He wasn’t as young as many of the youth who became First World War cannon fodder. He survived the trenches, returned to Kentville, and died in 1919, a victim of gas poisoning.
Harry David Hutchings was born in 1870 in London, England. He had a wife and son, Ellen Beatrice and Cecil Edward Harry Hutchings, who lived on the Isle of Wight, but he emigrated to Canada alone.
When war broke out, Hutchings enlisted in Halifax in August 1915, joining the Canadian Infantry and serving as a private with the Royal Canadian Regiment.
He saw service in France and Belgium. Sometime after 1916, he was apparently promoted to sergeant. Hutchings was wounded in action and evacuated back home to Canada.
There he contracted phthisis, a disease like tuberculosis, probably as a result of his wounds. It’s an indication that he had likely been gassed while serving in Europe.
Hutchings' died from his injuries at Kentville in April 1919 at the age of 48 and is buried in the town’s Oak Grove Cemetery. Nearby is another soldier from the Royal Canadian Regiment who died in 1919, also from phthisis. Delbert Meister, from New Ross, was just 26.
Now three of Hutchings’ wartime service medals are on sale for 250 British pounds. Roan Hackney, a spokesman for the London Medal Co., says the firm has no idea how the medals made it back to England.
“Most likely, they were sent directly to his next of kin, and this happens to be his parents, who lived in England,” he said.
Hackney says war service medals have always been popular, and the conflict is easily researchable.
He noted that the First World War centenary will not necessarily increase the interest from a medal buyers point of view, but more members of the general public will get a chance to learn about the conflict due to the obvious increased press interest.
The Great War Canadian Expeditionary Forces casualty group of medals that belonged to Hutchings includes a British War Medal, a Victory Medal and a Canadian Memorial Cross housed in its presentation case.
Military burials plentiful at Oak Grove
There are three sections of Oak Grover Cemetery where war dead are buried. Hutchings is situated in the veteran’s plot.
Wayne Baltzer, who is the unofficial record keeper of the cemetery, says the military makes sure this section is well taken care of.
There are a total of 21 burials related to First World War service. They include: George Montgomery, 43; C. Harrison, 24; Gerald Fitzgerald, 24; Henry Woods; Sgt. John McLean, 24; Joseph Shelley, 24, who served with the Royal Newfoundland Regiment; William C. Perry; W.B. Bowers; Gunner John Dick, 29; Edgar Schofield; Major L.D. Chipman, 27; Sgt. Frank Harrison; Robert Craig, K. McKenzie; Cecil Warden; Charles McLean; Major J.B. Gordon-Ralph; and Wilfred Thorburn.
Unlike the others, Thorburn, who served with the 13th platoon of the Canadian Pioneers, has a cross-shaped stone erected by his mother. Another tombstone includes the words: “In affection memory of my dear brother. Onward Christian soldiers.”
Two tombstones indicate Boer War deaths, including L.B. Barclay Webster, an only child who died in 1902 due to exposure after 18 months service in South Africa. There are also seven Second World War graves and six from the Korean War.
History of Oak Grove
Largely shaded now by huge old oaks, Wayne Baltzer loves the beauty of the Oak Grove Cemetery. He is saddened by damage due to storms like Arthur and the action of vandals.
“It makes me so mad when these stones are defaced,” he said. Even visiting school classes have knocked over stones.
He can point to a steep grassy section where unmarked graves are located. There are no stones there, of course.
Baltzer, who has no family members in the cemetery, is creating a detailed database about Oak Grove as a labour of love.
“It’s a big project,” the history buff said.
In many cases, records weren’t kept, particularly during the 1980s, so Baltzer checks old obituaries, other records and touches base with longtime caretaker Gerald Ward.
Originally a Peck family graveyard on the eastern side of Kentville, the earliest recorded grave belongs to Hannah Peck, who died at the age six in 1774.
The earliest public burying ground of the residents of Kentville, Oak Grove dates from July 1, 1817.
Located at the extreme east end of the town, the original half-acre has been greatly added to over the years. Now, several acres are largely filled. No new graves have been opened since 1947 due to lack of space, according to Baltzer, but family plots are still in use. The Elm Grove Cemetery in Steam Mill was established in 1948 to fill the need.