Lest we forget . . . Talmage C. Porter

bronze medallion, c. 1920

bronze medallion, c. 1920

On this Remembrance Day, a very special story of a young man who paid the ultimate price of service to his country.  Talmage C. Porter was born 31 October 1898, the son of Frederick Winslow Porter (1855-1910) and Margaret Rebecca Mirabelle Gaunce, known as Mirabelle, (1864-1913) of Gagetown.  Talmage was the eighth child and third son; another child, Cora Olive, was born just after the 1901 Census was taken in May 1901.  The other children were: Viola (1886-1893), Vivian Tuttle, born 1887; Myrtle Annie, born 1888; Hazel Dell, born 1889; Mabel Estella, born 1890; John Wellesley, born 1892; Gerald Ludolph, born 1896.

When Frederick Porter died in 1910, he was buried at Upper Hampstead and the family relocated to Westfield, Kings County by the time of the 1911 Census.  Why the family did not stay on the farm at Gagetown is unknown as the sons were relatively young at this time and did not have careers to support their mother and sisters otherwise.  In 1913 Mirabelle died and just after Christmas 1914, Gerald Ludolph died; both were buried with Frederick Porter and little Viola at Upper Hampstead.

Talmage’s older brother, Wellesley Porter, or Wellie as he was known, joined the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force 8 October 1915 at Saint John.  His attestation papers list his sisters, Vivian, Myrtle and Olive as next of kin, he was unmarried and working as a trackman for the Canadian Pacific Railway.   He was 5 ft. 6 inches tall, dark complexion, blue eyes, brown hair and listed his religion as Presbyterian.  He served with the Canadian Engineers as part of the Canadian Overseas Railway Construction Company.  Wellie returned from the war and in 1923 married Rose Bennett at Westfield.

Oddly enough, Talmage, the younger brother, had joined the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force several months earlier in May 1915 at Fredericton.  Only sixteen at the time, he lied about his age, stating his birth date as 30 September 1896 on his attestation papers.  Perhaps, with his parents dead, living with unmarried sisters and working as a labourer, the war offered a chance for adventure and assuming he survived, opportunities after the conflict.  It’s hard to judge almost 100 years later, but if one looks closely, there is a slight tremble to his signature indicating some fear and trepidation.  At 5 ft. 6 inches tall, he was a little smaller than his brother, Wellie, however he was still a youth by today’s standards.  He had a dark complexion, blue eyes, dark brown hair, a vaccination mark on his left arm and listed his religion as Methodist.

Bourlon Wood Cemetery, France

Bourlon Wood Cemetery, France

Talmage served with the Canadian Field Artillery, 4th Brigade, achieving the rank of Acting Bombardier by the fall of 1918, a period in which Canadians participated in the final push against the Germans and some of the most fierce fighting of the conflict.  In a strange twist of fate, Talmage Porter was killed on 30 September 1918, his 22nd birthday according to his attestation papers, but in reality he was a month shy of his 20th, and six weeks from the Armistice.  The Canadian Forces had retaken the village of Bourlon, France, near the Belgian border, on 27 September 1918.  The exact circumstances of Porter’s death three days later are not known – had he been wounded during the fighting? – was he killed in the aftermath of the battle?  He was buried in the Bourlon Wood Cemetery, a relatively small cemetery with only 245 burials and his name appears on page 486 of the First World War Book of Remembrance.

It’s at this point that the story takes on additional meaning for museums and demonstrates so clearly the importance of accurate and full recording of information when we acquire objects.  While all objects in our collection are treated with the greatest respect and care, some unusual items sometimes sit on shelves or in cases without the attention they require or deserve.  Some objects acquired early in the development of museums, over the decades, and despite our best efforts, lose the stories that accompanied them originally, or staff and volunteers who knew the information move on or retire.  The discovery, or perhaps in this case, rediscovery of the story surrounding the object featured here is one of the most rewarding adventures of our 43 year history.

dog tags, Talmage Porter

dog tags, Talmage Porter

For many years the bronze medallion featured at the top of this story, sat in our military displays with its neat cardboard envelope, and two dog tags, viewed, but not really understood.  All we had for information was the unfamiliar name, and a donor’s name, Mrs. George Rathburn, Westfield.  To an experienced collector, the medallion would have been immediately recognized as a Dead Man’s Penny, issued by the Imperial Government after the war as a token for loved ones left behind by fallen soldiers; but this we did not know.  While researching our current military exhibition, Unsettled Times, a simple internet search of the inscription on the medallion, He Died for Freedom and Honour, gave us clues that led to other resources.  From that online search tumbled out all of the information above – the story of family, of life and death, and of service to his country by a very young man.

bronze medallion, c. 1920

bronze medallion, c. 1920

As far as we know, the medallion and tags are the only link to the life and service of Talmage C. Porter; we have no photographs, unlike Allen Otty no detailed letters or lengthy obituary, we have no current contact with his relatives, no other information except a name, on a bronze medallion given to us by his sister, Myrtle, Mrs. George Rathburn, in 1970.  To some, the Penny’s are common and practically worthless pieces of memorabilia, shunned in favour of shining medals, official documents or full dress uniforms.  But to us, it is now a precious reminder of a brave young man, born in Gagetown, who lied about his age to serve his country, was joined by his older brother at the front, and who demonstrates that life is precious, and time is not something to take for granted. Today, Remembrance Day 2010, I plan to visit the Tilley House, quietly enter the military room, and spend my two minutes silence in memory of Acting Bombardier Talmage C. Porter.  And the next time you visit, look for the little medallion and remember the story of the man behind the name for indeed, he died for freedom and honour.

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