The mystery of the grave of William St. George Voyle Coles

Local historian David Humphrey had been asked to assist the Legion in identifying the veterans’ names on several of the unmarked graves in the Veterans Cemetery in Cranbrook.

Humphrey ended up going through more than 200 obituaries and death certificates at the Cranbrook Archives, and was thus able to identify names for an additional seven veterans whose graves are presently unmarked.

Then came the job of actually locating the grave sites in this largely unmarked indigent part of the Original Cemetery.

Locating one gravesite for a “George Frost,” Humphrey found that there was a marker on his plot for a ‘William St. George Voyle Coles.”

“I could find no record of anyone of this name in the papers, nor were there any official death certificates recorded for him,” Humphrey said.

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“On a visit to the City Engineering, who manage the record-keeping for the graveyards, they had no record at all for this William St. George Voyle Coles.”

Humphrey managed to find a record of this man’s 1926 wedding in Kamloops.

“I now had a name of a wife. From here I was able to find the death of his wife in Vancouver in 1991. Her death registration was signed by her daughter, thus I now had another name to follow — providing she hadn’t had a name change through marriage. I looked up phone numbers of people with the daughter’s name presently living in Vancouver.

Humphrey had success on his very first call, getting through to the daughter of William St. George Voyle Coles, whose unknown marker was in the Cranbrook graveyard where Gorge Frost was supposedly buried.

“We had a really great chat, and while she is legally blind she and I fitted things together.”

Apparently her father (William St. George Voyle Coles) struggled with alcoholism, and had moved out of their house in Vancouver during the Second World War, and they had very little contact with him from 1940s until his death in 1960.

“When I told her the story about his marker being placed on the grave containing the remains of George Frost she had to laugh,” Humphrey said. “George Frost was a name he used to use as a Nom de Plume.”

Humphrey was thus able to track as to how the man now calling himself George Frost moved to the Yahk area during the 1940s. He was also able read of some of Frost’s exploits in the gambling circuit.

“George Frost was the name he always used and by which he was reported on in the papers. This was the name used when he entered the St. Eugene Hospital in 1960, was the name on his death registration, was the name of the fellow they buried in Cranbrook Graveyard, was the name on the obituary, and the name recorded in the City’s burial database.

“Finally the mystery was solved … George Frost and William St. George Voyle Coles are the same fellow! He is certainly a veteran, having served his time in the Veterinarian Corps in World War One while he lived in Britain. He deserves recognition. He was, in fact, awarded some British medals.”

The next step is to visit the City of Cranbrook’s Engineering Department with some corrected information as to the legal name as to who is in this particular grave.

“As I trolled through the 200-plus official records I also found some two dozen other names that Engineering might want to consider changing in their database due to their present record errors,” Humphrey said.

Humphrey now intends to put together some documentation for William St. George Voyle Coles’s daughter, so she can fill in some information of the missing years of her dad from the time he left home in the 1940s until his death in Cranbrook in 1960.

The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 24 Cranbrook hopes to have the grave markers in place for the veterans by Remembrance Day, November 11.

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