Pri­vate Thomas Flow­ers: For King and Coun­try

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - Remembrance Day - BY FLOYD SPRACKLIN SPE­CIAL TO THE LABRADORIAN

Ed­i­tor’s note: This story orig­i­nally ran in the June 25, 2018 edi­tion of the Labradorian.

If any­thing is to be learned from re­search­ing a fam­ily mem­ber or any other per­son, it is this — ev­ery con­nected in­di­vid­ual holds a piece to the puz­zle. It is a vir­tual trea­sure hunt to find all those pieces and fit them to­gether into a pic­ture that all can hold near and dear.

Learn­ing more about the life of Thomas Flow­ers has been much like what Ge­orge Gre­goire of Nat­u­ashish sug­gests in his book, “Walk With My Shadow”. We can choose to walk with our own shadow, never feel­ing alone, or we can walk in some­one else’s foot­steps know­ing this well­worn path is safe.

Many of our vet­er­ans live and die with very lit­tle col­lected and/ or writ­ten about them in one place. Thomas Flow­ers of Nain, whose grand­fa­ther ar­rived in Rigo­let from Eng­land in the 1800s, is in­cluded in this group of si­lent and un­sung heroes.

Mil­i­tary records for Pri­vate Thomas Flow­ers have sur­vived though only place names and dates have been iden­ti­fied for where and when he was on ac­tive duty. No spe­cific de­tails are pro­vided for any of his en­emy en­gage­ments. What we do know from his mil­i­tary at­tes­ta­tion doc­u­ments ob­tained from The Rooms Provin­cial Archives & Mu­seum, is that on Oct. 24, 1917 in St. John’s, Thomas en­listed with the first New­found­land Reg­i­ment, C of E Corps, Reg­i­men­tal Num­ber 4019 and was posted to G Com­pany. At this time he de­clared his birth­date to be June 1, 1899 – not his ac­tual birth­date — and his next of kin, Frances Flow­ers, his mother in Hope­dale. Like so many be­fore and since, he said what he had to say to en­list. All 5 foot 6 inches and 138 pounds of Pri­vate Flow­ers was ready to serve King and Coun­try.

Be­fore leav­ing St. John’s, Pri­vate Flow­ers was treated for mumps at the Mil­i­tary In­fec­tious Hos­pi­tal Dec. 22, 1917. Four weeks later he em­barked on the SS Florizel for Hal­i­fax Jan. 29, 1918, and from there on Feb. 7, 1918, his 18th birth­day, to Folke­stone, lo­cated on the English Chan­nel in Eng­land on an un­named troop ves­sel.

In July of 1918 and be­fore com­menc­ing ac­tive field du­ties, Thomas au­tho­rized quar­terly $2.50 de­duc­tions to the Prison­ers of War Fund. This amount would each month be taken from his Pri­vate Sol­dier’s Rate of $1.10 per diem for a pe­riod of one year, a to­tal of $10 dur­ing the time in which he would have col­lected a to­tal of $400 in sol­diers’ pay.

From July 8-Nov. 3 of 1918, Pri­vate Flow­ers was en­gaged in mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions on the Western Front in Boulogne and Rouen in north­ern France and then in Flan­ders, Bel­gium. Dur­ing those four months, Pri­vate Flow­ers and the First New­found­land Reg­i­ment saw enough ac­tion to last a life­time. It was handto-hand com­bat in muddy, churned up bat­tle­fields. The men, many of them quite young, took heavy ca­su­al­ties un­der con­stant Ger­man ar­tillery field gun bom­bard­ment. At one point and un­der fire the New­found­lan­ders crossed the River Scheldt by raft. No men­tion is made of Pri­vate Flow­ers’s spe­cific as­sign­ments though the story back home in Labrador was and con­tin­ues to be about his marks­man­ship skills and his be­ing a First World War sniper.

