In introducing the Empty Chair during Friday night’s For King and Country Remembrance Day Veteran’s Dinner, Ladysmith Mayor Rob Hutchins described it as “our salute of gratitude to our veterans.”
And this year, that salute went to Adolphe Louis (Don) Poulain, who was killed July 23, 1943, at the age of 22 while serving in Sicily.
“As part of our Veteran’s Dinner, the Empty Chair at the head table stands as a silent tribute to a man from the Ladysmith area whose name can be found on the Ladysmith Cenotaph,” Hutchins said during the dinner, which was hosted by the Ladysmith Rotary Club and the Ladysmith Legion. “The Empty Chair bids us to remember those who would never return home, those men and women who gave their lives so that others could enjoy freedom.”
Poulain was born Feb. 6, 1921, in Extension, a twin brother to Martha Edith, who lives at the Lodge on 4th, and a younger brother to Rosie, who lives in Vernon.
“Your father, Louis Joseph Poulain, was a coal miner who had followed his father, Adolphe, into the coal mines of Wellington after emigrating from Belgium,” said Hutchins, addressing Poulain during the Empty Chair ceremony. “We know little of your childhood in Extension, but life could not have been easy. Your mother passed away on May 31, 1928, when you were just seven years old.”
Poulain’s father married Alice Thomas in 1931, and the family moved to Ladysmith.
In September 1933, just after Poulain entered Grade 6, his family experienced another tragedy when his father confronted a young man who was attempting to break into his sisters’ bedrooms, an altercation that resulted in the younger man’s death by stabbing. Poulain’s father was sentenced to two years in prison. He abandoned the family after getting out of prison.
In 1935, Poulain received a conditional pass into Ladysmith High School. The class register indicates he quit school April 24, 1936, not long after turning 15. He began working for family friends who owned the Ladysmith Laundry and later turned up in Victoria.
“Shortly after Canada declared war against Germany in September 1939 at the age of 18, you were one of the first to enlist in Victoria with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry,” said Hutchins.
They were among the first Canadian troops to be stationed overseas, departing Halifax December 21, 1939. They were stationed in England with the 1st Canadian Infantry Division as part of the Shore Defence Forces. On July 10, 1943, Poulain’s unit landed in Sicily as part of the British 8th Army. Private Poulain was severely wounded while fighting the way up towards Leonforte on July 22, 1943.
“You were hit, apparently shot in the stomach,” said Hutchins. “We can only imagine how painful and frightening the next 24 hours were for you. You died of your wounds the next day during the German withdrawal. You and your Canadian comrades numbering in the hundreds were buried in the village of Agira, just northeast of the town of Leonforte where you were killed.”