British Columbia

2 names, 1 grave: B.C. veteran's backstory revealed after historian unravels cemetery mystery

The hidden story of a wartime veteran buried in cemetery in B.C.'s Interior has been unexpectedly revealed after a local historian started digging into the past.

William St. George Voyle Coles went by the name of George Frost

The name William St. George Voyle Coles appears on the grave but, according to the city, someone called George Frost was buried there. (David Humphrey)

The hidden story of a wartime veteran buried in cemetery in B.C.'s Interior has been unexpectedly revealed after a local historian started digging into the past.

David Humphrey, a volunteer at the Cranbrook History Centre Archives, was working on a project with the local legion to identify veterans buried in the town's cemeteries.

He started looking into the history of a man named George Frost who, according to the city of Cranbrook, had passed away in 1960.

"The city map showed me the plot where he should be buried and when I got to that plot, I found the marker for William St. George Voyle Coles," he told Sarah Penton, host of CBC's Radio West.

"This obviously gave me a bit of a concern as to two names on one plot."

Tracking names

His first thought was that someone was buried in the wrong grave.

But when Humphrey dug deeper, he found that the city had no references to a William St. George Voyle Coles and no death certificate showed up either.

Humphrey "gave it a bit of a head scratch" and started investigating.

He found an old marriage certificate and tracked it to a wedding in Kamloops in the 1920s.

From there, he had the name of a woman who, he discovered, had died in Vancouver nearly three decades ago.

"Fortunately, [her death certificate] had been signed by her daughter and that gave me another name to track," Humphrey said.

David Humphrey detailed the mysterious veteran's family tree, up to his marriage. (David Humphrey)

On a hunch, he looked up the name in the phone book.

The woman who picked up his call said, yes, she was Coles's daughter and asked why he was calling.

"I'm sure I caught her off guard with my phone call," Humphrey said.

When he told her about the name confusion on the grave, she laughed.

"She was chuckling because George Frost was the name that her dad used to use as a nom de plume when he didn't want to be found," he said.

The hidden story of a wartime veteran, buried in cemetery in Interior B.C., was unexpectedly revealed when a local historian starting digging into the past. 9:15

'Bit of a mystery'

Coles had served in India in the British Army and, after the Second World War, left his family and dropped off their radar.

Tracking the veteran's pseudonym revealed that he had moved to Yahk, south of Cranbrook, and lived there for 20 years. Everyone in the community knew him as George Frost.

"He was a bit of a mystery to everyone when he was buried," Humphrey said.

"I assumed he never shared with his friends the true name that he was born under."

CBC requested an interview with the daughter but she declined.

Humphrey said the daughter knew Coles was buried in Cranbrook and had arranged for the grave marker with his real name, not knowing he had lived under a fake name for decades.

"I was really pleased to be able to share that information with her. It filled in some of the time that she hadn't known about what her dad was doing," Humphrey said.

With files from Radio West

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