St. Albert veteran Patrick Henneberry says he doesn’t know much about his grandfather, James Patrick.
“I remember once sitting on his lap and that’s it,” he said, adding he would have been about four years old when the man died.
James Patrick died in 1964, but it was just last Wednesday that an important part of his life was returned to his grandson’s hands.
Henneberry received James Patrick’s First World War medals from family friend Helen Boutilier-Inglis Aug. 5 at the St. Albert Royal Canadian Legion Hall.
Henneberry said it was the first time he had seen the medals, the existence of which he just found out about earlier this year.
“I didn’t even know he was in World War One until Helen contacted me with the medals,” Henneberry said.
An Ottawa resident, Boutilier-Inglis said she met Henneberry’s father, Leo, years ago when they were working for Canada’s high commission office in Pakistan. She struck up a friendship with him and his wife Gisela, and became the latter’s executor when the couple died in 2017.
At some point, Leo put James Patrick’s medals in a white envelope and placed them in a safe deposit box at the Royal Bank of Canada branch in Portland, Ontario. Someone later emptied out the box (Boutilier-Inglis suspected it was Leo, and that this happened prior to 2010), but somehow missed the medals. Bank staff found the medals later and held onto them, as they weren’t sure who owned them.
RBC community manager Joe Jarego said he rediscovered the medals a few months ago when he was going through the bank’s records. A history buff, he recognized them as Victory and British War medals, both of which were given to Canadian soldiers in the First World War.
“Those are hundred-year old medals,” he said, and he had only ever seen examples of them in a museum.
“I was just blown away that I was holding a piece of Canadian history.”
Jarego checked the edges of the medals and found a regimental number plus the words “Pte. J.P. Henneberry” engraved upon them, which he confirmed stood for James Patrick Henneberry by using an online Library and Archives Canada database. He and bank staff tracked down the man’s descendents and contacted Boutilier-Inglis, who had dealt with the bank as Gisela’s executor.
Boutilier-Inglis said she got the news in March just before Ontario started its pandemic-related lockdown, and wasn’t able to get to the bank until late July.
“It was actually an amazing surprise,” Boutilier-Inglis said.
She said she happened to be in St. Albert this week on another matter and arranged to give Henneberry the medals.
Link to the past
James Patrick’s service file, available through Library and Archives Canada, shows he was just 18 when he enlisted with the Canadian forces on Nov. 30, 1915. A fisherman and a Roman Catholic, he stood five-feet two-and-a-half-inches tall, weighed 118 pounds and had brown eyes, dark brown hair and a mole on the left side of his chin.
James Patrick arrived in England on Jan. 31, 1916, and served with the 2nd Pioneer Battalion (an engineer unit) as a sapper. He apparently got through the war unscathed, apart from a case of appendicitis in late 1917, and sent $20 of his pay each month home to his mother, Laura. He saw action in France, Belgium and Germany prior to his discharge on May 1, 1919.
Henneberry said his father never told him much about his grandfather apart from the fact that he worked as a fisheries inspector in Halifax. Finding these medals had piqued his interest, and he now hopes to research more about the man’s life.
“I wish (my grandfather) were alive so he could tell me some of his experiences,” he said.
Henneberry said he plans to place these medals alongside his own, his daughter’s and his father’s in a shadow box to bring four generations of military service into one place. He hopes to eventually display the medals at the St. Albert Legion.
Jarego said that is wonderful news, adding that holding the medals had been one of the coolest moments of his life.
“Those medals belong with the family and (should) be celebrated, and I’m glad I had my little part (to play).”