept grow­ing, with the birth of Wal­ter Fred­er­ick on Jan. 16, 1904, Maude Elsie on Feb. 12, 1906, Lil­lian Ma­bel on Oct. 16, 1910, Gla­dys May on July 4, 1912, and Robert Miles on March 10, 1914.

If their fam­i­lies still in Vic­to­ria had any delu­sions about the risks the sol­diers faced, they were dashed on Sept. 3. On that day, the first Bri­tish ca­su­alty list, with 33 dead and many more wounded, was pub­lished in the lo­cal news­pa­pers.

About 1912, the Park­ers bought a lot at 3119 Rose St. in the new Quadra Heights dis­trict, just east of to­day’s May­fair Shop­ping Cen­tre. Robert and Chris­tine drew up plans for a home they hoped to build as soon as they had enough time and money. In the mean­time, they moved their fam­ily into a small shack that Robert built at the back of the prop­erty.

Through th­ese years, Robert re­mained ac­tive in the lo­cal mili­tia. By the sum­mer of 1914, he was the com­pany sergeant-ma­jor.

On the last week­end of June that year, the 5th Reg­i­ment gath­ered at Ma­caulay Plain in Esquimalt for ex­er­cises. A tug placed a tar­get in Juan de Fuca Strait, about 3,000 me­tres off­shore, and the mili­ti­a­men started fir­ing on it as soon as small craft in the area were con­vinced to leave. The Daily Colonist re­ported that the ex­er­cise was a huge suc­cess, with crowds need­ing “a very quick eye” to fol­low the ar­tillery shells. The shells raised columns of wa­ter when they hit, fol­lowed by a sec­ond splash from the ric­o­chet.

That same week­end, Arch­duke Franz Fer­di­nand, heir to the throne of the Aus­tro-Hun­gar­ian empire, and his wife, the Duchess of Ho­hen­berg, were shot to death by stu­dent Gavrilo Prin­cip in Sara­jevo, Bos­nia. A few weeks later, those shots would plunge most of Eu­rope into what be­came known as the Great War.

In the calm be­fore the storm, life in Vic­to­ria rolled along. Most of the ex­cite­ment in July 1914 was on the water­front. Lo­cals could head down to Og­den Point to watch progress on the con­struc­tion of the break­water, which could fi­nally be seen at low tide. And in late July, the in­fa­mous pas­sen­ger liner Ko­ma­gatu Maru went through the strait, head­ing west. Its pas­sen­gers, po­ten­tial im­mi­grants from In­dia, had been cleared by the Wil­liam Head quar­an­tine sta­tion in Metchosin in May, but were then re­fused per­mis­sion to dis­em­bark in Van­cou­ver.

By the end of July, the ten­sions that had been build­ing in Eu­rope fi­nally erupted. Aus­tria de­clared war on Ser­bia, which it blamed for the as­sas­si­na­tions. Ger­many de­clared war on Rus­sia and France, and as part of a mas­ter plan it had been pre­par­ing for years, tried to con­quer France as quickly as pos­si­ble by rolling through neu­tral Bel­gium. Then, on Aug. 4, Bri­tain de­clared war on Ger­many. That meant that Canada, like it or not, was at war as well.

Vic­to­ria had three mili­tia groups at the time — Parker’s 5th Reg­i­ment, as well as the 50th High­landers, which had been es­tab­lished by the leg­endary A.W. Cur­rie in 1913, and the 88th Fusiliers, formed in Septem­ber 1912. All three had been con­duct­ing reg­u­lar ex­er­cises, but quickly geared up for the trip to Eu­rope that they re­al­ized was now in­evitable.

On Sun­day morn­ing, Aug. 2, the Colonist pub­lished a call for a spe­cial pa­rade of the 5th at 2 p.m. that day. De­spite the short no­tice, 200 men showed up. The next day, the Colonist — in a rare Mon­day spe­cial edi­tion — re­ported that more than 60 mem­bers of the 5th had vol­un­teered for spe­cial du­ties in de­fence of the coast.

Over the next few days, dozens of men from the three mili­tia forces vol­un­teered to go over­seas, and other men signed up to re­place them in the lo­cal re­serve units.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment had strict guide­lines for vol­un­teers for over­seas ser­vice. The age limit was 18 to 45 years, and to be el­i­gi­ble for ser­vice, vol­un­teers had to be in the ac­tive re­serve or have had mil­i­tary ex­pe­ri­ence. And, the fed­eral di­rec­tive said, “other con­sid­er­a­tions be­ing equal, the ap­pli­cants will be se­lected in the fol­low­ing or­der: Un­mar­ried men, mar­ried men with­out fam­i­lies, mar­ried men with fam­i­lies.”

