Edwin Matthews Pettler


Ashville Cenotaph: PETLER E M

Ashville Memorial Hall: According to the listing on the Wharfedale Family History Society he does not have a plaque commemorated to him. He also does not appear to have been included on the original clock memorial as he is not included in the documentation regarding its unveiling in 1921.

He is misspelt on the cenotaph – it should be PETTLER.

The CGWC website also gets it wrong in another way. His full name was Edwin Matthews Pettler. The CGWC miss the “s” off Matthews. It is there because Matthews was his mother’s maiden name.

Date and place of birth: 7th January 1892 in Belsay, Northumberland.

Connections with Primitive Methodism

Absolutely saturated in it! His father, the Rev Charles Pettler was a PM Minister, his maternal grandfather, the Rev Edwin Windom Matthews, was a PM Minister and to top it his step-grandfather, the Rev Charles Priestley was a PM Minister. All three gentlemen have a page devoted to them on the MPMA website. 


By the time the Great War started Edwin had emigrated to Canada and was living in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He enlisted there with the 46th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry on 6th November 1915. The 46th Battalion was also known as the South Saskatchewan Battalion and by the end of the Great War was commonly known as the “Suicide Battalion” suffering one of the highest casualty rates of all the units serving in the Great War. Of 5,374 men who enlisted with the Battalion, 4,917 were killed or wounded – a casualty rate of 91.5%!

When Edwin enlisted in November 1915 the Battalion had already moved to England and he joined them there in the summer of 1916. Before the Battalion moved to France on 11th August 1916, Edwin managed to pay his parents a visit, at that time he would not have seen them for over 2 years.

The Battalion immediately went to the Western Front and with other Canadian battalions got heavily involved in the 1916 Somme Offensive. After a relatively quiet winter, as part of the Allied Arras Offensive they were involved in the Battle of Vimy Ridge, 9th to 12th April 1917, along with other Canadian Battalions. Edwin was killed in action on the last day of the battle, 12th April 1917. The objective for the Battalion that day was “The Pimple” which they successfully helped to take meaning the Canadian’s were then in total control of Vimy Ridge but at a high cost to the 46th Battalion whose casualties in the four days of fighting numbered 67 killed, 157 wounded and several missing.

Edwin initially was buried in the King’s Cross Military Cemetery at Souchez about 1 mile north-west of Vimy Ridge. The cemetery was extensively damaged in subsequent fighting and his body was exhumed in 1921 and reburied in what is now known as the Lievin Communal Cemetery Extension. This cemetery contains 300 burials of which 100 are Canadians.

Besides the Ashville Memorials and his headstone in France, Edwin is commemorated in Middleton-in-Teesdale where his parents were living at the time of his death although Edwin probably never resided there. They did not get his name quite right on the town War Memorial. There is also a marble tablet measuring 5ft by 3ft 6in in the Parish church bearing the same names and an article in the Teesdale Mercury indicates they once again gave him an extra Christian name.  

Family life

Edwin’s parents were the Rev Charles Pettler and Elizabeth Ann Matthews. His mother died when he 14 months old and his father remarried about 18 months later in the summer of 1894, to Sarah Anne Priestley. Two years later Edwin’s elder sister, Lily, passed away at the age of 6.

The 1911 Census return shows that Edwin subsequently had two half sisters, Lily (4 years younger and presumably named in memory of her deceased half sister) & Gertrude Irene (10 years younger). The Census form gives 19 year old Edwin’s occupation as “Ministerial Student”. At the time the family were living in Eston in Yorkshire about equidistant between Middlesbrough & Redcar. His father was the Primitive Methodist Minister for the South Bank Circuit in that vicinity, getting its name from the River Tees.

Edwin’s obituary in the Teesdale Mercury of Wednesday 6th June 1917 gives an insight into his family life:-

“The Rev. C. and Mrs Pettler, Primitive Methodist Manse, Middleton-in-Teesdale, received the sad news, on Friday, that their only son, Private E. M. Pettler had been killed in action on April 12th, in France. The gallant young man spent three years at Elmfleld College, and was recommended for the ministry, but preferring an open-air life, emigrated to Canada, where he became an acceptable local preacher, and was again invited to join the Canadian ministry, but stuck to farming. In November 1915, he joined the Scout Section of the 46th Canadian Battalion and came over to England the following summer, visiting his parents at Middleton In July. Deceased, who was 25 years of age, was one of five who came on the plan as local preachers at South Bank, four of whom gave their lives for King and Country.”

