Who were these soldiers?

Published on March 28, 2012
Anyone with information pertaining to these men is encouraged to contact John Sutherland.
Karen Wells photo

LEWISPORTE - There is a group of men honoured on a plaque at the local library. In fact, the Lewisporte Memorial Public Library was named in honour of these nine great men.


The Pilot


LEWISPORTE - There is a group of men honoured on a plaque at the local library. In fact, the Lewisporte Memorial Public Library was named in honour of these nine great men.

They are men who died in World War I and II. Included from WWI are Joseph Russell, James B. Freak, Joseph Osbourne, Chesley Bennett, Jabez W. King, Lewis Woolfrey, George Small and George Howse. Sgt. D George Northcott fought and died in WWII.

The plaque was erected on Nov. 11, 1959. During a public function held at the library about seven weeks ago, Library board chairperson John Sutherland made note of the plaque located at the entrance to the building. While he read off the names, what he realized then was that he didn't know much more than that about these men who died fighting in the World Wars.

Mr. Sutherland approached the Library board with the idea of researching the names of each man and compiling whatever details were available about their military careers. With this information the goal is to make it part of a display at the library so people can learn just who these men were.

The board quickly agreed to Mr. Sutherland proceeding with the research project. For about a month now he has been seeking out the pertinent details. He is following many avenues of potential sources of information. One of those had been the Royal Canadian Legion, which closed a few years ago in Lewisporte.

"I was hoping the Legion would be able to provide assistance," he said. "Unfortunately all the Legion records were stored in the basement. They got wet and all those papers were destroyed."

Mr. Sutherland is hoping Town council minutes from the time when the plaque was first placed at the library in 1959 still exist and will produce some information.

So far he has had great success with finding information with the assistance of Emily Gushue from the Provincial Archives at The Rooms.


He has been able to access information on almost all of the men. For example, he has a file pertaining to 21-year-old James Freak right from his Attestation Paper for the First Newfoundland Regiment dated June 6, 1915; to the Casualty Form - Active Service noting that he had been killed in action at Beaumont Hamel on July 1,1916; to his family seeking the balance of his estate from the military. The Lance Corporal had served a total of one year and 26 days in the military. His burial site was noted as, "Grave No. 7, Knightsbridge, 1 mile N.N.W. of Hamel, 4 and a half miles N. of Albert."

Mr. Sutherland also noted in the documents from an Inventory of Effects pertaining to Mr. Freak that made him pause for thought. Amongst those effects was a knife, photos, letters and a lock of hair.

"If he was carrying a lock of hair with him into war it had to belong to someone significant in his life," said Mr. Sutherland. "I think it would be so interesting to know who that lock of hair belonged to."

While Mr. Sutherland has access to the military records, he would encourage family members or people who might have known of these men to contact him.

"I am interested in anything connected to these individuals as soldiers," he said. "People may have documents, photos or stories that they can share.

"These items (which could be recorded through photography) and stories may have been passed down through the generations. There may be the story of the day the horrible telegram arrived notifying the family a loved one had been killed or other stories about these men."

Each of the men named on the plaque was from Lewisporte. Imagining that each one had walked the streets of the community Mr. Sutherland calls home and how they died in war, sometimes the research touches close to home.

"I have to make myself stop doing that, wondering what they saw here and during wartime," he said. "I tend to get lost in thought wondering what this individual was like and what he might have become if they had returned from war.

"These men were volunteers. All of them were under 30. Odds are they were never outside of Newfoundland up to that point (of enlisting). They would have gone to St. John's and then been shipped on a boat through a dangerous passage to Britain for two or three months of training. Then it would be off to places like Turkey and France where people like Mr. Freak met their end."

While Mr. Sutherland has been successful in finding some information on the majority of the men, he has been unable to obtain any details about Joseph Osbourne.

Anyone with information on, or artifacts pertaining to any of the men Mr. Sutherland is researching can contact him at 535-2324 or e-mail war.heritage@hotmail.com.

In addition to the information being compiled into a publication for the library, Mr. Sutherland welcomes anyone who might be interested in obtaining a copy of the publication once completed to contact him as well at the above information.