After two years of perseverance, a local veteran will honour a comrade-in-arms he never even met.
Al Schmidt, a veteran now living in Kelowna, was visiting the Cenotaph in Lions Park in Rutland in 2015 when a soldier’s name—Private James Eastwood—caught his eye.
While the name wasn’t familiar, it was how it was listed that struck Schmidt as odd. The name had no listed battalion, dates, or information about where he died, just his name.
Schmidt set out to find some answers. He chronicled his endeavors to hunt down this information, determined to discover even the slightest information about why this information wasn’t on the Cenotaph. Why was there was no information listed about this soldier? Where did he live? What war did he serve in?
The granite cenotaph at Rutland Lions Park was updated in 2009 with bronze markers in order to help preserve the names and information of those remembered. However, no one involved with the renovation knew why Private Eastwood’s information was not included.
After a year and a half of searching and documenting and arriving at numerous dead ends, Schmidt wrote to the City of Kelowna, and his inquiry eventually landed with the city’s Parks Services department.
This is where the search changed gears. Cemetery manager David Gatzke started working with Schmidt and the pair turned their attention to finding out the missing information and making sure it was included.
“There was something truly inspiring about the effort that Al Schmidt put in to recognize this soldier, someone he never even knew,” said Gatzke. “When he walked in to my office carrying a two-inch folder filled with documentation of his attempts at finding out why the information was missing for this soldier, you could tell there was a connection that only a veteran could fully understand.”
Working closely with the Royal Canadian Legion, the Army, Navy and Air Force Veterans Association, Veteran Affairs Canada and the Okanagan Military Museum, Gatzke and Schmidt backtracked to find records from when the plaques went up for the new cenotaph in 2009, as well as details of Eastwood’s service. They discovered the original cenotaph that sat by the old school in Rutland never had Eastwood’s information to begin with.
Eastwood as a Kelowna resident and millwright who was 33 when he enlisted for overseas service in 1914. He served primarily with the 15th Battalion in France and was killed in action at Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917. He is buried at the Nine Elms Military Cemetery in Vimy, France.
“Once we had the information and started to focus on making sure all the details where included, everyone jumped on board,” said Gatzke. “We ordered the marker. Jim McCaffery, president of the Kelowna legion, made a petition to the his organization’s Poppy Fund to purchase the new bronze marker, and Parks Services took care of the installation.”
Even now it’s still unknown exactly why the original cenotaph was missing Eastwood’s details. But what is most important is that his service is commemorated there now, in time for Remembrance Day – 100 years after Vimy Ridge.
And it was all thanks to the enduring efforts of a fellow soldier.