Saluting 12 Hudsonites who fought at Vimy Ridge 98 years ago
PHOTO BY JAMES PARRY 90-year-old Peter Stephenson treasures his mementos of the 12 Hudsonites, including his father Pete, who fought at Vimy Ridge almost a century ago this weekend, April 11-12, 2015.
Almost a century ago during the carnage of World War I - and this very weekend April 9 through 12 - tens of thousands of Canadians and Allied soldiers fought a battle in Northern France. One that would be forever known by military historians and politicians alike as the one that saw ‘Canada come of age.’
Its name? Vimy Ridge. Ending in one of this country’s greatest military victories ever, it was won at a heavy price. It’s estimated that some 3600 Canadians died fighting to capture the ridge and another 10,600 were wounded, many of whom never fully recovered.
Against all odds, however, 12 Hudsonites who voluntarily enlisted and who fought there all came home to their little town by the Lake of Two Mountains, having disembarked from the Mauretania passenger ship that docked in Montreal in May 1919. As Your Local Journal learned this week from the son of one of them, Peter Stephenson, who turned 90 years of age in February, the dozen all served with the 3rd Canadian Siege Battery, better known locally as Cape’s Battery and originally recruited in Montreal as a horse artillery unit that was first trained in England before being sent to see action in the trenches and elsewhere on the Western Front.
Their names were Maiben Aird, whose family would go on to create Finnegan’s Market in Hudson. Also the three Mullan brothers - Howard, John and Hal. Alec Davidson. Stan Foster. Frank Shepherd. Les Proctor. Mel Putnam. Jim Pyke. And Pete – whose real name was Harold – Stephenson, a motorcycle dispatch rider barely 19 years old.
His son, Peter, who from 1943 on served in the Navy as a signalman aboard the HMCS frigate ‘Inch Arron’ offered to share a few personal mementos following a recent article in the National Post about a Canadian foundation planning to build an education centre at Vimy Ridge. They included countless postcards and letters still in their original envelopes sent by his father to his mother and family. Original photographs – albeit a little faded - shot either in England, France, or Belgium where the Battery also saw action.
Two personally- signed linen-bound book maps carried and used by his father throughout the campaign. Large size original photographs of Cape reunions dating back to 1920. Also a letter opener comprising a bullet and a metal blade created from recuperated metal, with the word Arras (a town in France where they also fought) scratched on one side. And perhaps most striking of all, a heavy brass tankard bearing The Cape’s metal hat badge and fashioned from a 1915 German artillery shell with a handle made from a cannon driving band. “I treasure them all,” Stephenson said.
“Not only those from my father, which obviously are very dear to me and my family, but also out of respect for all those Hudson boys who served with him. And who lived to come home to go on and build new lives for themselves and their families after all that they went through over there. Where literally every minute could have been their last.” On April 9, 2017, Canada’s Prime Minister together with Queen Elizabeth, members of the Royal Family, and heads of state from around the world, will be at Vimy Ridge to honour the centennial of the battle.