Engineer sword returns home

By Rebecca Aldous - North Shore Outlook, 3 Nov 2010

After 96 years, the gleaming silver King George sword found its way home.

It shines under the lights of the North Vancouver’s JP Fell Armoury. Its long pointed blade is smooth to the touch, its craftsmanship combining elegance with power. Etched on its surface is its owner’s name — Percy Ward.

The sword was given to the 6 Field Engineer Company Captain before he boarded a ship headed for the muddy trenches in France during the First World War.

Combat was nothing new to the British native. Twelve years earlier, before he called North Vancouver home, Ward had battled on the hot plains of South Africa in the First Anglo-Boer War. And so the sword awaited Ward’s return, safely stored in his house at 219 Lonsdale Ave.

But how the sword found its way back to Ward’s First World War training base is a tale that took place only a few months ago.

It starts with Brian Seward, a diligent North Vancouver resident who for the past 50 years has been preserving the stories of soldiers who have marched with the 6 Field Engineer Squadron.

Three years ago, Seward opened a small museum on the ground floor of the armoury. His collection began with a few boxes of records and pictures, marked for the garbage bin during building renovations. It has grown to include medals, weapons, uniforms, flags and other day-to-day items soldiers used during battle.

Seward is always on the hunt for memorabilia pertaining to the North Van squadron. He’s found medals in garbage cans, been sent information from soldiers’ long lost relatives and in a tiny Edmonton pawn shop even discovered medals belonging to Ward’s brother, John.

“I paid $50 for them,” he says. “It was kind of a shot in the dark.”

Percy Ward is an important figure in the armoury’s history. He was one of the first to sign on with the company in 1911. Ward trained men at the base and by the end of the First World War, he returned to the North Shore a major.

Ward was also a big name in North Vancouver. In 1909, he started the district’s first real estate business. After the Great War, he went on to be a North Vancouver alderman for four years. In 1935, Ward was awarded the King George Medal for his service to the community.

Ward was also known as Mr. Hospital because he was a government advisor and leading authority in hospital administration in North America.

So when his grandson, Gary Silverton, called Seward having seen an article about him in a newspaper, Seward was, understandably, very enthused. When Silverton offered Seward Ward’s sword, he was moved.

“It is exciting for me because I believe in keeping history alive so it doesn’t happen again,” he says.

Ward gave Silverton the sword and some army gear from when Silverton joined the reserve army. Until that moment, Silverton knew nothing of Ward’s involvement in the military and Ward hadn’t offered anything up. Reflecting upon it, Silverton guesses Ward didn’t want his name use for any kind of gain.

“It’s typical,” Silverton adds. “No one wants to tell the story of building bridges in a war zone and being shot at.”

As for donating the sword to the armoury, Silverton says it just felt like the right thing to do.

“It was sitting in the house. I didn’t look at it,” he says. “If people will get something out of looking at it, that’s great.”

Now it rests in the museum, besides a picture of Ward and his brother’s medals.

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