Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
May 20, 2024
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In memoriam

The story of a forgotten soldier

In honour of Remembrance Day, I tell the story of a single soldier. It tells of a different kind of war heroism: the difficulty of returning home, and of continuing daily life after the unimaginable.

On the 6th of September, 1923, nearly five years after the Armistice of 11 November, 1918, the Picton Gazette published the following article:

Seven weeks ago Tuesday Mr. C. J. Pierson left Picton and from that time up to the present his whereabouts has remained unknown to his friends, business associates and relatives. He simply locked the door of his shop and disappeared it seems. From his room at the Globe Hotel he took only an extra suit of clothes, leaving his trunk wide open and his clothing and belongings in it and about the room.

Driving his truck to the home of his father at Pleasant Bay, he had his brother drive him to Trenton where he said he was to meet a traveler. Mr. Pierson’s expressed intention to his brother was to return from Trenton on Friday of the same week. He had also hinted that he would go to St. Mary’s to visit Messrs. Richardson, dealers in cheese factory supplies, but letters from that firm indicate that Mr. Pierson has not been in St. Mary’s.

It is known that he had been in a poor state of health for some time, and had been confined to his room for several weeks this spring. During active service overseas Mr. Pierson suffered shell shock and was a 1st Class Warrant Officer in Imperial Transport. There was a hangover from these injuries which resulted in considerable ill health of late. 

It is quite possible that Mister Pierson had worried considerably over his physical condition and decided to give up his business as an implement dealer and leave town.

Not all casualties of war happen on the battlefield. Following the Great War, many soldiers returned home without leaving their suffering behind in Europe. Authors such as Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf would explore the tragic effects of shell shock (what we now call PTSD) in more than one character.

Who was this Mr. Pierson? Where did he come from and where did he go? There is no further mention that I can find in the pages of this newspaper. With the help of the Marilyn Adams Genealogical Research Centre in Ameliasburgh, however, I have been able to construct a fragmentary biography.

Charles James Pierson was born July 23, 1884 in Hillier, the firstborn son of Willard R. Pierson, a farmer. The family had a distinguished military history, dating back to Charles’s great-grandfather, Colonel James Pierson. He designed and built the first Fort Henry at Kingston during the war of 1812, and later settled in Prince Edward County.

Charles has a military record for the whole of the First War. He joined the army in 1914, at the age of 30. There is evidence that he suffered from “flat foot.” He was regularly examined concerning his boots. The frequent medical records would seem to suggest that he was encouraged to quit. Nevertheless, he remained in active service throughout the war.

He was discharged in 1919, only when the army demobilized. He is listed as Staff Sgt. Major at the time. The description of his rank in the Gazette article, though, suggests that he may have stayed in service following demobilization.

Between this time and his disappearance from Picton in June of 1923, he appears to have been a mechanic and “commercial traveller,” as suggested by the details of his business in the article.

Was Charles J. Pierson ever found after his disappearance?

Yes, although the circumstances of his return are unknown.

In the 1931 census he is listed as living with his father, Willard, on the family farm in Hillier. He is single, and 46 years old. His occupation is listed as “farm labourer.” The little else we know about Charles J. Pierson is on his death certificate.

He had high blood pressure, and died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 22 August, 1947 at the Veterans’ Wing of the Civic Hospital in Ottawa, where he had been for six months. His permanent address is listed as the Globe Hotel in Picton, the very place he had abandoned in 1923. His occupation is listed as “Veteran,” for 25 years. This suggests that he retired from the army in 1922 — shortly before his disappearance. It is signed by his brother, Willard E. Pierson, of Consecon. He is buried at Wellington.

In the Young Family Genealogy there appears the following annotation concerning Charles J. Pierson: “Deceased 22-8-47, from war disabilities.” In this reading, Charles J. Pierson was a 63-year-old veteran who finally succumbed to injuries incurred in the line of duty, thirty years before.

Not all soldiers die on the battlefield.

May he rest in peace.

This text is from the Volume 193 No. 45 edition of The Picton Gazette
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