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Centennial celebration of Vimy honours 13-year-old soldier from Hillier

The sun shone on the House of Falconer in Picton Sunday afternoon, for a special performance marking the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Stark contrast from a century ago when Canadian soldiers captured the strategically important ridge from the Germans in rain and sleet. Among them, one of the youngest soldiers – if not the youngest – from Prince Edward County.

Robert Clarence Thompson, of Hillier, was a 13-year-old student at Prince Edward Collegiate Institute when he enlisted in 1915.

Robert Clarence Thompson, of Hillier

He was in for 33 days until his father got authorities to release him. But he re-enlisted at Wellington in March 1916 with the 155th Battalion and went overseas in September 1916. After six months training in England, he went to France and served with the 224th Battalion for six months and took part in the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

Thompson’s age was discovered once again and he was returned to Canada in October, 1917, and discharged. Determination saw him re-enlist in Toronto in November. His First Depot Battalion was rushed to do relief work when Halifax was blown up before daylight, in the fog of December 6.

He was promoted to Sergeant-major at age 15 and returned to France. He was just 16 when the armistice was signed November 11, 1918.

Sunday, three PECI students – Cori and Codie Goodman and Maeve Sanderson – helped tell the boy soldier’s story with musicians Suzanne Pasternak and Mark Despault and singer/songwriter Lenni Stewart.

A variation of the show was first performed in 2009 as part of Pasternak’s Kerosene Lamp Concert Series. On both occasions, members of the Thompson family were in attendance.

When Clarence Thompson came home he worked at the family egg and creamery business at Peeswater. The family had lived in Prince Edward County for about 12 years as their father ran the Cloverdale Cheese Factory at Wellington.

John Thompson, Clarence’s son, travelled with his wife Brenda from Waterloo to see the show and thanked the cast for a moving performance.

“It was well done in this unique setting,” he said. “We appreciate the opportunity and how fitting, on the anniversary date. We’re glad we could come.”

He was just over one year old when his father died.

“When you’re young, what you never had, you don’t miss, but as you get a little older you wonder what those stories would have been like if he could have shared them with me.”

Suzanne Pasternak welcomes the Thompson family members to her show at The Falconer House in Picton, including Doug Thompson, John Thompson Lois MacArthur, Hilda Thompson, Maxine Thompson, Duncan Thompson and Brenda Thompson (not shown).

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