Watch keeps memory alive
The telegram arrived at 96 St. George St. in Kitchener on Friday morning, Nov. 23, 1917, and it was George Pequegnat’s third gutpunch in two-and-a-half years.
Just seven weeks earlier, his mother Françoise had passed away; in March 1915, his wife Alfarata had died.
Even before opening the telegram, he knew one of his three serving sons would not be returning.
Which was it? Arthur, Trochon or Emanuel? All three were serving in the France/Belgium border area where fighting in the Third Battle of Ypres was most vicious. The Canadian Corps had been ordered in to clear the Germans from Passchendaele Ridge and the decisive push began on Nov. 6. Next day, throughout France and Belgium, 746 Allied soldiers died: most of them at Passchendaele, many of them Canadian and one of them, Mannie Pequegnat.
Emanuel G. Pequegnat, known as “Mannie,” was a grandson of the larger-than-life Ulysses Pequegnat who brought his Swissborn family — wife Françoise, eight sons and six daughters, plus assorted relatives — to Berlin, Ont., in 1874. Jewelry and clockmaking were in the family DNA and soon the Pequegnat name had spread, becoming equally prominent in Waterloo, Stratford, Neustadt, Brantford, Guelph, Tavistock and New Hamburg. The clock factory in Berlin produced some of Canada’s most famous timepieces and later branched out into manufacturing bicycles: Pequegnat Racycles.
George, born in 1857, had been a jeweller and watchmaker but by 1917 was helping to run the bicycle factory. He married Alfarata W. Gaukel, a granddaughter of Berlin’s prominent founder, Frederick Gaukel. Their eight children included Mannie, born in 1890. By age 21, Mannie had strayed from the family occupations, becoming a piano tuner for the Berlin Piano & Organ Company at King West and Breithaupt streets. Mannie enlisted with the 71st Battalion on Sept. 18, 1915. Two months later he sailed for England with the Second Canadian Contingent on SS California. Before Mannie left Berlin, George presented his son with a Pequegnat watch inscribed “From father to Mannie Pequegnat.”
By mid-July 1916, he is in the field with 6th Canadian Machine Gun Company. The following 16 months combined warfare, hospitalization, leave and a disciplinary term. On Nov. 7, 1917, just as Canadian troops were beginning to drive the final Germans from Passchendaele Ridge, life ended for 603227 Mannie Pequegnat.
A letter to the family from Lieutenant William Tucker of Mannie’s company expressed his unit’s regrets and sympathies. It went on, as these letters usually did, to assure the family that “... he died without pain, life being extinct immediately after the explosion of shell occurred.” Although Lieutenant Tucker noted that “... a white cross was located where he died bearing the name of your son,” that site was soon obliterated.
The names of more than 54,000 soldiers from the Commonwealth who have no known grave are engraved on the Menin Gate in Ypres — one of those listed is “Pequegnat, E.G.” His name also appears on his parents’ grave marker in Kitchener’s Mount Hope Cemetery.
Mannie was remembered for many years by his family — and by Richard Charles Spindlove of Edmonton. As a member of the same 6th Canadian Machine Gun Company, Spindlove was one of the last people to talk with Mannie Pequegnat. Acting on a premonition, Mannie gave the goingaway watch to his pal. If death was to be his fate, Mannie wanted Spindlove to return the watch to his father. Spindlove survived the war and returned to Alberta.
The Aug. 27, 1930 Kitchener Daily Record front-paged a letter which had arrived at the Pequegnat Clock Company inquiring if “the father of Mannie Pequegnat” was connected with the firm. George was travelling at the time so it took a few days for the two men to connect. On Sept. 10, 1930, the watch arrived in Kitchener. The works had not survived the war and a different movement was inside but the engraving on the case, “From father to Mannie Pequegnat,” was still legible. Grateful, George engraved a new case for the Edmonton man’s watch movement, with “In memory of Mannie,” and sent the new one back to Spindlove. Until his own death in 1937, George kept the 1914 case as a memento of his son. Presumably, and hopefully, it remains in the family — a reminder of the many young people of Berlin/ Kitchener who gave their lives in the ironically-named Great War.
Spindlove’s letter and the newspaper articles talk about a 16-year gap between Manny’s death until the watch was returned in 1930. Without doubt, he died on Nov. 7, 1917, so the gap was only 13 years. Mannie’s brothers all survived the war.
On Wednesday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. at Victoria Park pavilion, the post card collectors club meets. Guest speaker Tom Reitz presents selections from his extensive real photo Christmas postcard collection. All welcome, no admission charge.
Paul Pequegnat was Mannie’s uncle and one of Berlin, Ontario’s premier jewelers and watchmakers. In all likelihood, Paul’s brother George purchased a pocket watch similar to this when son Mannie enlisted in 1915 and engraved it “From father to Mannie Pequegnat.”
Looking exactly like the piano tuner he was before enlistment, Emanuel “Mannie” Pequegnat became one of almost 4,000 Canadians killed in the three weeks it took Canadian soldiers to capture Passchendaele Ridge.