In Au­gust of 1918, Pri­vate Flow­ers was ad­mit­ted to a French hos­pi­tal with bron­chop­neu­mo­nia. In be­tween on Oct. 12, 1918, he was treated for sca­bies at Rest Camp Cher­bourg. By early Novem­ber Thomas had con­tracted dysen­tery and then diph­the­ria and as a re­sult had to be evac­u­ated back to Eng­land. By the mid­dle of Novem­ber he was re­leased from Ber­mond­sey Hos­pi­tal in Lon­don and de­clared fit to re­turn to ac­tive duty at Winch­ester by which time the Armistice of Nov. 11, 1918 had al­ready ended The Great War.

Some­time in 1918 Pri­vate Flow­ers had au­tho­rized a daily de­duc­tion of 60 cents from his Pri­vate Sol­dier’s rate to be sent back home to his mother. In Fe­bru­ary of 1919, this trans­ac­tion was can­celled due to the end of his ten­ure with the New­found­land Reg­i­ment. On April 9, 1919 he was dis­charged, and April 10, 1919, he was de­clared phys­i­cally un­fit for fur­ther war ser­vice.

Thomas de­parted Eng­land in early July of 1919 for Hal­i­fax and was of­fi­cially de­mo­bi­lized and dis­charged with no dis­abil­ity from the mil­i­tary physi­cian on July 14 of the same year. At that time he was cleared by the Civil Re-estab­lish­ment Com­mit­tee to re­turn to his for­mer oc­cu­pa­tion as a fish­er­man. His repa­tri­a­tion cites 264 days of ser­vice with colours and a to­tal of 365 days for re­serve. How­ever, he did have one mi­nor mat­ter to at­tend to. He was is­sued civil­ian clothes which came with an amount ow­ing of $60.

Pri­vate Flow­ers ar­rived at his Labrador home in the wake of the 1918-19 Span­ish flu epi­demic that had killed 20-40 mil­lion peo­ple world­wide. This pan­demic had first ar­rived aboard the SS Sag­ona docked at Cartwright with four in­fected crew. From there it spread like wild­fire through­out Labrador and killed 10 per cent of the north­ern pop­u­la­tion. In the small Inuit com­mu­nity of Okak alone, 78 per cent of its 263 res­i­dents had suc­cumbed to the Span­ish flu. To com­pli­cate mat­ters, Thomas him­self was re­cov­er­ing from a bout of diph­the­ria that he had picked up while serv­ing in Bel­gium.

Af­ter nearly two years of ser­vice to his coun­try, Thomas had re­turned home, fig­u­ra­tively and lit­er­ally a grown man. He had added a full inch to his stature since he was still a grow­ing boy. Re­gard­less of his self-re­port­ing his age to be 19, he was in ac­tual fact only 17 when he had en­listed.

Hap­pily, Labrador was where he would spend the sec­ond half of his life, get­ting mar­ried, hav­ing and rais­ing chil­dren, fish­ing for a liv­ing, spend­ing time on The Land, and help­ing his com­mu­nity when­ever and wher­ever pos­si­ble. Sadly, very lit­tle of what would hap­pen in his re­main­ing 22 years would be doc­u­mented in as much de­tail as his last two years over­seas.

On Feb.20, 1920, Thomas mar­ried Sabina Aggek in Hope­dale at the same time as his sis­ter, Mar­garet, mar­ried Fred­er­ick Frieda in a dou­ble-wed­ding cer­e­mony. The next month on March 23, Thomas re­ceived the Bri­tish War Medal in his Hope­dale mail. Two months later Thomas re­ceived his Vic­tory Medal in the same man­ner and quickly ac­knowl­edged re­ceipt of both by re­turn mail. The Vic­tory medal was awarded to all ranks of the fight­ing forces who ac­tu­ally served in a theatre of war be­tween Aug.5, 1914-Nov. 11, 1918.

Shortly there­after, he also re­ceived the Bri­tish War Medal, awarded to all ranks of Cana­dian and New­found­land over­seas mil­i­tary forces who had also served in a theatre of war, both with no of­fi­cial cer­e­mony at­tached. Thomas would keep both medals hid­den in his home un­til near his death. Around 1924, Thomas and Sabina moved to Nain to set up their fam­ily home far away from his bat­tle­field mem­o­ries.

The July 8, 2018 Hope­dale mail brought Thomas three cheques to­tal­ing $210 from the mil­i­tary. This was of­fi­cially no­tated as his bal­ance of War Ser­vice Gra­tu­ity.

