A window into the past: The memorial to the Coaker Recruits
At the Church of Holy Martyrs, there's a stained glass window for every Coaker Recruit that died
The memorial to the Coaker Recruits who died in the First World War is much more than a plaque or a statue — it's an entire church.
The Church of Holy Martyrs in Port Union, on Newfoundland's Bonavista Peninsula, was built by Sir William Ford Coaker.
Coaker, a Newfoundland politician and activist, raised a contingent of soldiers who went to fight in the First World War in his name. To honour the fallen recruits, Coaker built a church in their memory.
"All the stained glass windows here in this church have the plaque numbers that carry the names and the service numbers of the recruits who served in the First World War," says Neville Samson.
Samson, a member of the Holy Martyrs congregation, was named for recruit Pte. Neville Samson, his father's uncle who died at the Battle of Cambrai.
"I was confirmed here, I was baptized here, and I attend the church regularly … the Samson families in Port Union have always sat next to this stained glass window here in this church," Samson said.
The window he speaks of has a brass plate inscribed with 3544 Neville Samson Flat Island, Bonavista Bay — his ancestor.
"I think the people who come here are very proud of what this church stands for," said Samson.
During the First World War, Coaker, a politician, activist, creator of the Fisherman's Protective Union, and the man who founded Port Union, called for 50 men to go fight in his place.
In total, 103 signed up. Of that number, 68 passed the medical test and were sent off to the front as the Coaker Recruits.
Bud Norman said his father, Jesse Norman, was just 19 when he enlisted as a Coaker Recruit.
His father returned from the war, but died when Bud was 13 years old.
"When my father enlisted in March of 1917, he was 130 pound he was five feet, five-and-a-half inches tall, as his record says, with a 31-inch waist."
Bud learned about his father's war experience through his war records, but it's not something he was ever told about as a child.
"I just got on the computer, I read a couple books — especially a book that Ed Roberts compiled on the memories of Capt. Sidney Frost, who I knew was my father's captain from his war records."
Ed Roberts, former Lieutenant Governor, has studied Coaker's legacy and written about his recruits in the First World War.
He said the story of the Coaker Recruits is one not replicated anywhere else.
"It's unique certainly in this province and I suspect it's unique throughout Canada," said Roberts.
"There are many instances where there are memorials, [but] to have a whole church dedicated to the memory of these men … it was Coaker's way of acknowledging service and sacrifice and the sacrifice of those men."