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Private Ambrose Latour

Appeared in the Seaway News on November 7th 2013.

I am a very big fan of family. My family to be specific. I have often tried to find a way to feature my family in my writing. Originally, I wanted to write about Latour's Corner Store, which was situated at 900 First Street East. It was owned and operated by my Grandmother Rolande Latour (née Séguin). But sadly lack of stories and archival records hampered my attempt to write an article. 

As a researcher, the hunt is just as thrilling as the find for me. I am a firm believer that if something is impossible to find, I am going to find it anyway. Because of this mindset, Wednesday April 3 2013 was a very rewarding day for me.

I have been researching my family’s history for six years now. I have known since the beginning of my journey that I had two great uncles (one on my mothers side, one of my fathers side) who served in World War II. I have not yet found confirmation that my mother’s uncle served in World War II, but I did manage to find vague details about my father’s uncle, Private Ambrose Latour. During one of my many trips to Library and Archives Canada, I was about to fill in the gaps.

Since many of the records at the Archives are not on site, they need to be ordered. Despite the archivist telling me, "It says that A. Latour's file is very thin, it probably isn't worth looking at." I ordered it anyway. On the third of April, I made my way back to the Archives to check out the file. Despite what I was told, my great uncle's file was decent sized compared to many I had seen before. The contents of this file sent me through waves of different emotions. Holding the original letters written by my great grandmother to the government, and reading first hand accounts of my great uncle's journey through the war, had me in tears. As a student of history, war is always a sensitive subject. But for the first time, World War II became personal. Because of my great uncle’s experiences, I felt the emotional horrors of the Second World War on a personal level. I felt the impact it had on my family.

Private Ambrose Latour was born on December 18, 1922, to proud parents Alexander and Marceline Latour of Mattawa, Ontario. He grew to be a young man of five foot eight in height and weighed 131 pounds. He had brown hair and hazel eyes. On December 4th 1941, my great uncle left his job as a truck driver to enlist in the war. He was 19 years old. He became C-21739 of the Perth Regiment, R.C.I.C.

In the file I found a letter from my great-grandmother dated February 10th 1943, voicing her concerns. She opens the letter with a plea, "Chairman of Dependents, Ottawa; Could you advise me if I could keep my boy from going to the fighting front till he is 21 years of age?" She asked if they could keep him in England until he is “old enough to fight”. She states that she will pay to keep him there, in order to ensure his safety. Despite her pleas, my great uncle was sent to Italy to fight.

It was as though my great-grandmother knew her son’s destiny, because at 21 years old on Monday January 17th 1944, my great uncle died in battle. In the folder were two written accounts by soldiers in the same regiment as my great uncle who had witnessed his death. Private Glandon. C., wrote ”…on 17 Jan 44 at 1130 hours saw Private Latour A. get hit from the waist up with a burst of machine gun fire. At 1830 hours 17 Jan Private Latour had never moved, I'm positive he was dead." With this account and the other, I was able to figure out with a bit of research, exactly what was happening when my great uncle gave his life.

Private Ambrose Latour, Private C. Glandon, Private H. White and their platoon were moving forward towards a machine gun post. In order to avoid being hit, the men hid behind edges of haystacks. As the gunfire came to a brief halt, my great uncle decided to take a peak at the enemy’s whereabouts. As he peered over the edge of the hay stack, he was hit with a burst of machine gun fire from the waist up. As his body became pierced with machine gun bullets, he was flung through the air, letting out one long last scream. Private H. White yelled out to him and stated in his written account that my great uncle never responded. An article titled, "A Short History of The Perth Regiment 1939 -1945", taken from The Perthonian, Issue No. 3, August 1945, listed details of this day. "On the 17th of January 1944, The Perth Regiment saw its first action at the Battle of The Arielli River." This is the battle in which Ambrose Latour was killed. 

For many months my great-grandmother waited for information about her son. He was missing in action, and that was all the Government could tell her. After many letters, she finally received a reply. Her son had been killed in action. It took her more than two years to get my great uncle’s last pay, along with money from the government as compensation for losing a child. They received a total of $161.40. Ambrose's siblings (my grandfather, Archie Latour being one of them) received $17.93 as compensation for the loss of their brother. After this run-around to receive money, my great-grandmother also asked for a map of the location her son was buried. The government sent her one. My great uncle, Private Ambrose Latour was buried at the Moro River Canadian War Cemetery, in the locality of San Donato in the Commune of Ortona, Province of Chieti. It is sited on high ground near the sea just east of the main Adriatic coast road. There are 1,615 graves in the cemetery of which over 50 are unidentified and 1,375 are Canadian.

I would like to dedicate this article to my grandmother Rolande Latour (née Séguin), my grandfather Archie (Archilles) Latour and their daughter, my beautiful Aunt Joan who left us on July 20th 2012. I love and miss you all.

Update: March 18th 2014.

Every Sunday I go to my Uncle Jake's for lunch. Family lunches are a lovely little family tradition that's happened since my Grandmother was living.

A few Sunday's ago, we spoke about my Grandfather's brother, Ambrose, who was killed fighting in World War II. My Uncle mentioned that his picture was hanging in the Legion. This morning I remembered what he said, and decided to give the Legion in Mattawa, Ontario a call. 

I would like to thank Danielle from the Legion in Mattawa, Ontario, for being so kind, and for taking this picture for me. For the first time in my twenty-three years, my Great Uncle, Private Ambrose Latour has a face.

This picture is worth more than millions of dollars to me.

The Medals Above:

Left to Right:

1 – Awarded for six months of service in the Army or Navy.
“The Star was awarded for six months service on active operations for Army and Navy, and two months for active air-crew between 02 September 1939 and 08 May 1945 (Europe) or 02 September 1945 (Pacific).”

2 – Awarded for service in Italy.
“The star was awarded for one day operational service in Sicily or Italy between 11 June 1943 and 08 May 1945.”

3 – Defence Metal.
“Although the medal was usually awarded to Canadians for six months service in Britain between 03 September 1939 and 08 May 1945, the exact terms were: Service in the forces in non-operational areas subjected to air attack or closely threatened, providing such service lasted for three or more years. Service overseas or outside the country of residence, providing that such service lasted for one year, except in territories threatened by the enemy or subject to bomb attacks, in which case it was six months prior to 02 September 1945. Under the terms of this last condition, Canadians serving for one year in Newfoundland were eligible and persons serving for six months in Hong Kong were also eligible. The qualifying period in mine and bomb disposal was three months. Canadians serving in West Africa, Palestine and India, other than operational air crew, qualified for this medal. Those awarded the GC or GM for civil defence received this medal. Home Guard and others in Britain qualified for this medal.”

4 – Canadian Volunteer Metal.
“The Canadian Volunteer Service Medal is granted to persons of any rank in the Naval, Military or Air Forces of Canada who voluntarily served on Active Service and honourably completed eighteen months (540 days) total voluntary service from September 3, 1939 to March 1, 1947.”

5 – Participation Medal.
Basically everyone in the army was awarded this for their participation in the war.