Find­ing Fred­er­ick

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - FRONT PAGE - JEN­NIFER BIEMAN Pte. Fred­er­ick Liver­more Nancy Dod­man Jonathan Vance jbie­man@post­media.com

An un­her­alded South­west­ern On­tario sol­dier of the First World War, Pte. Fred­er­ick Liver­more died a cen­tury ago. A chance en­counter at his grave in Bel­gium opened a story that tells us about the mean­ing of remembrance as the cen­ten­nial of the war’s end dawns.

We came across him by chance, in one of the largest Com­mon­wealth war ceme­ter­ies in Bel­gium, not far from where the hor­rors of the First World War’s Western Front un­folded.

He was Pte. Fred­er­ick Liver­more, an un­her­alded sol­dier from Lon­don. An im­mi­grant, who ar­rived on a ship named af­ter his new coun­try, he paid the ul­ti­mate price for his adopted home­land.

We were there, in Li­jssen­thoek Mil­i­tary Ceme­tery, the fi­nal rest­ing place for Liver­more and 10,120 other sol­diers, on a sun-lit day this spring, chron­i­cling the war’s ter­ri­ble toll in South­west­ern On­tario in the lead-up to the cen­ten­nial of the war’s end on Nov. 11, 1918, the ar­mistice that brought us Remembrance Day.

The Lon­don Free Press had be­gun ex­am­in­ing remembrance and sac­ri­fice in a mod­ern era 14 years ear­lier, on the 60th an­niver­sary of the Al­lied in­va­sion of Europe in the Sec­ond World War. It’s a se­ries we call If Ye Break Faith.

We went back to Europe in April to fo­cus on an ear­lier war — and we are back there again this week.

We were look­ing for the farm boys and store clerks and oth­ers from South­west­ern On­tario who died, when we came across Liver­more.

It would have been easy to over­look him in that sea of beige Port­land stone mark­ers quar­ried in Dorset, Eng­land. Ex­cept for one thing — a sim­ple slate church roof shin­gle leaned up against his mon­u­ment. In­scribed with his name and that of St. Ge­orge’s Angli­can Church in Lon­don, the mud-spat­tered shin­gle was a sign the young foot sol­dier was re­mem­bered.

But by whom, and who was Liver­more?

We went look­ing, and in Liver­more found a man who could have been any of the more than 8.5 mil­lion sol­diers killed in the so-called “war to end all wars,” in­clud­ing nearly 61,000 from Canada and more than 400 from Lon­don, then a small city of about 50,000.

His name lives not in his­tory books or mil­i­tary hon­our roles, but in one fam­ily’s mem­ory. He epit­o­mizes what Remembrance Day is all about.

Even for what was a young na­tion at the time, not yet 50 years old, it’s im­pos­si­ble to know ev­ery sol­dier’s story. Canada, its war­time pop­u­la­tion just shy of eight mil­lion, punched way above its weight in the First World War. Nearly 620,000 peo­ple en­listed. More than 424,000 fought over­seas.

For the bet­ter part of a cen­tury, since 1927, Pte. F. R. Liver­more was just an­other name com­mem­o­rated on a stained glass win­dow on the south wall of St. Ge­orge’s Angli­can Church in Lon­don. Un­til Nancy Dod­man, a con­gre­ga­tion mem­ber, took an in­ter­est in the me­mo­rial in the Wharn­cliffe Road church.

“Liver­more was the one that started it all,” she said. “His pic­ture was the first one that I found and it was an ex­cel­lent photo. Just look­ing in his face, I just be­came com­pelled to put faces to the names of all the sol­diers that were in our win­dow.”

She set out to re­search St. Ge­orge’s First World War dead and, dur­ing a trip with her hus­band to France and Bel­gium, took her com­mem­o­ra­tive project a step fur­ther.

“Some of the slate was fall­ing off the church roof, it be­ing an old church, and the slate would have been there when these men were lit­tle boys,” she said.

Dod­man had sev­eral pieces en­graved with the names of the church’s fallen and placed them at the sol­diers’ graves three years ago, aware their own fam­i­lies may never have been able to visit the graves them­selves.

In a war typ­i­fied by the gi­gan­tic, a cat­a­clysmic clash­ing of em­pires that frac­tured Europe, sol­diers like Liver­more can seem so small.

Un­like El­lis Well­wood Sifton of El­gin County and Harry Miner of Kent County, Liver­more, their fel­low South­west­ern On­tar­ian, did not win the Vic­to­ria Cross, the Bri­tish empire’s high­est hon­our for brav­ery. He wasn’t the guy who led the Cana­di­ans to vic­tory at Vimy Ridge. That was Gen. Arthur Cur­rie of Strathroy.

