Among the most intriguing items in the recently-opened Anglican church hall time capsule was an honour roll listing 222 church members who enlisted in World War I.
Entitled Whose Debtors We Are, the small card gives surnames and first initials, along with red crosses next to those who were killed, and notations for those who received military medals and crosses.
Church historian Greg Scott sent the names to Sylvia Crooks, chronicler of Nelson’s wartime history, who created mini-biographies of each.
Although she came up blank on 28 of them, she found at least basic information on the rest.
In 2005, Crooks published Homefront and Battlefront: Nelson BC in World War II, which profiled every local man killed in that war.
For the local archives she also compiled two loose-leaf binders detailing those who died in World War I — in all, some 400 pages — and referred to that information.
“Some of it I had at my fingertips,” she says. “Certainly any of the men who were killed in the war, because I’d already done those volumes for the archives. Some of the others I didn’t go far afield. There’s a lot more I could find, I’m sure, if I went after it.”
Among those on the list:
• Capt. Cyril E. (Buster) Armbrister, who received the Military Medal for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in operations.” Just before the war ended, “with the greatest courage [he] rushed across the front in full view of the enemy guns, [and] gained a small bank from which he bombed the enemy’s only means of escape.” After the war, he became a Hollywood radio and film writer and director.
• Pte. Percival Charles Bland of the 27th Battalion CEF, an accountant at the Hudson Bay Company, who was reported missing at the Somme in 1916. His commanding officer wrote: “He was loved by all the officers of his platoon, and all men thought so much of him throughout his regiment.”
• Capt. William Garland Foster, former editor and manager of the Nelson Daily News. He already had military training in Ottawa and went overseas as quartermaster of the 54th Battalion. Shortly before the war ended, he was injured in the Battle of Cambrai and later died, age 39. His wife, Annie Garland Foster — profiled in Frances Welwood’s new book, Passing Through Missing Pages — served overseas as a nurse, but had returned to Canada by the time of his death.
• James Hurst, a Boer War veteran who worked as a deckhand and purser on the Kootenay Lake sternwheelers. Captured after a gas attack at Ypres in 1915, he spent the rest of the war in a German prison camp. He returned home to Crawford Bay and his job on the steamers. He was also an organist and choirmaster for the church, leading Christmas carolers around town.
• Three nursing sisters, including Jessie Robina Gilchrist, who enlisted with the army medical corps in 1917.
Lots of prominent Kootenay family names are also on the list, including Attree, Grizzelle, Horswill, and Mawdsley.
Crooks says she gathered the information simply because she thought the church might like a more detailed record of the people and stories attached to each name.
“I got interested in some of the men who were in the war but survived,” she says. “I thought I’d like to try to get a picture of all those who went off, not just the ones who were killed.”
Greg Scott says he’s amazed at how much Crooks came up with in a short time: “I was looking at doing it down the line, but thought it would be a lot of work.”
He’s looking forward to writing his own story within the next year to appear on the 54th Battalion website. In the meantime, many of those named are pictured on the site, at 54thbattalioncef.ca.
The card itself is currently on display at Touchstones.