Thomas’s fa­ther, Wil­liam, and Aunt Mary Ellen had moved north from their birth­place of Rigo­let some­where most likely around the 1860s, and shortly there­after in 1869 Wil­liam had mar­ried and had their first child in the same year. The famed Flow­ers sal­mon river and Flow­ers Bay, both lo­cated just south of Sango Bay and Davis In­let, have in­her­ited their names from them.

By 1930, Thomas had lost his four broth­ers and sis­ters. What we do know is that Thomas and Sabina had 10 chil­dren, most of whom died very young. Eighty-nine year old Gus Flow­ers of Nain is the only liv­ing child of Thomas and Sabina Flow­ers, but due to ill health was un­avail­able for an in­ter­view. Great-grand­daugh­ter Emma Rose Mur­phy of Nain says, “Many of the peo­ple who may have known any­thing spe­cific about Thomas are all gone now. They didn’t know much be­cause he never wanted to talk about it [The Great War].”

War is hor­ren­dous and un­for­giv­ing, and if you’re lucky, you live to re­turn home and to fam­ily. But then what? Mem­o­ries and flash­backs of dy­ing war bud­dies con­tin­u­ally haunted Thomas. So­phie (Twiggy) Pa­mak of Hope­dale was adopted by her grand­par­ents, Dick and Nancy Pa­mak, whose fa­ther was Thomas Flow­ers. So­phie (Twiggy) Pa­mak of Hope­dale was adopted by her grand­par­ents, Dick and Nancy Pa­mak, whose fa­ther was Thomas Flow­ers. So­phie re­calls the few words of­ten re­peated over the years, that when Thomas came back af­ter the war, “He was a changed man.” Fam­ily of Wil­liam and Frances (Aggek) Flow­ers (mid­dle). A young Thomas Flow­ers (mid­dle row far left). This fam­ily photo was taken in Hope­dale in 1911

So­phie re­calls the few words of­ten re­peated over the years, that when Thomas came back af­ter the war, “He was a changed man”. Thomas was one of those who kept quiet about what he ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing the First World War, so much so that those close to him even­tu­ally gave up ask­ing.

Thomas was a great provider for his fam­ily and his com­mu­nity. He grew up lov­ing The Land and is re­mem­bered as a re­mark­able marks­man. His sharp­shoot­ing skills and his de­sire to serve his coun­try of Eng­land are what first mo­ti­vated him to ship over­seas to do his part. Emma Rose Mur­phy, Thomas’s great-grand­daugh­ter, says only a few things have been passed down through the years.

“He loved hunt­ing and fish­ing, pro­vid­ing for the peo­ple, and he was an ex­pert shooter,” she said.

Rev­erend FW Pea­cock in his “Re­flec­tions From a Snow­house” at The Labrador In­sti­tute ac­knowl­edged all the Flow­ers of Flow­ers Bay for their carv­ing and sharp­shoot­ing tal­ents. He specif­i­cally named Ch­es­ley Flow­ers, Ge­orge Flow­ers [son, Gilbert Flow­ers, a de­scen­dant of Thomas’s half-brother, David, a re­mark­able carver liv­ing in Hope­dale to­day] and Ross Flow­ers of Hope­dale as skilled carvers. Emma-Rose adds that an­other noted liv­ing Nain carver is Thomas’s grand­son, Gilbert Hay.

Pri­vate Thomas Flow­ers served in France and Bel­gium and died 23 years af­ter his dis­charge from the Royal New­found­land Reg­i­ment. Rev­erend Pea­cock states that the flu epi­demic of 1942 was un­wit­tingly picked up in Hope­dale and trans­ported back home by Nain res­i­dents try­ing to pro­cure food and mo­lasses to bol­ster their de­pleted stores back home. Thomas’s death came 10 days af­ter the Satur­day be­fore Easter Sun­day or April 14.