De­spite that, Robert Parker’s of­fer to serve was ac­cepted with­out hes­i­ta­tion.

He was one of 470 men from the Vic­to­ria area ap­proved for en­try into the new Cana­dian Ex­pe­di­tionary Force by Aug. 11. About 100 who ap­plied were re­jected for health rea­sons — “some be­cause of ten­der feet, bad teeth, cig­a­rette heart and other slight ail­ments,” as the Vic­to­ria Daily Times del­i­cately put it — and would only be al­lowed to work on home de­fence.

Even peo­ple out­side the mil­i­tary were get­ting in­volved in the war ef­fort. The Daugh­ters of the Empire started col­lect­ing funds in Au­gust, with a goal of $100,000. The plan was to equip a hos­pi­tal ship that would be of­fered to the Bri­tish navy. A fundrais­ing meet­ing was held at the new Royal The­atre to kick off the drive.

A lo­cal coun­cil of women opened a store for the sale of home-made pick­les, sauces and other ne­ces­si­ties, in or­der to pro­vide em­ploy­ment for the de­pen­dants of sol­diers head­ing off to war. The Vic­to­ria Pa­tri­otic Aid So­ci­ety opened an of­fice at Fort and Broad to col­lect money for the fam­i­lies of sol­diers.

Other groups started work­ing on re­lief for the Bel­gians. Over the next few weeks, they col­lected enough cloth­ing to fill a box­car.

The vol­un­teer sol­diers, mean­while, spent sev­eral days get­ting ready to depart, and wait­ing for word on when they would be told to go. In the last week in Au­gust, both the Times and the Colonist pub­lished lists of names of the lo­cal vol­un­teers — in­clud­ing Com­pany Sergeant-Ma­jor R. Parker, of the 5th Reg­i­ment CGA.

Fi­nally, on Tues­day, Aug. 25, the men of the 5th were told they would be leav­ing the next day. They were granted leave so they could spend a few hours with their friends, rel­a­tives and loved ones be­fore they sailed off to fight.

The men gath­ered at Ma­caulay Plain at noon the fol­low­ing day, get­ting their bags ready and don­ning their equip­ment. At 1 p.m. the bu­gle sounded, and Lt. Col. Wil­liam Nor­man Winsby, who was a school in­spec­tor when not in uni­form, re­viewed his fol­low­ers. A few mo­ments later, he or­dered the men to march.

The men looked sharp in their crisp blue uni­forms and for­age caps, but some­thing was miss­ing — their ri­fles. They had been us­ing Lee-En­field ri­fles in their ex­er­cises, but the gov­ern­ment had de­creed that Cana­dian troops in the Great War would be is­sued Ross ri­fles in­stead. So the Lee-En­fields, the ri­fles the men knew and trusted, were left at home.

Parker and the other men marched first to Esquimalt Road, where they were met by the pipe band of the 50th High­landers. The High­landers band and the 5th’s own reg­i­men­tal band al­ter­nated as they marched along Esquimalt, then Bay Street to Gov­ern­ment Street. Chil­dren from Cen­tral, North Ward, South Park and Ge­orge Jay schools had gath­ered on the lawn of The Em­press Ho­tel, and sang Rule Bri­tan­nia, The Maple Leaf For­ever, Land of Hope and Glory and God Save

The King as the sol­diers passed. The High­landers and Fusiliers, who would leave two days later, formed lines on ei­ther side of the street as the men of the 5th turned on to Belleville Street to make their way to the Cana­dian Pa­cific Rail­way wharf, where the Princess Mary was wait­ing.

At the wharf an­other huge crowd, in­clud­ing moth­ers, wives, sis­ters and other loved ones, had gath­ered. The news­pa­pers re­ported that the peo­ple in the crowd watched tear­fully as the men marched up the gang­plank, but broke into loud cheers of sup­port when the boat pulled away at 3:40 p.m.

The men ar­rived in Van­cou­ver at 9 p.m., and the next day boarded reg­u­lar trains that would take them to Val­cartier, Que., where the Cana­dian Ex­pe­di­tionary Force was be­ing as­sem­bled.

