Sgt. Harry Lovelace, St. Stephen’s own hometown hero, honoured at National War Museum

St. Stephen – On Monday, Sept. 28, Parks Canada, in collaboration with the Canadian Armed Forces and the Canadian War Museum, honoured Staff Sergeant Harry Lovelace of the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (RCEME) as a “Hometown Hero”. Lovelace, who lived in Charlotte County for much of his life, was the son of a blacksmith from Rolling Dam. Already an accomplished mechanic in St. Stephen, Lovelace wanted to join the war effort, and at the age of 35 enlisted in RCEME.

Staff Sergeant Lovelace was responsible for the invention of numerous devices that helped to improve the performance of fighting vehicles, as well as repairing them. He would repurpose tanks to turn them into self-propelled guns, personnel carriers, and armoured recovery vehicles. He was responsible for redesigning flamethrowers on tanks so they had further reach and better effectiveness. He was also awarded numerous patents on his inventions, which were later deemed to belong to the Crown, and ultimately entered into public domain. Many of his inventions have since been used in automobiles, and many are still in use today.

Gordon Lovelace, the only surviving son of Harry Lovelace, was in attendance at the ceremony at CFB Edmonton, along with other members of the Lovelace family and many dignitaries. Other family members who were unable to attend in-person due to COVID-19 restrictions attended virtually.

“We were at the museum with the Secretary of the Defense Minister, the head of the army, the director of RCEME, the senior non-commissioned officer of RCEME, and of course, family and friends. It was quite a crowd. Both of my kids were there, and Harry’s newest great-grandson was there, Riley Lovelace Brown, one month old. He was there in his bassinet, and he developed his own fan club because he didn’t utter a peep during the whole ceremony. He slept through it all,” said Gordon, who added that friends and other family members were watching the event online.

Staff Sergeant Lovelace, who was responsible for overseeing 800 troops at the regiment’s tank and heavy equipment workshop in Borden, England, led his team to repair Allied tanks during the Battle of Normandy. The tanks had been disabled in the field, and Lovelace and his team put them back into action. Lovelace was often referred to as a “mechanical genius”, having invented a number of patented devices that helped to improve the performance of combat vehicles and keep service times to a minimum. His efforts were rewarded by King George VI in 1945 when he received the British Empire Medal, which he would later brush off as something he received for repairing vehicles.

“Old Harry, he was a mechanical genius,” said Gordon. “He worked at dealerships and garages in St. Stephen for many years. My uncle used to say, ‘your father could listen to machines. He could hear them cry.’ Some people just have that knack, and he had it all his life. Eventually, a lot of his inventions were adopted by all of the Canadian army, and eventually the British army and other allied armies. He had quite an impact. That led to the attention of Buckingham Palace, and he was awarded the British medal.”

In 2015, Gordon received a call from some people in the military who were connected with the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. They told him they had found his father’s medal overseas, to which he replied, “What medal?” They told him it was his British Empire medal, and Lovelace said he didn’t even know it had been missing. He always assumed it was in a “shoebox somewhere in the basement” of his late brother’s home in Woodstock, Ontario. They told him they found it online as part of their historical work, and they purchased it, and asked if he had any photos or documents that they could use to go with the medal. They also asked the former newspaper reporter and editor if he would write some background for RCEME Magazine, to which he quickly agreed.

“I wrote everything that I had, and interviewed some people,” said Gordon. “The first I had heard about this from eulogies from Dad’s colleagues at his funeral in 1991. He never talked about the war, like most vets. His colleagues used to talk about the medal, because they were pretty impressed. Dad would just say, “I got it for running a machine shop in England”. That’s all we knew. At the funeral, we found out it was much bigger than that.”

Gordon said his father tried twice to join the armed forces, only to be refused because he was too old, and because he had a wife who was expecting, as well as a toddler. Finally, he forged his baptismal certificate to show that he was younger than he actually was, and was accepted into the Canadian army.

“They kept saying to him, ‘gee Harry, if only you were younger’. So, Harry, after being a little frustrated and after the kids grew up enough that Mom could get some help caring for them from family, Dad forged his baptismal certificate and turned the ’05 into ’08. It’s a very bad forgery. I’ve seen it.”

Throughout his military career, Staff Sergeant Lovelace had been offered promotions to become an officer, which he would refuse because he enjoyed the work he had been doing, and wanted to continue doing it.

“His main concern was, he wanted to develop machinery and turn around and repair machinery,” said Gordon. “Not so much to afflict the enemy, but to provide protection for our own people, and hopefully bring them home. If you’re going to have a hometown hero, it might as well be for a guy who’s first aim was number one to give the boys what they need to get to the fight, and then try and bring them home.”

An interesting side note, Lovelace was not the only person in his family to make headlines posthumously. His wife of 60-plus years, Thelma, was also recognized by researchers as the last person to have heard pleas for help from Amelia Earhart over shortwave radio in July, 1937. Gordon said to think – the last transmission from the historic pilot was heard by a resident of St. Stephen.

sarigreen@stcroixcourier.ca