Liver­more lied about his age when he en­listed in Jan­uary 1915. He was docked a day’s pay for los­ing govern­ment prop­erty the fol­low­ing year. A ma­chin­ist from a work­ing-class English im­mi­grant fam­ily, a first-born son named af­ter his fa­ther, he could have been any Cana­dian sol­dier.

An or­di­nary man, liv­ing in an ex­tra­or­di­nary time, Liver­more was part of a gen­er­a­tion who never re­turned home and never started a fam­ily of their own. With no direct de­scen­dants, only their sib­lings and par­ents were left to keep their mem­ory alive.

Lor­raine McLeod grew up in Lon­don with her un­cle’s mil­i­tary por­trait hang­ing in a prom­i­nent spot in the fam­ily room among a col­lage of pho­tos. That’s about all she knows about him.

“It was al­ways there, but they never talked about it,” the Strathroy woman said. “My dad never talked about the wars . . . Af­ter a while you just think, ’Oh, that’s just Un­cle Fred’ and move on.”

McLeod’s fa­ther was John Liver­more, the sec­ond-born son in the fam­ily. He was five years younger than his brother Fred­er­ick. John Liver­more and two of his younger broth­ers later served in the Sec­ond World War.

The Liver­mores were a fam­ily of proud and stoic Brits, McLeod said, who loved their home­land and their adopted home in Canada, too.

It’s that pride that sent four of the five Liver­more sons into the mil­i­tary, for King and coun­try, in both world wars.

It’s that sto­icism that kept John Liver­more quiet about his own ser­vice and the death of his older brother at the Bat­tle of Pass­chen­daele — a muddy, bloody months-long fight for eight kilo­me­tres of land so in­fa­mous, it be­came a sym­bol of the hor­rors of the First World War.

Some things, McLeod will never know about her un­cle — what he most en­joyed in life, his ro­mances and dreams. But a great many things can be pieced to­gether about his life — the places where he went, the aw­ful bat­tle­fields he saw, the wounds he suf­fered.

Liver­more was born Jan. 17, 1899, two years be­fore Queen Vic­to­ria died, in Waltham­stow, Es­sex, Eng­land — not 1896, as he put on his pa­pers when he en­listed. He was chris­tened in the Angli­can Church on Feb. 26 the same year.

In 1907, Liver­more, his par­ents Fred­er­ick Sr. and Alice, two younger broth­ers and two older sis­ters left Liver­pool, Eng­land, aboard a ship named Canada. They ar­rived March 16, 1907, in Port­land, Maine, and even­tu­ally set­tled in Lon­don.

Liver­more’s two youngest broth­ers, Henry and Wil­liam, were born in Canada.

In 1911, the same year the fam­ily’s youngest, Wil­liam, was born, the Liver­mores were liv­ing at 36 Wal­nut St. The fam­ily home was within walk­ing dis­tance of St. Ge­orge’s Church and Liver­more’s school­house, Em­press el­e­men­tary school — now the site of Jeanne Sauve French im­mer­sion el­e­men­tary school, where his name is com­mem­o­rated on a roll of one-time stu­dents who fought and died in the war.

Liver­more’s mother worked at D.S. Per­rin and Co., a Lon­don candy fac­tory, the 1914 city direc­tory shows. His fa­ther was a labourer at E. Leonard and Sons, a foundry.

The work­ing-class fam­ily also moved around.

In 1914, the year the war broke out, they lived at 2 Ar­gyle St. in the Black­fri­ars neigh­bour­hood. When Liver­more en­listed in Jan­uary 1915, he put 1025 Mary St., now King Street East, as his fam­ily ad­dress. By 1916, the city direc­tory listed the Liver­mores at 1050 Florence St.

They even­tu­ally set­tled at 765 Lit­tle Grey St., a mod­est east Lon­don bun­ga­low later in­her­ited by Liver­more’s brother John. The house still stands.

♦♦♦

Over­seas, Liver­more moved around, too.

He signed up to fight with the 33rd Bat­tal­ion of the Cana­dian Ex­pe­di­tionary Force in Lon­don on Jan. 23, 1915, and ar­rived in Eng­land on March 26, 1916. He was only 17 years old when he sailed from Hal­i­fax aboard the S.S. La­p­land. When he landed over­seas, he joined the 7th Cana­dian In­fantry Bat­tal­ion, which mainly re­cruited out of Bri­tish Columbia, and ar­rived in France on May 26, 1916.

