A personal pilgrimage

Paul Herridge
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Marystown native first family member to visit great-uncle’s WWI gravesite

Patti Corcoran has spent the past couple of weeks trying to find words to accurately explain the powerful emotions evoked by the ‘Trail of the Caribou’.

Patti Corcoran was chosen as a chaperone for the Royal Canadian Legion Newfoundland and Labrador Command’s Pilgrimage to Europe earlier this month. During the trip, she was able to visit her great-uncle’s World War I gravesite in Caix, France, the first of her family to do so. Photo Submitted

Mrs. Corcoran, formerly a Mitchell from Marystown, now living in Riverhead, St. Mary’s Bay, was chosen as a chaperone for the Royal Canadian Legion Newfoundland and Labrador Command’s Pilgrimage to Europe.

“It was very emotional and very eye opening.”

The annual trek, which took place this year from June 28 to July 6, pays respect to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians who fought in the conflict.

Mrs. Corcoran said the pilgrimage took the group to the province’s five battlefield parks – Masnieres, Monchy-le-Preux, Guedecourt, Kortrijk and Beaumont-Hamel – each of which has a bronze caribou statue, the emblem of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

“The young people who were with us, you could almost see by the week how impacted everybody had been by it. The more you found out about what the soldiers went through and the conditions they had to fight in, actually being in the trenches that they had been in, it was pretty amazing.”

As moving an experience as it is to visit those venerable sites, the trip took on a special meaning for Mrs. Corcoran, a member of the Ladies Auxiliary with the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 62 in Riverhead, on a more personal level as well.

She became the first member of her family to visit the gravesite of her great-uncle, Robert Pittman, who was killed in World War I on Aug. 9, 1918, at age 25, and is buried in Caix, France. He was born to Thomas Pittman and Elizabeth Ann Withers in Marystown on July 18, 1893, and enlisted with the 87th Canadian Regiment in Montreal, Quebec, on Nov. 29, 1915. 

“It was very emotional and very eye opening.” – Patti Corcoran

The side trip to Caix was not a part of the official planned itinerary. However, Mrs. Corcoran’s aunt had copies of the letters her great-uncle’s father received from the platoon commander and chaplain after his death. Mrs. Corcoran also found more information, including where he was buried, on Veterans Affairs Canada’s website.

“One of the coordinators said, ‘You have all this detail and all this information, and you know exactly where he is. How could we not go there?’”

Mrs. Corcoran said a Last Post ceremony was performed at her great-uncle’s gravesite.

“We had two minutes of silence and sang the ‘Ode to Newfoundland’. It was an extremely emotional, but proud moment.” 

She kept a journal of the tip and took lots of photographs, making copies for her father, Hugh Mitchell, and other family members upon her return.

Mrs. Mitchell said anyone who has a chance to visit the European war memorial sites should do so.

“You hear people talk all the time about ‘trip of a lifetime’ and all that, but I mean that was really the definition of it.”

Organizations: Canadian Legion Newfoundland and Labrador Command, Royal Canadian Legion Branch, Canadian Regiment Veterans Affairs Canada

Geographic location: Marystown, Riverhead, Europe Caix Monchy-le-Preux Kortrijk Beaumont-Hamel France Montreal Quebec Newfoundland

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  • Marion M Fagan
    July 25, 2013 - 22:22

    So very happy U got to do & enjoy this "trip of a lifetime". I'm sure your family was ever so proud of you.