Members of the King’s Own Calgary Regiment gathered at the Pattison Bridge on Monday evening, holding a ceremony to honour Private John George Pattison of the 50th Battalion, marking the 100th anniversary of both his Victoria Cross and the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
The Pattison Bridge crosses the Elbow River near the Repsol Sport Centre on Macleod Trail.
Pattison was the only Calgarian to be awarded with the Victoria Cross, Canada’s highest honour, during the First World War.
“This is somebody, much like myself and the other members of the reserves in Calgary and Canada, that was able to go over and do this as a citizen soldier–not a professional soldier–and contribute to that level,” Lt. Matt Sherlock-Hubbard with the King’s Own Calgary Regiment said. “I think that’s really significant.”
John George Pattison didn’t intend on fighting in the First World War. But when his 16-year-old son Henry lied about his age to join in 1916, the Calgary man figured going with his son was the best way to protect him.
“George was a little different. He signed up for love–the love of his son,” said Al Judson, curator with the King’s Own Calgary Regimental Museum at the Calgary Military Museums.
Father and son left for Calgary for Europe together. John Pattison ended up at Vimy Ridge.
In the battle on April 10, he jumped out alone to attack a German stronghold, facing heavy fire. Pattison blew up enemy machine guns with a grenade and then charged the remaining five enemy soldiers and overcame them, keeping his battalion safe.
“He sees his friends being killed. He takes the initiative that he has to do something, and he does,” Judson said.
“The 50th battalion went in with 728 men and they came out with around 300. They lost close to 50 per cent in casualties in that battle. It was a bloody affair and it was only as the result of the actions of John George that the objectives were taken and lives were saved.”
Pattison survived Vimy Ridge, but he was killed in action two months later at the age of 42 in Lens, France.
“We all wonder whether we could do it in the same situation. Are we capable of jumping up into the face of machine gun fire rushing and rushing forward? Or are we going to stay in our foxhole and let somebody else do it?” Judson pondered.
Pattison’s Victoria Cross is now on display at the Military Museums in Calgary as part of the new exhibit, War Stories 1917. Personal stories of the battles of 1917 will be on display there until August 25, 2017.
Pattison is one of four soldiers to earn the Victoria Cross at the Battle of Vimy Ridge.