Rev­erend Pea­cock says in his book, “On Good Fri­day our pa­tients be­gan dy­ing…. by the time the epi­demic ended a month later twenty-two peo­ple had died. Tom was …. a strong good man. He had been my right hand dur­ing the last three weeks of the epi­demic. A mod­est, quiet man…. he moved about the vil­lage, through­out the sick­ness, ap­pear­ing wher­ever he was wanted, do­ing what­ever was needed with­out fuss or com­ment, stretch­ing out his hands in mer­ci­ful com­fort.” Tom not only tended to the sick and dy­ing. He also helped the Mo­ra­vian min­is­ters bury the dead.

Rev. FW Pea­cock and Brother P Het­tasch write in “The Pe­ri­od­i­cal Ac­counts of the Work of the Mo­ra­vian Mis­sions, June, 1944” ob­tained from The Labrador In­sti­tute, that the evening be­fore Easter Sun­day Thomas con­ducted his first and only ser­vice, a prayer meet­ing at the Mo­ra­vian Church. Where nor­mally 300 con­gre­ga­tion mem­bers would gather for Easter cel­e­bra­tions, only 21 showed up that evening.

Rev­erend Pea­cock goes on to say that Thomas’s 16-year-old daugh­ter, Mikki­jok, had died ear­lier in the epi­demic.

“This at­trac­tive young woman knew she was dy­ing and begged me to sit with her. Weary and over­whelmed by the im­men­sity of the task I was fac­ing, I could not deny her re­quest and sat with her for sev­eral hours, hold­ing her hand as her life

slipped away.”

Rosina Brown, great-grand­daugh­ter of Thomas Flow­ers, said her great-grand­fa­ther al­ways told sto­ries and re­peated nurs­ery rhymes. How­ever, he didn’t like telling and retelling the ones about his First World War de­ploy­ment. He grew so tired of peo­ple ask­ing him to talk about the war that he or­ga­nized a one-time com­mu­nity meet­ing where he could tell his story one last time, but this time to a larger set­ting.

Rosina says an un­known man came to her mother Miriam’s home in the early 1970s and bor­rowed with a prom­ise to re­turn Thomas’s two medals and uni­form.

“He even asked for any­thing she might have on hand in her care that was left over from the war.” Re­gret­tably, nei­ther has since been seen. His wife, Sabina was so up­set be­cause, be­sides her mem­o­ries, these had been the only tan­gi­ble things left to re­mind her of her hus­band.

Rosina Brown goes on to say that some­time af­ter Thomas’s death a Gov­ern­ment Man came to Sabina’s house to de­liver a cheque of over $200 for an un­known rea­son. Sabina took the cheque and tore it to shreds and cried, “This is not go­ing to fix Tom!”

Great-grand­fa­ther Thomas’s sur­vival from his war ex­pe­ri­ences were some­what of a mir­a­cle. Thomas made many new friends while fight­ing along­side them as an 18-year-old in 1918. Mil­i­tary lead­ers couldn’t be­lieve he had made it out alive, but he did what he had to in or­der to sur­vive.

“My friend had just been shot and killed, and the en­emy was mov­ing in on us. I crawled un­der­neath his body and pre­tended to be dead un­til the en­emy was gone!” These are re­port­edly Thomas’s words about one of his many close calls with death and recorded in fam­ily mem­o­ries.

The sto­ries Thomas told about grow­ing up and leav­ing Labrador to serve over­seas and re­turn­ing to re­sume an ac­tive and nor­mal life have for the most part been lost in oral tra­di­tion. Hope­fully some other fam­ily mem­bers will read this ar­ti­cle and start their own process of find­ing out even more for them­selves, their com­mu­nity, for Labrador, for vet­er­ans, and for ev­ery­one to know that he did make a dif­fer­ence. And oh yes, the fam­ily search for his medals and uni­form is still on.

In 2017, co­in­ci­den­tally or by de­sign, 100 years from the year of Thomas’s en­list­ment, Emma Rose hon­oured her grea­tun­cle’s mem­ory with a sim­ple pho­to­graph on her Face­book page.

Si­lakKi­jak Is­soKan­gi­tu­mut

Rest in Peace

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF DR. HANS J. ROLLMANN

CON­TRIB­UTED

Emma Rose Mur­phy, Thomas’s great-grand­daugh­ter.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

Tom, his wife Sabina and baby son Gus in Nain in 1939.

PHOTO BY MARTIN NOCHASAK

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