Thursday, 22 September 2016

Week 38: William Joseph Henry Palin

My maternal grandfather was one of 16 children.  Fourteen of these children lived to adulthood and each one has an amazing story to tell.  This week's blog is about the first born son.

William Joseph Henry Palin (aka Harry) was born in Gloucester in 1877 and was the first of his immediate family to emigrate to Canada, in May 1902.  His daughter has his briefcase which is engraved on the clasp "W.J.H. Palin from his Sisters May 1902".  (The Victorians loved to engrave things.  They later gave him a walking stick with a silver handle engraved similarly).  He worked in Montreal for a while, believed in a bank, and then went to Manitoba and took up an undeveloped piece of land (possibly a Western Land Grant).  His daughter states that he lived in a sod house at first until he was able to build a more permanent house. In 1908 his brother Kyrke and wife Mary and children arrived from England and took up the adjoining piece of land.   In 1911 Harry went to Amaranth, Manitoba.

Now at some time Harry had returned home and returned to Canada in 1913 with his sister Margaret Agnes, aka Peggy.  That ship’s passenger list is dated as the arrival 2 Aug 1913 in Quebec upon the Royal Edward and port of departure was Avonmouth, England.  On that passenger list Harry is marked as returned, Peggy is not.  (I have not been able to find the ship’s manifest or passenger list for Harry’s first trip to Canada in 1902 or his trip back home pre Aug 1913)
Harry stayed on his farm until he enlisted in the army in 1915.  He was wounded, for at least the third time, at Poperhinge, Belgium in 1917 and had his left leg amputated below the knee.  The story goes that Harry laid in a ditch all night after being wounded and when rescued the next day was so deeply unconscious that he was thought to be dead or near dead and was put in a hut at the field hospital with the corpses.  His brother Cecil was with a different unit not far away and somehow heard that Harry was wounded and went to the hospital.  Cecil was told that Harry was dead but insisted on seeing the body, and discovered that Harry was still alive, so he was then revived and had the first of several surgeries.  Harry then spent some time recovering in England and he was sent back to Canada.
Feb 1917 ship Carpathia landed at Halifax
Harry then worked in a munitions plant in Montreal until the end of the war and then went back to Manitoba and farmed with his brother Kyrke.  He was very stubborn and determined but it must have been very hard for him.   Harry's leg (stump) was often sore and the artificial leg was heavy.  His nephew, Arthur, had said that he was sent out to a field one day with his Uncle's lunch and found him plowing behind the horses on his knees, and his artificial leg was lying under a tree.

In the 1921 census, we find Harry still in Manitoba and now his widowed brother Hugh and Hugh’s two children and his youngest sister, Lilian Annette, is living with him. Sometime after the 1921 Canadian census, Harry left Manitoba and got a farm at Newburgh, near Woodstock in New Brunswick.  Family speculation thinks there was some assistance for this under the veterans' land act; certainly farming in Manitoba was very difficult as the crops were often wiped out or badly damaged by frost, hail, grasshoppers, drought, etc.

On May 18, 1924, Harry wrote a letter to his mother and stated that he was in the veteran's hospital being outfitted for a new and better leg.  Now he would have the new one and a "spare".

When Harry became engaged to Hazel Marie Thompson, she wouldn't consider living on the farm and so Harry got a job with the Bank of Montreal in Woodstock (he had worked in Barclay's Bank in Gloucester before coming to Canada).  Harry and Hazel married in 1924 in Woodstock.  (Of great interest was finding the marriage certificate and seeing that Harry’s cousin, Henry Venables Palin, traveled from Wales and was best man at the wedding.) 
Carrie Thompson, Harry Palin, Hazel Thompson, Capt. Henry V Palin  Sept 1924
Hazel’s father Mr. James Thompson retired from the railway in 1923 and her parents bought a house in Woodstock on Queen Street South and Harry and Hazel were married at that house and lived there with her parents for several years.   Harry’s mother and sisters lived at 816 Broadway which was just about a ten minute walk from the Thompson’s home.   Harry’s wife, Hazel became quite good friends with his sister Rhoda. When Rhoda got married, Hazel was Rhoda’s maid of honor.  Sometime later Harry and Hazel bought a larger house on Grover Street at the other end of town.  They had three children, Arnold, Frank and Elizabeth.

After several years he joined Canada Customs and Excise and worked as a customs officer at the border station between Woodstock and Houlton, Maine, and retired on his 68th birthday, November 30, 1945.  He had been asked to stay past normal retirement age because of the manpower shortage during the war, and he had volunteered to do night duty during that time, from midnight to 8 a.m.  There was very little traffic during the night in those days, and he wrote a memoir of his boyhood on Customs letterhead to pass the time. (you can find that memoir here)

Harry had a great sense of humour.  His daughter remembers Harry being driven home from work one morning and getting partly out of the car, laughing, and saying "I broke my (artificial) leg, bring me my crutches".  Harry went to the veterans' hospital in Saint John once a year and stayed for two days, having checkups and his leg being "tuned up".  She states the she doesn't think better legs were available until after the Second World War and that if only he could have had a leg like Terry Fox his life would have been so much easier, but he never complained.

It has also been said that every year Harry would take place in the Remembrance Day Parade.  He would wait until the parade came in front of his house and then join in and walk to the end, which was not as far to walk.
Remembrance Day 1938
When Harry retired he wanted a larger property (he still had the urge to be a farmer) and they bought a large house with 10 acres of land just outside St. Stephen, N.B., which is further south but also on the Maine border.  Harry had a large vegetable garden and kept chickens and a cow until his health began to fail.  In 1952 he became a resident of the veterans' hospital in Saint John as he was suffering from vascular dementia, and his wife and daughter moved to Saint John to be near him.  Harry passed away in 1954 at the age of 76.

You can find Harry in the tree here.

A HUGE thank you to Harry's daughter, Elizabeth, with out her help and collaboration,
this amazing story would only be half told. 

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