By Chris Lowrey
Dr. Roly Armitage got the surprise of a lifetime when he finally connected with the family of his former wartime commander after a visit to a cemetery in France.
Armitage was over in France visiting a familiar site: the grave of his commanding officer during World War II, Lt. Roy Pattinson.
Armitage has been to France several times in the years since the war and always makes a point to visit the grave of the man Armitage said respected everyone under his command.
“He was my officer and I was his technical assistant,” Armitage said. “But he was my personal friend and I thought the world of him.”
Armitage worked under Pattinson for a year-and-a-half before the commanding officer was killed in action in Normandy in 1944.
The two men belonged to an artillery unit that would target German guns.
For decades, Armitage did all that he could to track down the family members of Lt. Pattinson to share the experi
ences the two men had together.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country in British Columbia, Pattinson’s niece Louise Barber had also been searching for any possible connection to her uncle.
She searched high and low, even taking out ads in the Legion magazine looking for anyone who served with Pattinson, with no luck.
Finally, Barber decided to give her uncle’s photo albums to the Victoria School District archivist, Judy Stevenson, in the hopes that she would put the album to good use.
When the local Oak Bay High School organized a trip to France for students to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, a teacher from the school got in touch with Stevenson to see if she could track down any former Oak Bay students who were killed in action and buried in France.
Two names came up. One of them was Roy Pattinson.
The students who went on the trip brought pictures of their school in British Columbia with them and left some mementos on the grave of Lt. Pattinson.
A few months later, Armitage was in the Beny-sur-Mer cemetery in France to check in on Pattinson’s grave.
Unexpectedly, Armitage found the cards left by the students from Oak Bay High School. Finally, he had some kind of a link.
So Armitage got on the computer and emailed Oak Bay teacher Scott Alexander to see if he had any contact information for members of the Pattinson family.
Alexander passed on the information he had, which didn’t include contact information for the family.
So Armitage put his resourcefulness to work and called the Oak Bay municipal hall and got in touch with the town’s archivist Caroline Duncan, who had an extensive Pattinson family collection in the archives.
Eventually, Duncan passed on Armitage’s phone number to Barber — Pattinson’s last living relative — so the two could connect.
Armitage said he had a two hour conversation with Barber and told her how her uncle was killed. The story was so touching that the journalist from the Oak Bay News and Armitage’s editor had tears streaming down their faces.
Despite the levity of the topic at hand, Armitage said Barber was thrilled to have finally heard about her uncle firsthand.
“Well she was so elated,” Armitage said.
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