As the Avon Maitland District School Board marks Veterans’ Week, I would like to introduce you to my great-great uncle. William Padfield was born the 5th of September, 1888 on the family’s Orange Hill farm near Gorrie in Howick Township, Huron County, Ontario. The youngest son and eighth of nine children born to George Cox Padfield and Sarah Ann Hassard, William followed three of his sisters into the teaching profession. He was actually taught for a time by his elder sister Mary – my great grandmother. Upon completion of his teacher training at Mount Forest, William moved to teach at Colpoy’s Bay Public School near Wiarton in February of 1907. One can only imagine the journey that must have been – he was only eighteen. By 1911, William had moved west to the Prairies (as had nearly the entire Padfield family) and was teaching in Humboldt, Saskatchewan when war erupted in Europe. In March 1915, at the age of 26, William enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and was eventually deployed to France. On September 26, 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, William was killed during the campaign to capture Courcellette. His body was never recovered. I am a moderate pacifist, careful not to honour violence for its own sake or to declare as heroes those who did as was expected of them – terrifying though it must have been. But I do think of William as a hero, along with his sisters, in the war against ignorance at the dawn of public education in Canada. They were pioneers – literally and figuratively – on the front lines of intellectual progress. The Padfields of Howick provided a public service (as long as you were a European settler) that we now take for granted. In their classrooms, Mary, Sarah, Maggie, and William brought literacy, numeracy, and critical thinking to hundreds, if not thousands, of children over their careers. William Padfield never married and had no children. There are no descendents to mark his sacrifice every November. I wonder, though, about the lives he changed in the classroom. How many of his students remembered Mr. Padfield – their teacher – never knowing what became of him. This week as we remember them, I will remember him.

from Colin Carmichael: AMDSB Trustee

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