Deborah Chapman is up to one of her favourite fall activities – preparing to take people on her annual “Speak of the Dead” tour.
The Salmon Arm Museum and R.J. Haney Heritage Village curator has been reviewing the cast list, checking her candidates, making sure all are still available, and preparing for a walk through one of the prettiest knolls in Salmon Arm, the Mt. Ida Cemetery.
This year the tour will acknowledge the debt owed to those who served in the First World War. Featured will be war veteran Arthur Brown Ritchie, who made service a lifelong habit.
When the First World War broke out, Ritchie was working in Pavilion as a cow rancher. A century later the events leading up to his enlistment are condensed and mostly forgotten.
What is remembered is that he saddled his horse, rode the 145 kilometres from Pavilion to Kamloops, and joined the B.C. Horse Mounted Infantry. The ride must have been urgent. According to his daughter Mary Wetherill, Ritchie was with the first contingent.
When asked the name of his horse, Wetherill replied, “It might have been Taffy,” lamenting that her brother and sister were no longer available to remember. Those details are gone.
What details Wetherill could figure out were preserved when she wrote her father’s biography for the Okanagan Historical Society Report #63. The former school teacher wrote of an inspiring man who served his country, his employer and his family.
“When he transferred to the First Battalion, Third Battery, Canadian Field Artillery, he saw action at Ypres, the Somme, and Vimy Ridge,” Wetherill said.
During his service, Ritchie was gassed twice and wounded three times.
Risking life and limb must have seemed like second nature to the soldier. After his unit retreated at Ypres under heavy gunfire, Ritchie twice returned to free men and horses from an immobilized wagon. He then carried a wounded soldier to safety. Ritchie was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, an award for gallantry in the field in 1915.
In 1917, Ritchie served with the soldiers of all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Vimy Ridge. Records show 3,598 Canadian soldiers were killed and 7,004 were wounded. In the midst of mayhem, Ritchie noticed a fire had started in an Allied gun pit. He returned to the pit to extinguish the threat, earning the Military Medal for bravery in battle on land.
Ritchie’s memories of the war were committed to letters and postcards to his sweetheart, Olive Belond at home. Sgt. A.B. Ritchie returned to Canada an invalid, needing surgery to remove shrapnel from his leg.
After convalescing in New Westminster, he married Olive in 1918. The couple made Salmon Arm their home, purchasing 80 acres on (North) Broadview through the Soldiers Settlement Board.
More than 20 years later, war erupted in Europe again, and at 45 years of age, Ritchie enlisted once more. He was commissioned as a lieutenant with the No. 7 Company and sent to Scotland to serve with the Forestry Corps, milling lumber for the war effort.
Wetherill says the soldiers called her father “Pop” with affection, a nod to his apparently advancing age. By 1943, Ritchie was promoted to Captain and transferred to No. 17 Company.
By the spring of 1944, both companies returned to Canada where Ritchie engaged in another kind of service. Retired from the military, he went on to serve as parade marshall for Remembrance Day services, councillor for the municipality of Salmon Arm, MLA in the Coalition Government (1945-52), and Salmon Arm reeve (1962-63). It is no surprise that Arthur Brown Ritchie was made Salmon Arm’s Citizen of the Year in 1958.
Ritchie’s story is one of many told during the annual cemetery tour. Join Chapman at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 5 in the old section of Mt. Ida Cemetery. Tickets are $7.50 and space is limited, so call 250-832-5243 to reserve your spot.