If their fam­i­lies still in Vic­to­ria had any delu­sions about the risks the sol­diers faced, they were dashed on Sept. 3. On that day, the first Bri­tish ca­su­alty list, with 33 dead and many more wounded, was pub­lished in the lo­cal news­pa­pers.

Parker ar­rived in Val­cartier with the other men of the 5th, and all were as­signed to the new 7th Bat­tal­ion, which was also to be known as the 1st Bri­tish Columbia Reg­i­ment.

It took sev­eral days for the mil­i­tary brass at Val­cartier to process the thou­sands of men from across Canada. Parker’s pa­per­work was fi­nally com­pleted on Sept. 22. He listed his mili­tia ex­pe­ri­ence, and iden­ti­fied as next of kin his wife Chris­tine as well as his mother Ly­dia, by then liv­ing in Brix­ton, near Lon­don, Eng­land.

As long as he was in the ser­vice, Chris­tine would re­ceive $20 a month from the gov­ern­ment as a sep­a­ra­tion al­lowance. Robert also asked that $25 of his monthly pay be sent to his wife. That didn’t leave him with much spend­ing money, con­sid­er­ing he was be­ing paid just $1.20 a day.

Parker’s med­i­cal re­port noted that he was five foot five, and had three vac­ci­na­tion marks on his left arm and a mole on the left side of his chest. At 38 years eight months, Parker was push­ing the up­per limit of the age range.

On Sept. 28, Parker and the other men of the 7th Bat­tal­ion caught a train to Que­bec, where they boarded the Vir­ginian, the ship that would take them to Eng­land — even­tu­ally.

For the next three days, they watched from the Vir­ginian as 29 other ships were loaded with peo­ple, sup­plies, cloth­ing and equip­ment, a task that was fi­nally com­pleted at night­fall on Oct. 1. That night the Vir­ginian and the other ves­sels were moved to Gaspé har­bour, where they waited for their es­corts to ar­rive.

The ships, car­ry­ing 31,200 Cana­dian sol­diers, fi­nally started to move at 3 p.m. on Oct. 3. It took three hours for all the ships to clear the har­bour. Then, they crossed the At­lantic in for­ma­tion — in three rows, with es­corts on all sides — and ar­rived in Ply­mouth on Oct. 14.

Ply­mouth was picked as the land­ing spot at the last minute, when the threat from Ger­man ships made other ports un­safe, and it wasn’t set up to han­dle the size of the Cana­dian con­tin­gent. Parker didn’t dis­em­bark un­til 10 p.m. the next day, and he was one of the lucky ones. It took nine days be­fore ev­ery Cana­dian was stand­ing on English soil.

On Oct. 16, Parker ar­rived on Sal­is­bury Plain, where the Cana­dian troops were as­sem­bled and trained. For sev­eral weeks af­ter that, the men of the 7th went through drills, get­ting ready for the day when they would fi­nally see ac­tion on the con­ti­nent. They lived in “tents with no floor boards and out­side and all around a sea of mud,” ac­cord­ing to T.V. Scu­d­amore’s A Short His­tory of the 7th Bat­tal­ion C.E.F.

From time to time, they en­joyed a break in the rou­tine. One came on Wed­nes­day, Nov. 4, when they were in­spected by King Ge­orge and Queen Mary at Bus­terd.

Parker got leave to spend part of the fes­tive sea­son with his mother and some of his sib­lings near Lon­don.

“I most cer­tainly had a merry Christ­mas with all my broth­ers and sis­ters, Mother and Aunt Milly,” he wrote in a let­ter to his el­dest daugh­ter, Florence. “I hope you all en­joyed the Christ­mas tree; did you have one at home and an­other down­town?”

In his let­ter, Parker ex­pressed hope that the war would end soon, so he could re­turn to his fam­ily.

“God only knows what is in store for me,” he said. “May He grant, for all your sakes, that the war may come to a speedy end, and that we may all be per­mit­ted to spend next Christ­mas to­gether.”

Parker wrote to Florence again a few weeks later. In that let­ter, he said that he had re­ceived an in­crease in pay, so he would be able to send at least $10 home ev­ery week. “I still hope to see this or­der date back to last Au­gust,” he said. “If so, it will come to nearly one hun­dred dol­lars.”

The fam­ily was not that lucky. Parker’s file at the na­tional ar­chives in Ot­tawa shows that the raise was ef­fec­tive Dec. 24, and worse, was for only half the amount that he told Florence.

