Plaque honouring Petrolia WWI soldier returning home

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Private Newell Hastings

Blake Ellis/The Independent

A plaque, honouring First World War Private Newell Hastings, is being returned to a headstone at St. James Cemetery on Churchill Line near Watford.

The Deadman’s Penny of the Brooke born, Petrolia soldier will be commemorated June 9 near Alvinston.

The plaque was found by a Point Edward couple at an auction and the family contacted.

“It is quite a thrill,” said Robert McFetridge, husband of Irene, a niece of Newell Hastings. The family was not aware of the plaque being missing.

Marion and Mike Dryden of Point Edward were at an auction in Windsor, where they purchased a box of old items in January 2023. At the bottom of the box was the bronze plaque. They were intrigued by the item and were able to connect with McFetridge.

The four-inch diameter bronze plaque was one of 2.2 million sent to Commonwealth families who had a loved one perish in the First World War, said McFetridge. The plaque was placed on the headstone of Hastings parents, John and Leila.

The family would have received the plaque in 1920, but it wasn’t placed in the cemetery until John passed away in 1932. Leila died in 1943.

Private Hastings was born in Brooke Township on the 12th Concession in February 1899. He moved to Petrolia with his family nine years later.

He enlisted with the 149th Battalion in 1917 with his friend, Chester McRichie. He got his first taste of combat on April 16, 1918, when he arrived at the front with the 18th Battalion. Hastings was wounded at Iwuy, France on Oct. 10, 1918 and was sent to No. 7 Canadian General Hospital.

Hastings last letter to his mother written Oct. 15 was to let her know he was doing pretty well. Hastings was in high spirit, saying he was hit by pieces of shrapnel in the leg and in the ribs and his wounds together did not cover more than a quarter and he would “hardly know that they’re there.” Hastings added he was having a good time at a Canadian hospital and the sisters and fellows “do all they can for one.”

He promised to write his mother again but before he could, Hastings died of of complications 21 days later. Hastings was just 19.

Hastings, like most World War One vets, never came home. He is buried at Etaples Military Cemetery in France.

The government gave 1,355,000 families the plaques, called Dead Man’s Penny’s to place on gravestones at home. It took 450 tonnes of bronze to make them.

McFetridge will be the master of ceremonies during the rededication ceremony, as he and Irene will be travelling from their home on Vancouver Island. Irene’s sister, Pamela, will also be attending the ceremony. Irene and Pamela’s father, Jack was the brother of Newell and was only four years old when his older brother died.

The rededication for Hastings is at 2:15 pm June 9 with the Decoration Service to follow.
day service to follow at 3 pm.