Through his work over the years, the 81-year-old St. Anthony man has gathered over 100 pictures documenting the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in World War I.
He received many of the photos in the mail – from families of those who served – for his 2003 book Veterans of the North.
And now the collection is back in his possession.
Two years ago, Patey sent the photos off to Memorial University for them to copy and add to their archives. Francis Patey’s Collection is now accessible through the Queen Elizabeth II Library.
Two weeks ago, the original copies were returned to him.
As he sits at his dining room table – sorting through all the old photos in his collection, seeking different soldiers local to the Northern Peninsula, while telling stories of their origins and lives – he also reflects back on his own childhood and how he came to take interest in the war.
He recalls that his father, Noah Patey, a sniper who served with the Regiment in World War I, refused to ever speak of his experiences.
The mysteries of Noah’s enlistment helped to pique the son’s curiosity. He learnt more about his father’s time served from other World War I veterans who were more willing to speak to him about it.
Based on the stories he has heard over the years, he believes the horrors his father confronted were unique even amidst the chaos that was World War I.
“He stayed back one year after the war was officially over,” explained Patey. “I always wondered why. Then I was told there was a bunch who volunteered to stay back and pick up all the skeletons because there were no bodies picked up during the war. Some of them were there four years.”
According to Patey, in records he has accessed, it said his father was on “special assignment”.
Ultimately, it was the quest for knowledge about his father’s past that set him on the path to document the experiences of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in Veterans of the North.
But confronting such horrific realities meant the process wasn’t always easy for him either.
“You’d go to bed and you’d think about stuff that’s just horrible,” said Patey.
But today he possesses a breadth of knowledge about the Regiment’s involvement in the war that few others can say they possess.
And the hours and days and weeks and months and years he spent gathering the photos means his collection and work has now been preserved forever through his writing and in the halls of Memorial University.
It’s a collection that will help preserve the memory of so many who fell on the fields of Europe – at Beaumont Hamel, at Vimy Ridge, and all through those four years of global conflict.