He departed for Canada from Liverpool on 14th March 1914 aboard the SS Alsation. The ship’s manifest gives his occupation as “Labourer”. Thus one can’t help wondering if his emigration to Canada was to escape family pressure to become a Primitive Methodist Minister. If so, it does not appear to have been totally successful. During 1914 his parents moved from Eston in Yorkshire to Middleton-in-Teesdale. We don’t know the exact date of the move but if Edwin did ever reside in Middleton-in-Tees it was for a very short time.

Canada was even less prepared for war in 1914 than the home country and its standing army numbered only about 3,800 men. On the outbreak of war they had an immediate recruiting drive and during October 1914 31,200 Canadian volunteers arrived in Britain for training. By June 1917 volunteer numbers were 432,000 but only 5% came from the French speaking province of Quebec which made up 28% of the population of Canada. Later that year conscription was introduced but it proved very controversial and there were riots in Quebec.

Although Edwin did not volunteer immediately, probably hoping, like most, it would be over by Christmas, he did not wait to be conscripted. When he enlisted in November 1915, some 20 months after he arrived in Canada, he gave his address as Saskatoon and his occupation as “Teamster”. The dictionary tells me that a hundred years ago a Teamster would have been “a driver of a team of animals”, these days in N America it would mean a lorry driver.  These days Saskatoon is the largest city in the Province of Saskatchewan with a population of 222,000. It was founded in 1882, just over 30 years before Edwin arrived, as a temperance colony.

Edwin’s father did not live to see peace, passing away in early 1918 aged 58. His step-mother lived until 1936 and his two half-sisters lived into their eighties.

The Vimy Ridge Memorial (right) bears the names of the more than 11,000 Canadians who perished in the Great War and have no known grave. Edwin’s grave now lies about 3 miles due north in the Lievin Communal Cemetery Extension.

Comments about this page

  • By Ian Stubbs (13/11/2020)
  • Our name is quite unusual & we are resigned to the fact that it is frequently misspelled.
    He is in fact, my second cousin. I have visited the memorial in Middleton.

    By Margaret Pettler (26/08/2019)
  • Dear David Redhead. Thank you very much for this account of my 3nd or 3rd cousin. His father Charles, was the brother of my paternal grandfather George Pettler. I also live in Canada since 1966.. A lot of the above information is new to us.
    thank you again.
    Margaret Pettler

    By Margaret Pettler (26/08/2019)
  • Edwin had very definite connections to Primitive Methodism (one could interpret his emigration to Canada as an attempt to escape them) and there is no doubt he attended Elmfield College for 3 years.  

    He must be one of the most mis-commemorated combatants of the Great War.

    He appears to have missed out the original Elmfield Clock Memorial and according to the Wharfedale Family History Society does make an appearance in the Ashville College Memorial Hall. He does appear on the Ashville Cenotaph but his surname is misspelt as Petler.  

    He is commemorated in Middleton-in-Teesdale because his parents were living there at the time of his death but I very much doubt if he ever lived there. They give him an extra Christian name on both the town war memorial and a tablet in the parish church – recording him as R. E. M. Pettler.

    There are two Canadian Virtual (on-line) Rolls of Honour and he appears on both. The State of Saskatchewan gets his name exactly right, the National one does not, calling him Edwin Matthew Pettler i.e. the “s” is missing off the Matthews – his second Christian name does not derive from St Matthew but his mother’s maiden name of Matthews. 

    Even the CWGC falls into the “s” trap. If you search the CWGC website using his full and proper name you won’t find him. Dropping the “s” or Matthews altogether does the trick. At least his headstone in the Lievin communal Extension Cemetery, France will be OK as they only include initials. Forces War Records follow suit to CWGC. 

    He does not appear to be commemorated in Belsay, Northumberland where he was born. They do have a plaque hidden away in the school but is said to only bear the names of those who attended the school – Edwin left his birthplace before he was 2. They do commemorate 7 parishioners on-line but none of them are Edwin. 

    He was killed in action on the last day of the Battle for Vimy Ridge when it is said Canada became a nation in the eyes of the world. He does not get recorded on the Canadian National Memorial there because it only carries the names of the 11,000 plus Canadians who have no known grave.

    I contacted CWGC about Edwin Matthews Pettler about the missing “s” on their website. They requested proof which I sent in triplicate. They have just informed me that the error will be corrected when they next update their website.

    By David Redhead (20/04/2018)

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