William Richardson Boyle was a great uncle in every sense of the word.
Although Boyle was technically a great uncle to Joan Newton and her sister, Pat, he preferred to be simply be called Uncle, Joan explained. “He was a carpenter by trade and built the family home in Burnaby we grew up in before I was born,” she recalled. “My first memories of Uncle are helping him in his vegetable garden. He loved gardening and tinkering on his workbench.”
A prized possession for Joan remains the step stool he built when the sisters were not tall enough to reach the sink to brush their teeth or get items on the top shelf in the kitchen.
Joan lived with Uncle from the time she was born until he went into a home for the final three years of a life that spanned 94 years before he passed away in 1981. “Putting him in a home was one of the most difficult decisions my mom ever had to make. My dad died when I was six, so Uncle was the man of the house for the three of us. We lived close enough to my elementary school that I could come home for lunch, and he would have soup and a sandwich ready for me every day.”
Uncle was a proud member of the Legion, but never talked about serving in the First World War, except when the weather was cold and damp and his shoulder ached from the shrapnel that was too embedded to remove. “He only stopped going to the Legion after those he served with passed away.”
Boyle was born in Coleraine, Northern Ireland in 1887 and moved to Canada when he was 22 in search of a new life and work as a carpenter. He lived in Winnipeg for a year before moving to New Westminster. Boyle joined the 11th Battalion of Canadian Rifles in July 1915, and served on horseback in France and Belgium. “I found a picture of him in uniform on a horse in the little cardboard box where he kept his mementos,” Joan noted. He was wounded at Vimy Ridge and discharged in November 1917 following treatment at four hospitals in France, Scotland and England.
Joan was able to obtain his service records 15 years ago. “Although it’s fascinating to read, it’s painful and emotional as well. As I’ve gotten older, I find myself watching more documentaries on veterans. It’s given me a better understanding of the men and women who defended our country, the sacrifices they made, the price they paid so we have the freedom and the way of life we enjoy in Canada. No one can imagine what they went through, especially the horrors of trench warfare in the First World War. Sometimes we take that for granted, especially those of us who never lived through a war.
“That’s why Nov. 11 is such an important date for me, why I go to the ceremony every year at Veterans Park and to the Legion after to pay my respects to those who served and those who serve today. We owe so much to them, to show appreciation for what they did.”