On May 31, 1915, the day Robert Parker died, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment an­nounced that 999 Cana­di­ans had been killed in the war so far. An­other 4,123 were wounded, and 1,314 were miss­ing. There was no ques­tion the num­bers would con­tinue to rise.

Parker’s feel­ings about his fam­ily came through in the words he wrote to his daugh­ter. “Many thanks for your nice let­ter; I hope you will write one to me ev­ery week,” he said. He closed with th­ese in­struc­tions to Florence: “Kiss all the kids for me, mamma too, and tell her to kiss you for me.” In Fe­bru­ary 1915, Parker was trans­ferred to the in­fantry base de­pot in Tid­worth, Wilt­shire. As a re­sult, he stayed be­hind on Feb. 11, when the rest of the 7th sailed from Avon­mouth, near Bris­tol, to St. Nazaire, near Nantes on the west coast of France. It made for a long voy­age — al­most 39 hours — but it was im­por­tant to avoid the Ger­man ships that were cruis­ing the English Chan­nel. To make mat­ters worse, a heavy gale meant the troops could not dis­em­bark for 48 hours af­ter ar­riv­ing at St. Nazaire.

By the time the men of the 7th went to war, the Ger­mans and the Al­lies had reached a stale­mate close to the bor­der be­tween west­ern Bel­gium and north­ern France. De­spite hor­ren­dous losses of men, nei­ther side could make head­way, and the front barely budged for four years.

From St. Nazaire, the sol­diers took the train most of the way to the bat­tle zone. They fi­nally ar­rived 11 days af­ter leav­ing their camp in Eng­land.

Af­ter a few days of train­ing in the trenches they were ready for ac­tion — and found it quickly enough. On Feb. 26, the 7th re­ported its first two ca­su­al­ties, in­clud­ing Lt. Herbert Beau­mont Boggs, a 22-year-old law stu­dent from Vic­to­ria who had been a mem­ber of the 88th Fusiliers. Boggs, the son of a prom­i­nent real es­tate and in­sur­ance agent, is buried in the church­yard in Ploeg­steert, Bel­gium.

“For the first time since the war started has the shadow of it fallen on Vic­to­ria,” the Colonist re­ported.

In late April, the men of the 7th ex­pe­ri­enced some of the worst that the Great War had to of­fer. They fought in the first Bat­tle of Ypres (to­day, it’s Ieper), and wit­nessed the rolling clouds of poi­son gas un­leashed by their Ger­man foes. The Cana­di­ans dis­cov­ered quickly enough that their Ross ri­fles were prone to jam­ming. Many of them grabbed Lee-En­fields from their fallen Bri­tish coun­ter­parts, and tossed the use­less Rosses into the muck.

About 2,000 Cana­di­ans died in the Ypres bat­tle, mainly be­cause of poi­son gas. The Brood­ing Sol­dier mon­u­ment at Van­cou­ver Cor­ner, north­east of the Bel­gian city, pays trib­ute to their sac­ri­fice.

Af­ter Ypres, the man­power of the 7th was se­ri­ously de­pleted, and re­in­force­ments were needed. Robert Parker was one of the men who came to the res­cue. Af­ter a brief trans­fer to Shorn­cliffe, Kent, Parker was trans­ferred back to the 7th “in the field” on April 30.

The records in his per­son­nel file aren’t pre­cise, and nei­ther are the diaries main­tained by the 7th. It’s likely, though, that he reached his bat­tal­ion with a group of other re­in­force­ments from Eng­land on May 7 — the same day that a Ger­man tor­pedo caused the Lusi­ta­nia to sink, killing 1,198 peo­ple.

On May 7, the men of the 7th were in Bailleul, France, next to the Bel­gian bor­der. Over the next few days, they marched south through French farm­land to­ward the city of Bethune, stop­ping at vil­lages such as Lo­con and Es­sars.

Af­ter a few days out of range of the Ger­man ar­tillery, the 7th was pressed back into the bat­tle at the vil­lage of Fes­tu­bert, just east of Bethune. May 24 was by far the worst day of fight­ing, with 184 men of the 7th killed or wounded.