By June, his bat­tal­ion was in the Ypres Salient, a back­wards S -shaped sec­tion of the Western Front east of the Bel­gian city that was the site of some of the war’s most grue­some bat­tles. That same month, he was docked a day’s pay for los­ing an un­spec­i­fied piece of govern­ment prop­erty.

By Au­gust 1916, Liver­more’s bat­tal­ion was back in France, fight­ing in one of the largest bat­tles of the First World War, the Bat­tle of the Somme. The Cana­di­ans ar­rived late to the four-month op­er­a­tion be­gun by the Bri­tish, but paid dearly — 24,029 ca­su­al­ties by the time the bat­tle ended in No­vem­ber.

The 7th Bat­tal­ion moved around France through the win­ter of 1916-17 in the lead-up to the Bat­tle of Vimy Ridge, where the Cana­di­ans won a key vic­tory against dug-in Ger­man forces dur­ing Easter 1917.

The bat­tal­ion’s war di­ary from those crit­i­cal days — an of­ten mythol­o­gized mo­ment in Cana­dian his­tory, and the first time the four di­vi­sions of the Cana­dian Corps fought to­gether — records the weather as dull and rainy. The bat­tal­ion was sub­jected to “steady ri­fle and M.G. (ma­chine gun) fire” and met “con­sid­er­able re­sis­tance from en­emy strong points.”

“Ca­su­al­ties dur­ing at­tack were heavy,” the di­ary notes.

The 18-year-old Liver­more was one of them.

Shot in the right leg on April 10, he was moved to a gen­eral hospi­tal in Eta­ples, France, then trans­ferred to Lak­en­ham Mil­i­tary Hospi­tal in Nor­wich, Eng­land. He healed and was re­leased on May 29, 1917.

He was sent to the 1st Cana­dian Re­serve Bat­tal­ion for a short time, then re­joined the 7th Bat­tal­ion in France on Sept. 6, 1917.

Liver­more’s bat­tal­ion moved north through France in Oc­to­ber, from Man­queville on Oct. 19 to the vil­lage of Bavin­chove where they stayed un­til Nov. 3.

They were inch­ing closer to Pass­chen­daele, the Bel­gian vil­lage at the cen­tre of a bat­tle that was sup­posed to last only 72 hours. It had raged for three months by the time Liver­more got there in No­vem­ber. In the sum­mer and fall of 1917, en­emy bom­bard­ments plowed the vil­lage into the ground and churned the land into an al­most post-apoc­a­lyp­tic land­scape of muddy craters so thick and so deep, sol­diers drowned.

On Nov. 11, 1917 — a year to the day be­fore the ar­mistice to end the fight­ing on the Western Front — the 7th Bat­tal­ion’s war di­ary recorded the con­di­tions as fine, af­ter days of cold, wet and dull weather.

Then the bom­bard­ments be­gan.

At about 9 a.m., three en­emy planes bombed the area where the 7th was sta­tioned. One shell landed in the lines where the sol­diers were, the log says. One man was killed and five oth­ers from the bat­tal­ion were wounded.

Liver­more was among the ca­su­al­ties that day. He was hit in the right but­tock and taken to the No. 10 ca­su­alty clear­ing sta­tion out­side of Poperinge, Bel­gium. He died of his wounds and was buried at Li­jssen­thoek, a mil­i­tary ceme­tery filled with sol­diers who died at med­i­cal out­posts in the area.

His name is en­graved on his grave marker in Bel­gium, and would later be added to his par­ents’ mon­u­ment at Mount Pleas­ant Ceme­tery in Lon­don. If ye break faith . . . It’s a call to ac­tion, a solemn re­minder of remembrance. It’s the start of the fi­nal line of John McCrae’s im­mor­tal poem, penned in Bel­gium two years be­fore Liver­more’s death and just 15 kilo­me­tres from where he is buried.

Liver­more is re­mem­bered: a son, a brother, a ma­chin­ist, five-foot-five with black hair and grey eyes.

Trans­plant him a cen­tury ahead in time, and he could be any young man in Lon­don.

“They’re a hun­dred years be­fore us and a world away, but still you can find enough de­tail to find a kind of com­mon­al­ity there,” First World War his­to­rian and Western Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Jonathan Vance said.

“They were more like you than you may re­al­ize. If you al­low for the changes in hair­styles and cloth­ing and cos­metic things, as I tell my stu­dents, this is you a hun­dred years ago.”

They prayed where we pray. They walked streets we walk to­day.

To para­phrase McCrae, they lived, felt dawn, saw sun­set glow,

Loved and were loved, and now they lie

In Flan­ders Fields.

JEN­NIFER BIEMAN/POST­MEDIA NEWS

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