A place of honour at WWI centenary

 In News

Patrons of the Terra Nova Public House will be familiar with the portrait of a World War I soldier that hangs in a place of honour by the pub’s entrance. Anna Muth, who owns the establishment, was lucky to spend a great deal of the first seven years of her life with the soldier in the picture, her grandfather James Ernest Muth.

A Lance Corporal with the 133rd Engineer Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Canada, Muth didn’t talk much about the war, but Anna knew he’d had an eventful one. He was injured and returned to the front three times, he was gassed and hit with shrapnel, and he fought heroically at Vimy Ridge.

She also knew that he’d been introduced to embroidery as a form of shell-shock therapy during a stay at a Sheffield military hospital. Some of his work had even been included in a collage of soldiers’ embroidery that had served as a frontal at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England, until that church’s altar was destroyed during the Battle of Britain in the Second World War.

“He continued to do embroidery throughout his life,” said Anna of her grandfather, who returned to his home of Port Dover after the war and went on to became a father to seven children, a carpenter, a church elder and a village councillor before his death at 83 in 1976.

Anna and her family didn’t need anything else to respect and honour the life of James Muth; their own fond memories and the story of his life were enough. But this past May, a surprise email arrived from a team of British researchers, and three months later, earlier this month, Anna and her brother James (himself named after their grandfather) found themselves in the front row of pews at St. Paul’s Cathedral, guests of honour at the great church’s celebrations of the centenary of the First World War.

It turns out that the frontal survived World War II after all, but it was put into storage because the new altar, replacing the one damaged by German bombers, was built to different dimensions. When it was decided in 2013 that the frontal would be restored to its original glory and used as a centrepiece at this year’s 100th anniversary service, work began to find information on and track down descendents of the 138 wounded Commonwealth soldiers who had contributed embroidery to it.

Those family members found, descendants of about 60 of the soldiers, were invited to London to take part in the August 3 service marking the outbreak of the war.

“We couldn’t not go,” said Anna of her and her brother James, who inherited not only their grandfather’s name but also his military blood – he is a Lieutenant Colonel in the same Royal Canadian Regiment as his namesake and works as an instructor at the Canadian Army Command and Staff College at Fort Frontenac, Kingston. With those credentials, the younger James Muth was invited to read the Lesson during the service, standing at the altar in front of the more than 1,000 people in attendance.

Sitting in the front row with Anna and her brother was the Lord Mayor of London, various Ambassadors to England and even some “lesser royalty,” according to Anna. “It was unbelievable how well we were treated,” she said. “I run a pub in Terra Nova – I’m not used to that kind of treatment!”

Anna and James spent a whirlwind three days in London, and the pomp and circumstance surrounding the First World War centenary was “everywhere,” she said. Upon her return, she took a few days to process what had happened, and to reflect on the life of her beloved grandfather, before tucking a picture of the newly restored frontal into his portrait at the door and getting back to work.

After the service, the altar frontal was transferred to a display case in the sanctuary of St. Paul’s, where it will be on public display until the centenary service commemorating the end of the First World War on November 11, 2018. More information can be found at www.stpauls.co.uk.

Recent Posts

Leave a Comment