Remembering Charles Pettit
Each year Orillians honour our fallen soldiers on Remembrance Day. This year, this day of observance was like no other in recent history, as we were not able to gather at the Cenotaph or gather in groups to participate in Remembrance Day ceremonies.
We can still honour our fallen in other ways. One way would be to acquire a copy of local historian Jim Watt’s book, "Orillia's Fallen: World War II - The Boys That Didn't Make It Home,” published in 2014. Jim’s book makes the local effects of World War II accessible to history students. Watt documented 88 young men from Orillia and surrounding area who died while in service in this war.
In past years, guided by teacher Leanne Young of Orillia Secondary School (OSS), students have researched local soldiers who died in World War II using Watt’s book as a resource. In spring 2019, before their school trip to Ortona, Italy and Beny-sur-Mer, France, a group of Orillia Secondary School students presented at the History Speakers Series at the Orillia Museum of Art & History (OMAH).
As local historian John Merritt noted in his February OMAH Speakers presentation on the Black settlement at Oro Township, our understanding of history changes as other sources of information become available. That also applies in this case. The students asked for a clearer photo of one of the soldiers, Charles Pettit, hoping that OMAH’s History Committee could help.
Community connections are invaluable for research. Kay-Anne Broger, then History Committee Secretary, remembered an acquaintance in Orillia whose maiden name had been Pettit. A few weeks later, Carol Noy, daughter of George Pettit Jr., and her cousin, Sharon Cook, whose mother, Amelia, was Charles Pettit’s sister, shared a treasure trove of photos and documents concerning Charles Pettit with OMAH’s History Committee.
Sharon Cook is the Pettit family archivist. She organized family photos and documents into binders. Her Uncle Charles’ life and death were in one of those binders. Charles was baptized at St. James Anglican Church in Orillia. Charles grew up in Orillia, was a graduate of Orillia Collegiate Institute and worked at Longs. Carol and Sharon remembered their Uncle Charlie as a handsome, jovial young man.
His Godparents were and Mr. and Mrs. Mungham. Helen Mungham was former Mayor Clayton French’s sister. Charles was the youngest sibling of three. In 1910, his parents had emigrated from Yorkshire, England to Orillia.
Charles’ father, George, was a bricklayer by trade, knowledgeable in building skills and an athlete. George had built his family’s brick home on Millard Street.
Families tried to be as self-sufficient as possible. Carol and Sharon remembered that most of their grandparents’ neighbours kept chickens. Grandma Pettit also kept goats, for milk.
Losing their youngest son in the war affected his parents deeply. Sharon and Carol remember that after Charles’ death, their grandparents seldom smiled.
Sharon’s mother, Amelia Pettit Cook, made a trip to Europe to visit her brother’s grave after World War II ended.
For more information on Charles Pettit’s gravesite you can visit the Veteran’s Affairs Canada site: https://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/memorials/canadian-virtual-war-memorial/detail/2059966
Charles is buried at the Beny-Sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery in Calvados, France. There are 2,048 burials in Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery. Lest We Forget.
Thanks to Sharon Cook and Carol Noy, Jim Watt, Kay-Anne Broger, Leanne Young, OSS students and OMAH’s History Committee, Charles Pettit will not be forgotten.
More information about Charles life and a clearer photograph of Charles have been made available to local history buffs.