Frederick Frank Packman: 1895-1978
Thanks to Verna Rigo, a friend from church, for the photo of Fred Packman and for bringing his name forward. Knowing about my book, Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children, Verna showed me a photo she found in an old family album. “He was a Barnardo boy who lived with my grandparents,” she said. This delightful photo shows Fred Packman, at about age fourteen, with the children of his placement family, Harley and Isla. (Isla is Verna Rigo’s mother.) I love that Fred is smiling and that he’s included in the children’s photo. It indicates that the family cared about him. Verna knew nothing at all about Fred but with a little research we found pieces of his story.
Frederick Frank Packman was born on March 10, 1895. In 1901, he was living with his mother, Rose, his father, William, and two older brothers, William and George in Norwood, Surrey, England. His maternal grandmother and paternal grandfather also lived in the home.
The circumstances that led to Fred becoming a ward of Dr. Barnaardo’s Homes are unknown. We do know that his mother was still living in 1915 when Fred enlisted in the Canadian army. He named her as next-of-kin and placed her in Stratham, England. It’s likely that Fred’s father passed away. The death of a parent was often the event that caused a family to sink into poverty. And poverty was the number one reason a child ended up in a children’s home.
Fred was sent to one of the many Dr. Barnardo Homes in Surrey.
He arrived in Canada on August 8, 1908 at age twelve.
After his arrival in Canada, Fred was placed with a young farming couple, John and Matilda Fair of Carluke, Ontario, near Hamilton.
Fred’s indentured service with the Fairs ended when he turned eighteen. About this time, he moved to 325 Wellington St. N., in Hamilton. (This building was torn down and a new building is being erected on this site.) He enlisted in the 120th Battalion, a Hamilton-based expeditionary force, in November 1915 at age 19. This unit sailed to England in August 1916.
Frank, a small man, only five feet three inches tall, served as a Lance Corporal.
Frank returned to Canada after the war and moved to the United States in 1920. Shortly afterwards, he married Edna Jessie Stewart in Chicago. He and Edna had a daughter, Jessie, on May 21, 1924. The baby survived but Jessie died giving birth. Unable to manage a baby on his own, Frank placed baby Jessie in the care of his wife’s sister, Lillian Tobiason and her husband in Iowa. Jessie remained with her aunt and uncle.
Five years after losing his wife, Fred remarried to Eleanor Fredrickson on September 21, 1929.
Fred’s daughter Jessie married Vernon Nelson. Their first child died at birth but later three daughters were born to them – Carol, Nancy and Annette. Jessie died in 2012.
An excerpt from Jessie Packman Nelson’s obituary reads:
Because her mother died in childbirth, she was raised by her maternal aunt and uncle. Jessie was saved in her early 20s and loved the Lord. She taught Sunday School for many years at Calvary Baptist Church. She loved music and had a song for every occasion. She was always cheerful and optimistic.
Fred passed away in 1978 in Tucson, Arizona.
Many gaps exist in Fred’s story. For instance, it would be nice to know if he re-united with his mother when he returned to England as a Canadian soldier. Did he have contact with his two older brothers? Did he remain close to his daughter, Jessie, though she was raised in Iowa by her aunt and uncle? Personal relationships flesh out a life and sadly, we only know the bare facts about Fred’s life. Here’s hoping more information will come to light.
– Rose McCormick Brandon
Rose McCormick Brandon is the author of Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children. Promises of Home is a collection of 31 stories. To purchase, visit here.