The attestation paper for Private William Henry Travis-Barker. (Contributed)

Looking Back: ‘Because he died that day’

Tthis Remembrance Day marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

Nov. 11 is upon us and we should all remember this day and honour it by paying our respects with attendance at a local cenotaph.

Such respect is particularly important this year as this Remembrance Day marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

I will mark the date as the beginning of the journey that brought about my existence on this earth, as just 10 days before the 11th.

The Battle of Valenciennes had begun at 5:15 a.m. and the Canadian Infantry played a significant role in the two days of intense fighting that began on that first day of the month.

At that battle was Private William Henry Travis-Barker, a 33-year-old gent who hailed from Sheffield, England. But as an immigrant to Canada, he made his home in the Kerrisdale neighbourhood of Vancouver.

It is in Vancouver in early 1916 that this fresh-faced, blue-eyed, brown-haired, 31-year-old man with a scar on his right cheek signed up and was eventually accepted into the 231st Overseas Battalion.

He would leave behind his wife, Amy Agatha (nee Beaston), never to see her again as he fell on the first day of battle at Valenciennes, just 10 days shy of allied victory.

What, you may ask, has this got to do with Pitt Meadows? Very little except for the fact I am here, writing this, because he died that day.

Amy would adapt to life as a widow, likely living a cosmopolitan lifestyle in Vancouver and even spending time in the sunny climate of California.

But back in Canada, in the small town of Innisfail, Alta., her baby sister, Alice, would give birth to a daughter in March 1926, then die a few weeks later.

That baby was my mother, also Alice, and her father needed someone to care for her. Amy’s family called her home to help and soon she had given up her West Coast lifestyle to settle down in the small, dusty, very rural town of Drumheller in southern Alberta.

Seven years later, as the Great Depression marched on, Alice became an orphan as her father passed away, and Amy showed her teeth as she battled for custody of the child from the rest of her family.

The long story made short is Amy won and high-tailed it back to the coast with eight-year-old Alice in tow, and it is in the Vancouver area where my mother grew up, went to school, went out to work and eventually met my father and married him four years before I was born.

Every Nov. 11, for most of my life, I have remembered William Henry Travis-Barker and his sacrifice for his adopted country, and I also thank him for beginning the journey that led to my being here.

He is buried in the Valenciennes (St. Roch) Communal Cemetery, Nord, France, and on my bucket list is a visit there to thank him and others who gave their lives for our victory.

Leslie Norman is curator at Pitt Meadows Museum and Archives.

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