A First World War veteran’s inclusion in a book by a Vancouver Island author explains how Hillcrest got its name.
Author Jacqueline Carmichael’s Tweets from the Trenches: Little Stories of Life & Death on the Western Front features small stories and illustrations about many Canadians who served in the First World War, including 10 from British Columbia.
Among them is an entry on Norman Sydney (aka Dick) Richards, who was born in Bristol, England in 1897 and emigrated to Salmon Arm with his widowed mother in 1914. He was 16.
In 1917, Richards returned to England to enlist in the British Army and served on the frontlines where he was severely wounded.
Provided by Salmon Arm Museum Curator Deborah Chapman, a copy of interview notes with Richards’ late daughter, Pam, reveal that her father spent the next two years recovering in England.
While there, he met and married Pearl Cullimore, who was serving with the VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment), whose members provided nursing care to military personnel.
In 1919, Richards and his bride relocated to the Salmon Arm home his mother had built in 1915 before she, too, returned to England. The couple had two daughters, Pam and Esme.
Still living in Salmon Arm, Esme Farnham says her father had a piece of shrapnel lodged in the centre of his forehead where there was a permanent dent.
“He would get epileptic fits at night sometimes, which was quite scary; my mother had to put something in between his teeth,” says Farnham. “He had severe headaches and had to make a couple of trips to Vancouver Veteran’s Hospital.”
Farnham says her father rarely spoke about the war, and the epileptic seizures did eventually cease.
Richards, meanwhile, planted strawberries and apples but a dry summer and a cold winter killed that venture. In 1921, after taking poultry correspondence courses, he partnered with Frank Hall to open Hillcrest Poultry Farm.
“He bought an electric incubator, got a bunch of baby chicks from March to June and sold eggs and chickens,” says Farnham. “Some were sent off in little boxes on the train, somewhere in the Fraser Valley usually. He always put one or two extra in, in case they didn’t survive the trip.”
The hatchery closed in 1962 but Richards continued to live in ‘Hillcrest Manor’ and sell vegetables, cherries and flowers from his large property at the crest of 20th Street SE, before it drops down to Auto Road.
When the Second World War erupted in 1939, Farnham says her father joined the Rocky Mountain Rangers and went to Vancouver in an effort to enlist again. But a Salmon Arm doctor who knew him was there and quickly put a stop to his plans to get into active service.
Farnham says her father enjoyed photography, played a lot of tennis and, considering his condition, did very well, going to tournaments and earning a couple of trophies.
“He was an officer and a gentleman, a great dad, quiet, fairly strict, they were very good parents.”
He loved fishing as well and brought a property on Sunnybrae-Canoe Point Road in the 1940s and traveled there by boat.
Richards died in 1986 at the age of 89. Pearl died five years later at the age of 92. Pam died in 2013 at the age of 93.
Author Jacqueline Carmichael became interested in the First World War when an aunt gave her the trench diaries and letters her grandfather had written while serving on the Western Front.
In 2017, Carmichael, then a Black Press freelancer, wrote a piece about the Vancouver Island University Collection in a story for Remembrance Day and developed a passion for bringing to life the names of the soldiers and their experiences in The Great War.
“I was touched by the plight of the people over there because of their letters in this Canadian collection of letters, documents and photos of the WW1 Canadian Expeditionary Force,” says Carmichael, who joined various Facebook groups, became a member of 20 online groups and walked the Western Front in France in 2016.
“I got to know some of these people; I would cry. I really wanted to understand our fight over there and when I was finished, it gave me a whole new perspective on the war and a better understanding of what’s gone into the making of Canada.”
Carmichael says her research also gave her an understanding of the effect of daily SRDs (service ration diluted) of rum delivered to the men in the trenches, despite its unintended result in nurturing addiction as well as dulling pain and fear.
“They had to do it in the trenches; that’s where these men were seeing such gruesomeness; it got them through,” she says, pointing out at the end of combat, men were simply told to move forward and return to being the men their wives needed. “They knew about shell shock or nervous shock, as they called it, but that didn’t factor into the long-term understanding of trauma on the individual.”
Carmichael plans to come to Salmon Arm for a book-signing in the spring. In the meantime, Tweets From the Trenches: Little True Stories of Life & Death on the Western Front is available on Amazon.