A Dream that Died
But in this real life they sent home nothing.
No muddy details.
No wedding band, my forever Valentine.
Creating the Centena
I began my 26 Armistice journey with Facebook post asking if any friends had interesting stories about relatives involved in the First World War. I was surprised by the response. Stories from the Somme to Passendale and Cornwall to Canada and tales of emigration, family, love and loss emerged – with some extraordinary details of those who lived during the period set out for me to consider.
In the end it was a tragic tale from artist Dayna Law (who I had met after being paired on a previous 26 Project – 26 Atlantic Crossings) that most caught my attention. She told me about her husband’s grandfather, Private James Edmund Law, and his wife Annie Barron who married on Valentine’s Day 1914 and subsequently sailed to Canada from their native Rochdale to start a new life.
James signed up to the struggle to save the mother country in January 1916, joining the with Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry (Eastern Ontario Regiment). He left for France when Annie was already pregnant with their son James Melville… and he never came home. James died on 30 October 1917 in the second action of the Second battle of Passchendaele, which lasted from 26 October – 10 November and ultimately recaptured the village. 883 Canadians dies alongside James during the second action.
I had a lot of information from Dayna about the story but felt I would go and check out some details and dates and visited the Lives of the First World War website. Here I found James’s conscription and medical records. I also found his Burial Return and Grave Registration reports from Passendale. One thing that stuck me here was how few of the soldiers were named – on James’s page of 17 souls only four have been identified. When Dayna and her husband Jim visited Passendale, Dayna tells me they were grateful he was in a marked grave – and that Jim was so shaken by the experience he couldn’t even sign the guest book.
Annie, James’s wife, stayed in Toronto and went on to raise their son, James Melville. He eventually married and had two sons of his own, one being Dayna’s husband James Kenneth Law. They now have two children, the eldest a James Scott who has a son, James Ethan — five generations of James Law.
Annie did return to England when her son was five years old. Her father-in-law, John Law, encouraged her to re-marry, but she declined in no uncertain terms and returned to her new life in Canada.
It must have been tough, but Annie worked hard and provided a home and education for her son. He flourished in school, was very athletic, good looking and personable. He eventually started his own insurance company. Annie lived to be 99. She was active till the very end and proud of her family, her only son, her grand children and great grandchildren.
Today James’s great-grandson, James Scott, lives in the beaches area of Toronto, just a few kilometers away from Annie’s original house.
As part of the 26 Armistice project, I shared my centena, images and research journey with Kathryn Lyons, Visitor Experience Manager at the Canadian War Museum.
26 is a group of writers whose purpose is to inspire a greater love of words in business and in life