Robert Parker was one of the ca­su­al­ties at Fes­tu­bert. He was lucky, at first — when the bul­lets ripped into his chest and thighs, they didn’t kill him. He was taken to a dress­ing sta­tion close to the bat­tle­field, then moved by train to Wimereux, on the French coast about 100 kilo­me­tres from the front. The Rawal Pindi Bri­tish hos­pi­tal was there, ready to sta­bi­lize in­jured men so they could be shipped back to Eng­land for fur­ther treat­ment as quickly as pos­si­ble.

But Parker’s wounds were too se­ri­ous, and he couldn’t make the trip to Eng­land. His con­di­tion de­te­ri­o­rated. On May 31, he died, at the age of 39 years and five months. He was buried the next day in the mil­i­tary sec­tion of the Wimereux Com­mu­nal Ceme­tery, on a hill at the north end of town.

The news reached Vic­to­ria a cou­ple of days later, and Chris­tine and her seven chil­dren had to ac­cept the fact that Robert, their lov­ing hus­band and fa­ther, would never be com­ing home.

Her two el­dest daugh­ters helped Chris­tine pay the bills by get­ting jobs. She also re­ceived a gov­ern­ment pen­sion given to de­pen­dants of sol­diers.

As she ad­justed to her new life as a widow with seven chil­dren, Chris­tine surely drew in­spi­ra­tion from her own mother, Mary Ann New­berry. The New­ber­rys had ar­rived on the Prairies in Au­gust 1892, and the fol­low­ing March, with most of the home­steading work yet to be done, Mary Ann’s hus­band Wil­liam died. He was just 46. Mary Ann chose to stay on the home­stead with her eight chil­dren, who ranged in age from five to 22. Even­tu­ally, with their help, she was able to com­plete the strin­gent home­steading re­quire­ments, and gained full own­er­ship of the land.

Mary Ann New­berry died in Vic­to­ria in 1916, just 10 months af­ter Robert’s death, but Chris­tine still had broth­ers and sis­ters liv­ing in the city who could lend a hand when needed. Her broth­ers in­cluded Al­bert New­berry, who owned an an­tiques shop on Fort Street for many years, and John New­berry, a book­binder in the gov­ern­ment print­ing depart­ment.

Chris­tine’s sis­ter Florence New­berry worked for the Turner and Bee­ton over­alls fac­tory on Wharf Street for three decades, and helped Chris­tine’s daugh­ters Florence and Bessie get jobs there. Bessie found more than a job — she mar­ried the boss, David Weir, and moved to the south­ern United States.

Even­tu­ally, thanks to that pen­sion from Ot­tawa, Chris­tine and the chil­dren got to live in the house that Robert had promised to build when he re­turned from Eu­rope.

“When he was killed, my mother hired some­one to build the house. They used the same plans that my fa­ther had worked on,” Gla­dys Ge­orge said in that 2005 in­ter­view. The three-bed­room house at 3119 Rose, next to the tracks of the old Vic­to­ria and Sid­ney Rail­way, cost Chris­tine $1,200.

Chris­tine stayed in the home as long as she could, even af­ter all of her chil­dren had mar­ried and moved away. She out­lasted the orig­i­nal name of the street; Rose be­came Alder in 1940. Fi­nally, in 1952, when she could no longer live on her own, she sold the house. Af­ter that, she spent six months at a time with each of her daugh­ters who were still in Vic­to­ria.

Chris­tine died in No­vem­ber 1961 at 85, and was buried in Royal Oak Burial Park in Saanich.

She was pre­de­ceased by her daugh­ter Bessie, who had moved to Long Beach, Cal­i­for­nia. The other chil­dren died af­ter their mother: Lil­lian in 1976 in Van­cou­ver, fol­lowed by Fred­er­ick in 1984 in Clear­brook, and Florence in 1994 in Belling­ham, Wash­ing­ton. Maude died in Van­cou­ver in 2000 and Robert died the fol­low­ing year in Vic­to­ria. Gla­dys was 98 when she died in 2011, 94 years af­ter her fa­ther’s death.

She said in 2005 that when her fa­ther marched off to war, she was too young to un­der­stand what was go­ing on. “I don’t re­mem­ber him at all,” she said. She did re­mem­ber, though, that her mother never had the slight­est in­ter­est in find­ing an­other man to re­place her beloved Robert.

“Af­ter he died, she never even dated,” Ge­orge said.

On May 31, 1915, the day Robert Parker died, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment an­nounced that 999 Cana­di­ans had been killed in the war so far. An­other 4,123 were wounded, and 1,314 were miss­ing. There was no ques­tion the num­bers would con­tinue to rise, be­cause ev­ery day the lo­cal news­pa­pers were re­port­ing more deaths — and re­peat­ing the call for vol­un­teers to re­place the ca­su­al­ties.

