Paynton man honoured in French community for service in the Great War

The small community of Rosières-en-Santerre in France has a unique connection to Paynton, Saskatchewan.

The French town is the final resting place for one of the many individuals from Paynton who died during the Great War.

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Jorgen Groseth, private from 5th Battalion, Canadian Infantry, Saskatchewan Regiment, died on Friday, 9th August 1918.

He was not decorated, but his service has not been forgotten by the small French community, who recently unveiled a plaque to commemorate his service in the First World War.

Nora Ring, who lives in Calgary, explained how it all came about.

She writes that Jorgen “was my great great uncle from Asker, Norway, his sister Elise was my great grandmother and the only sibling who did not leave Norway. Born December 28, 1885, Jorgen left Norway with his sister Karoline in 1903 and met up with his brothers Otto and Erik who were already settled in Aneta, North Dakota. Jorgen and his brother Anton emmigrated to Canada and settled in Paynton, Saskatchewan to claim and farm a homestead. Jorgen became a Canadian citizen in 1911 at the age of 26, he never married. 

“On April 29, 1916 at North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Jorgen and his cousin Erick went to North Battleford and enlisted into the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force at the age of 30 years old. In 1917, he arrived in Liverpool, England and was sent oversees to France for active duty in February 1918. He suffered many hardships at the front line and died on August 9th, 1918.

“Paynton contributed 41 soldiers, 12 died and 2 of them were Jorgen Groseth and his cousin Erick Groseth. This article is about Jorgen because he is buried in a cemetery in a town where people put a lot of effort on remembering. Erick died on September 1, 1918 and is buried in Upton Wood Cemetery in the middle of a farmer’s field in Hendecourt-les-Cagnicourt.”

Ring went to France in August 2018 to take part in the 100th anniversary of the war in 2018. Part of her itinerary was to visit Jorgen’s grave on the 100th anniversary of his death.

“What I didn’t know was the enormity of the battle that Jorgen was a part of and died in, the Battle of Amiens, the final 100 days of WWI.”

When she realized how significant this battle was, she asked her bed-and-breakfast hosts if there were any commemorations going on and ultimately attended a number of them, hosted by Britain, Canada, Australia and France.  

Through those she met Gérard Thiery, Président du Souvenir Français de Rosières (President of the Society of French Remembrance).

She recalls that Aug. 9, 2018, “Gérard and his wife Nicole brought me to the cemetery and there the town came to show honour to Jorgen and me with flags, music, words and a small gathering afterward. I was in tears with their beautiful tribute to Jorgen.”

She then decided to return to Rosières-en-Santerre as a guest of the Remembrance Day ceremony later that year. “I’ve always felt that it was my duty to remember Jorgen and his sacrifice on behalf of my family especially for my great aunts in Norway.”

The ceremonies included the laying of flowers at Jorgen’s grave. Later that day, a wine reception was held at the local hall where Nora gave a speech.

“I gave a speech and in the speech I had a line and it was powerful in the moment because I choked and I had almost everyone in tears. Basically the line was ‘Jurgen was not a decorated hero but he is our family hero.’

“And after the speech one of the school teachers came up to me and told me that everyone was affected and asked if they could view Jörgen as their school hero.”

The school and kids from École Debary worked to learn about Jorgen and then in 2019 began looking for ways to honor his memory.

“Because he wasn’t decorated the kids made medals him, and the flowers in front of his head stone was covered in homemade medals and a homemade plaque. But during that year they contacted various levels of the French government to see if they could get Jorgen a medal but they couldn’t do that because it’s 101 years later.

... so they asked the community if they could erect a plaque in Jorgen’s honour and they got permission for that.”

The plaque was unveiled on Remembrance Day 2019. What was really special, Ring said, was the huge attention this got from the community.

She went to the ceremony and brought along other family members Charline Rhinehart of Maidstone and Nadine Parohl of North Battleford, to Rosières-en-Santerre.

They walked to the back of the church in Rosieres to unveil the plaque, which overlooked the school yard of École Debary.

“There were speeches from the teachers, the mayor, the students read a poem that they wrote for Jorgen and I gave a final speech mostly in French. The plaque was unveiled, pictures were taken, Canadian flags were waved and the children sung O Canada with their hand on their heart. It was a beautiful scene and I’m certain that all of their parents were very proud.”

The words on the plaque were inscribed in both French and English:

“Never honoured, but Heroes forever. In tribute to the Canadian soldier, Jorgen Groseth and to all the soldiers who came from far away, died for France during WWI and have not been decorated to this day. Lest we forget.”

Ring said she made a “promise to the children that I would return to Rosières-en-Santerre every year for November 11th until I couldn’t.” As she said, no one could have foreseen that a year later the global COVID-19 pandemic would prevent her return.

“I think the words of Pastor William H. English from Paynton, Saskatchewan, in his letter to Jorgen’s grieving parents in Norway, are relevant to the experience of meeting in present day from two different countries, ‘…for he fell fighting for God, the liberty of the world and the happiness of future generations.’”

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