Each Monday, we will share a brief biography of a soldier of the First World War with a Vimy connection. Today we honour:
Harold Percival “Percy” James
Harold Percival “Percy” James was born in Montreal, Quebec on May 5th, 1891, before moving to Paris, Ontario with his parents. He enlisted on November 11th, 1914 with the 19th Battalion (Central Ontario). Harold’s unit left for overseas on May 13th, 1915 from the port of Montreal. He would remain overseas until 1919, serving after 1918 as part of the Canadian Army of Occupation in Germany.
While overseas, Percy wrote home extensively to his family, though rarely discussing the events of war, in an effort to save his parents from worry. His letter dated April 8th, 1917 makes no mention of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. Percy’s service record makes for an interesting study, having been tried and convicted two weeks after the Battle of Vimy Ridge for “without reasonable excuse allowing to escape a person whom it was his duty to guard”. Considering the nature of the war at this time, there is likely more to this story but unfortunately the details are lost to history. Upon serving his punishment, Percy rejoined his unit. He was later promoted to the job of Armourer, likely making use of his pre-war occupation as a machinist. In 2007, Percy’s war letters were featured in the script of the Canadian documentary “Vimy Ridge: Heaven To Hell”.
On May 24th, 1919, Percy returned to Canada, married his highschool sweetheart, and eventually settled in Goderich, Ontario, working at the Purity Flour Mill. Percy and his family would attend the 1934 Canadian Corps Reunion, where Percy’s daughter, Willa, would see the massive cardboard replica of the Vimy Memorial in Riverdale Park. It stuck in her mind as something she would want to see.
In 2015, at the age of 90, Mrs. Willa Rivett finally made her pilgrimage to the Vimy Memorial. Speaking in 2017, Mrs. Willa Rivett says it felt like “hallowed ground”: “Emotionally, the Vimy experience was and still is overwhelming. Such losses for our country. I just wanted to think of the tremendous courage and pride in those soldiers. At Vimy, when it was learned that I was the daughter of a Vimy Veteran, a couple of Australians asked if they could take my picture. My 15 minutes of fame. From the winding road entrance to Vimy, lined with Maple Trees and the Memorial, it is so Canadian. I was, and am, so proud. I wish all Canadians could live the Vimy experience.”
For more of Percy’s story follow this link: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/like-pressed-heather-heroic-story-of-vimy-ridge-resurrected-in-letters-home/article722150/