For much of the First World War, the two sides ham­mered away at each other with no real gains or losses in terms of real es­tate — but with a tremen­dous loss of life. By Ar­mistice Day on Nov. 11, 1918, about 66,500 Cana­di­ans had died. Roughly one sol­dier of ev­ery four who served at the front died. And by com­par­i­son, that 66,500 is 22,000 more than we lost in the Sec­ond World War.

Most of th­ese Cana­di­ans killed in the Great War are buried in the many war ceme­ter­ies that dot the land­scape of west­ern Bel­gium and north­ern France, near the city of Lille. From some spots, it’s pos­si­ble to see two or three ceme­ter­ies with the dis­tinc­tive Com­mon­wealth War Graves crosses, sim­i­lar to the ones at Vet­eran’s Ceme­tery in Esquimalt and the Royal Oak Burial Park in Saanich.

Robert Parker isn’t the only sol­dier from Vic­to­ria buried in Wimereux Com­mu­nal Ceme­tery. In 1916 and 1917, it also be­came the fi­nal rest­ing spot for at least three oth­ers from Van­cou­ver Is­land: John Vic­tor Bishop, Harold Brown and Charles Hugh Pear­son Lip­scomb.

Ev­ery year, hun­dreds of Cana­di­ans make a pil­grim­age to the Wimereux ceme­tery, drawn not by the sol­diers such as Parker, Lip­scomb and the rest, but by a doc­tor who wrote po­etry.

Like Parker, John McCrae left Canada in the first con­tin­gent, on Oct. 3, 1914. He also was posted to Sal­is­bury Plain. But while Parker stayed in Eng­land to train new ar­rivals, McCrae was shipped out, and saw first­hand the hor­rors of the first Bat­tle of Ypres.

A plaque next to the Es­sex Farm ceme­tery just north of Ypres marks the spot where McCrae wrote In Flan­ders Fields af­ter a friend, Alexis Helmer, was killed by a shell on May 2, 1915. On the same day, Parker was on his way from Eng­land to the front.

McCrae was briefly in Fes­tu­bert, too, but it was af­ter the fight­ing there had stopped, so he wouldn’t have been at the dress­ing sta­tion when doc­tors were scram­bling to save Parker’s life. On June 1, the day Parker was buried, McCrae was as­signed to a Bri­tish hos­pi­tal in Boulog­nesur-Mer, about 10 kilo­me­tres south of Wimereux. He stayed in that area, far from the front, un­til he died of pneu­mo­nia in Jan­uary 1918.

McCrae was buried with other of­fi­cers close to the Cross of Sac­ri­fice in the Wimereux ceme­tery. His grave is about 10 me­tres north of Robert Parker’s.

A to­tal of 2,847 Com­mon­wealth war graves are in Wimereux Com­mu­nal Ceme­tery. McCrae’s grave is the eas­i­est one to find, thanks to all of the pop­pies and Cana­dian flags that are left next to the stone ev­ery year.

The other 2,846 men and women were just as will­ing as McCrae to put their lives on the line for King and coun­try. They, too, “lived, felt dawn … loved, and were loved,” to bor­row McCrae’s words. While McCrae gets all the at­ten­tion, the other 2,846 paid the same price.

And they were heroes, too. Heroes such as Robert Parker, who had a wife, seven chil­dren, a ca­reer, big plans for the fu­ture — and above all else, a com­mit­ment to serve his coun­try.

Lest we for­get.

Cana­dian sources used in this fea­ture in­cluded in­ter­views, the Cana­dian Ex­pe­di­tionary Force per­son­nel files and the home­stead records at Li­brary and Ar­chives Canada, mil­i­tary diaries, mil­i­tary his­to­ries, back is­sues of the Vic­to­ria Daily

Times and the Daily Colonist, his­toric Vic­to­ria direc­to­ries on the Van­cou­ver Pub­lic Li­brary web­site, the vi­tal statis­tics in­dex and images on the B.C. Ar­chives web­site and Cana­dian cen­sus records. Sources in France in­cluded more in­ter­views, civil regis­tra­tion files at the ar­chives in Caen, and vis­its to the bat­tle­fields near Fes­tu­bert as well as the Wimereux Com­mu­nal Ceme­tery.

ROBERT PARKER

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