Peter William Slade with some of the overlooked WW1 soldiers who should have appeared on the Abbotsford cenotaph.

Peter William Slade with some of the overlooked WW1 soldiers who should have appeared on the Abbotsford cenotaph.

Detective work discovers overlooked World War I soldiers

How an Abbotsford man found the names of more than a dozen soldiers left off memorial cenotaph

Peter William Slade thinks there may be as many as 20 soldiers who’ve been left off the cenotaph in Abbotsford.

So far, the hunt by the retired professor of chemistry-turned detective has found 13 Abbotsford-area residents who fought for Canada during World War 1, but were not included on the cenotaph plaque.

Antonio Donatelli“If people went through that, they have a right to be recognized,” Slade says.

His search for overlooked local soldiers began last year.

Slade, a former Legion vice-president who started the Vimy Ridge Day candlelight vigil held on April 9, 2011 in Abbotsford, was interested in locating more ancestors of WW1 veterans from Abbotsford.

That search led him last year to Kris Foulds, the curator of collections at The Reach Gallery Museum in Abbotsford.

Foulds had noticed a discrepancy between the names on the Abbotsford cenotaph and names published on local newspaper honour rolls of soldiers enlisted, wounded or killed during WW1.

There seemed to be a number of soldiers who should have been included on the cenotaph, but were not (One of them, Antonio Donatelli, is seen here pictured in uniform).

Finding them required long hours of detective work, poring through cemetery records, war archives and archived newspapers of the day, and deducing from the sometimes cryptic entries who would be considered an Abbotsford resident based on today’s boundaries.

In the case of Sgt. Arthur John Witchell, Slade found his evidence within a reference by the Abbotsford Post newspaper (shown below) to a fundraising initiative at the Trethewey sawmill on Mill Lake, that listed Witchell as one of the people who worked and probably boarded at the mill.

It was proof that Witchell was an Abbotsford resident.

Other clues that assisted Slade were entries that listed people in the newspaper as soccer players for Mt. Lehman F.C. or as a “contingent of Abbotsford Men leaving for the War”.

In the case of another soldier, private Ellsworth Albert “Chappie” Chapman, Slade was able to determine that Chapman was an Abbotsford resident who served in the Seaforth Highlanders and missed the iconic battle of Vimy Ridge because he’d been gassed a month before.

Chapman, Slade learned, was sent back to his unit following a long stay in hospital and died during the battle of Passchendaele.

Slade says the omissions from theAbbotsford Post 1915 Abbotsford cenotaph are accidental, the result of “more difficult” communication of information during WW1 and changes in local municipal boundaries over the years since then that have confused the issue of Abbotsford residency.

Honour rolls were published in differerent papers for residents of Abbotsford, Matsqui and Sumas.

What is now the city of Abbotsford used to be two different municipalities, Matsqui and Sumas, with Abbotsford a community of Sumas.

It appears some names were left off simply because the soldiers lived in communities that were not part of Abbotsford back then, but eventually were amalgamated into the municipality.

This year, 10 of the forgotten Abbotsford veterans confirmed by Slade were honoured for the first time.

Candles were lit and placed at the base of the cenotaph for Pte. Ellsworth Albert Chapman, Pte. James McDonald, Pte. George Knox, Pte. Osmond Kidwell, Second Lte. Langley Latton Attwood, Sgt. Arthur John Witchell, Pte. Percy Farr, Pte. Antonio Donatelli, Pte. Norton Carter and Sgt.Murdock Gillis.

An additional three have been confirmed since.

“I keep finding more people,” Slade says.

He is working on a book about the overlooked soldiers.