Lansdowne area farmer served in both wars




Submitted photo

Pictured is William Paterson and his wife Margaret (“Daisy”). The Patersons raised eight children on their farm between Neepawa and Arden.

By Kira Paterson

Neepawa Banner & Press

William Paterson (1896-1962) was born and raised in Quebec, however, he spent the majority of his adult life farming in the Rural Municipality of Lansdowne. Before moving to Manitoba, he enlisted to fight in the Great War (WWI) and after he moved, he also assisted in the effort during World War Two (WWII). He didn’t speak much of his time in the two World Wars, but it was quite the story to tell.

He shared a little bit later on in his life with his youngest son, Dennis Paterson, who has lived in Manitoba almost all his life. Dennis shared what he knew of his father’s time in the wars with the Neepawa Banner & Press.

Running off to war

“He was actually a bit of a renegade,” Dennis said about his father’s youth. “When he was about 17...he ran away and tried to join [the military]. And his mum and dad found out that he was away and they managed to catch up to him and took him back home. But as soon as he was old enough, he joined up.”

At age 18, Paterson was able to enlist with the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force to help with the war effort in March 1915. He was assigned to the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and was shipped over to England in June of 1915. By July of that year, he was sent to fight in France. “His service in the First World War was from the 15th of March, 1915 –so the war was going on for a year already– to the 16th of May, 1919. Most of that time was in France, but he was a prisoner of war for most of that time,” Dennis explained.

A foxhole prayer

On June 2, 1916, Canadian forces were fighting in Ypres, as the Germans were attempting to take the high ground the Allies had secured there. “The Germans won that particular battle,” Dennis noted. During this battle, Paterson was wounded. “[He had] a gunshot wound in his left hand and right wrist. Now, he got shot on the watch,” Dennis explained, “During the Second World War, they operated on him and took pieces of the watch out of his wrist yet that had gotten in there and they didn’t know [at the time].” Paterson was lying wounded on the battlefield for a while. “I’m not sure how long afterwards, whether it was the next day or what, but a German soldier came to him... and he said ‘Lord, if you get me out of this mess, I’ll serve you full time,’ because he was a Christian. And he said, ‘God kept his part, but I didn’t. I was out of the will of God.’” God’s end of the bargain was to let Paterson survive the war and that he did.

Taken prisoner

When the Germans found him after the June 2 battle, they didn’t execute him as they’d done to many of the other wounded. Instead, they took him prisoner. He was reported taken as a prisoner of war (POW) on July 14, 1916. He was first taken to the POW camp in Stuttgart, Germany. There, a German doctor treated the wounds on his wrist and hand. He remained in Stuttgart until January of 1917, when he was transferred to another German camp in Mannheim.

“When he was a prisoner over there, of course, he had to work,” Dennis said. “During the time that he was taken prisoner, he took sick. He lost about 40 pounds, he was about 165 pounds [before] and he went down to about 125 pounds. Because of the physical and emotional stress, he sort of lost it and they sent him to a psychiatric hospital, or facility, because they thought he had gone crazy.” According to the records kept of his time as a prisoner, the hospital he was transferred to was called Chateau d’Oex in Switzerland. There, he was diagnosed with a disorder they called neurasthenia. Nowadays, they would categorize it under Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Dennis added, “But once the doctors got him eating and back to health, he was fine, no problem! It was just the trauma and overworking. They used to have to carry 100 pound bags of grain around that they fed the prisoners and the soldiers with. And I guess it just finally got to him, because they didn’t let [the prisoners] eat that well either, they were rationed all the time.”

Paterson stayed at the hospital in Switzerland for quite a while. Then in December of 1918, he was repatriated and brought back to England, where he stayed at a hospital in London for a while, before finally being sent home again. After four years and 23 days in service, he was discharged from the army on May 16, 1919.

Starting a new life

After WWI, Paterson went to university in Montreal and studied agriculture, before moving to Manitoba to begin farming. “He actually came out with the [Soldier Settlement Act, later called the VLA], the Veterans Land Act, for people who were veterans. They could come west –and the west was just opening up in the early 1900s– and get land at a reasonable rate, and so that’s why he came out [to Manitoba],” Dennis said. It was the 1920s when Paterson came to the Lansdowne area, where he met his wife. There he bought land, started a farm and a family.

He lived and farmed there for about 15 years before WWII broke out. His son, Dennis was only two years old at the time.

The Veterans Guard

“My dad decided when the Second World War started that he was going to enlist.” He enlisted on the April 24, 1941 and served on the Veterans Guard until 1947. “When the war ended in ‘45, he was responsible for taking German prisoners back to Germany,” said Dennis, explaining why he was recorded to be in service even after the war was over. “There were all kinds of German prisoners over here and that’s what the Veterans Guards’ job was... There was [a POW camp] in Riding Mountain, they did logging there, they made them work. And there was one at Brooks [Alberta], he was at that one for a while... so they’d go from place to place.”

These prison camps weren’t exactly what one would imagine. They didn’t have fences or walls, but there were boundaries which the prisoners couldn’t cross unless they had permission and were accompanied by a guard. Occasionally, there were escapees.

“Some of the guards were hoping some of the prisoners would escape so they could go after them,” Dennis explained. While he was stationed at Alberta, it was actually Paterson’s job to check every night that all the prisoners were accounted for. One night, he found that two of prisoners were not present and reported it immediately. Because he found out so promptly about the escapees, they were quickly found and brought back to the camp. Paterson was promoted from corporal to sergeant as a result.

As Sergeant, he was given even more responsibilities. “He was in charge of looking after the prisoners, he would give the orders,” said Dennis. According to military records, he was also in charge of rations and quarters for the men, as well as escorting dignitaries who came to the camps for inspections.

After WWII ended and Paterson had finished escorting former German POWs back to Germany, he returned home to his farm about 15 km east of Neepawa. There he remained until he passed away in February of 1962 at the age of 65.