I love collecting stories from family and friends and now is the time to write them down. This first one weaves connections through our friends and family as they faced war. I'm starting here because these are the most important stories to remember. We want our children, grandchildren and all the generations to come to learn from their predecessors.
Lest We Forget
We'll begin our journey in the colony of Newfoundland.
His name was Edgar Moulton and he was from Burgeo, a small fishing village on the southwest coast of the island. While today it is connected by road to the rest of the island, in Edgar's day, it was only accessible by boat. Edgar's father was a fish merchant in Burgeo and while we don't know the exact details of his life, we do know that his family had money. It is likely that Edgar could have worked in the family business and never have gone to war. Why did he join the Newfoundland Regiment and go to war in Europe? Edgar was married and had a young daughter. He died in battle. He was my husband Rick's great great uncle.
Edgar's daughter moved to mainland Canada and eventually married. Edgar's granddaughter and her family live in Florida today. They have searched for information about Edgar. They wanted to remember.
When World War ll started, Newfoundland became a hub of Allied activity. The Canadiian and Newfoundland governments agreed to allow Canadian troops into St. John's where a naval base was also established. Gander became the center for military flights. If Newfoundland was taken by the Germans, then the east coast of Canada was vulnerable. Then in 1941, the United States established air, naval and army bases. The U. S. Army base was in St. John's. Consequently there were many military personnel stationed in St. John's or in port for various reasons. Thankfully, for their future families, many Newfoundland women met their spouses at that time.
My two Aunt's, Muriel and Angela Pretty, married service men from the Second World War. Muriel married Wilfred Sauriol, from Ontario. He served in the Canadian Navy and met Muriel when he was in port in St. John's, where she grew up. Wilfred, called Babe by his family and friends, was prone to extreme sea sickness and spent time in sick bay as his ship traversed the North Atlantic. Having experienced one extreme though brief bout of sea sickness myself, I can't imagine what it would be like to go through that day after day while worrying if you would be torpedoed.
My Aunt Angela married Alex Woodford, a young man from St. John's, who served overseas. He and Angela raised their two sons, Donald and Ian, in St. John's.
My cousin Donald wrote about his dad's service.
"He went overseas with the Royal Navy when he was 17. He tried to go when he was 16 but (of course) my grandfather (who had experienced war in WW1) would not give his permission. He was over there for the entire war and came home in 1945. Among other things he was on HMS Ramilies (an old WW1 battleship) when it was torpedoed in Madagascar harbour. The torpedo punched a hole on the ship but (luckily) did not explode. She was towed to Cape Town, South Africa where the RN had a dry dock. I think he really enjoyed his stay (about a month..I think) in Cape Town. While he was very homesick (at times) he always spoke fondly of his time in the Navy."
My grandfather's brother, Fred and his wife, Jessie Pretty, also lived in St. John's at this time. They had twin girls, Olive and Jennie and a boy, Fred. The girls met military men as well.
Olive married American John Atfield, an army man, the same day as her sister, Jennie, married a Canadian navy man, Larry Gabel. John was an anti-aircraft gunner with Battery D, 24 Artillery. John and Olive had one daughter, Patti. John and Olive eventually moved to Australia with Patti and her husband Chris. John died several years ago but Olive is still doing well.
John and Olive (Pretty) Atfield
At the same time, in England, my son-in-law's great grandgrandmother was working in a munitions factory while her husband fought in Europe. He died in the war. Ben's great grandmother, Elizabeth, is still going strong.
While Elizabeth was working in England, our friends, Hiltrud Bogs Hengst and Carlo Hengst were children in Germany. They were crouched in cellars in Berlin as bombs dropped around them. One of Hiltrud's earliest memories is of one such cellar in Potsdam, just outside Berlin, when she was six years old, near the end of the war. The row houses were made of stone and each had a cellar. She was in one of them with her parents and brother while the bombs fell all around. When they got out in the morning, the other houses had been destroyed. There were still cracking sounds and bursts of light, all that her child's senses could take in at the time.
While the Pretty girls were growing up in St. John's, a great nephew to Edgar Moulton was born in Port aux Basques and raised in Corner Brook. His name is Richard Mercer. He joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1950. By 1952, when he was twenty-two, Dick, as he is known to his friends and family, was fighting in Korea. He lost some of his friends during the year he was there but he survived and made the military his career. Dick spent six months as a United Nations Peacekeeper in Cypress as well.
Dick retired as a Chief Warrant Officer in 1984 after having received:
The Korean Volunteer Medal
The Korean Medal
The United Nations Service Medal
The United Nations Cypress Medal
The Long Service Medal
More recently he received the Queen Elizabeth ll Jubilee Medal.
Dick and his wife Doris live in Osgoode, Ontario. They have three children and five grandchildren.
Dick and his sister, Sylvia, my mother-in-law, 1952. Dick was home on pre-embarkation leave.
It is interesting that now, living in Prince Edward Island, we have met another Korean veteran who is originally from Grand Falls, Newfoundland where Rick and I lived for many years.
The last story I want to tell today has a more recent connection but is based in the Second World War.
Several years before my father, Samuel Pretty, died in 1986, he responded to a letter to the editor in a local paper. The letter was from a man who had served in the British Navy. He was in St. John's after being rescued from a lifeboat after his ship was torpedoed. This man, Al Manning, had been in the Knights of Columbus Hall at a dance in December 1942 when the building caught fire. Ninety-nine people died and the last one saved was Al. He was on fire and got to the door where one of the fireman extinguished the blaze. He survived. Al had moved to New Zealand, married and had his family there, two girls and grandchildren.
After Dad's death, mom kept in touch with Al. She eventually saw another article about that fire and the fireman who may have saved Al. His name was Spike Arnott. Mom managed to get them communicating and sure enough, they had found each other again. They wrote letters and eventually talked on the phone. It was an emotional experience for both of them.
This article by Rob Antle is from The Express, a St. John's newspaper. I cannot find a reference to the year.
Mary Pretty helped Al Manning find the firefighter who saved him.
Spike Arnott -the firefighter who had saved Al Manning at the K of C fire.
Canada still has troops in Afghanistan. We have lost many good people there including our first female combat officer, Nicola Goddard. We can never pay them enough for the the service and the sacrifice they made.
It is impossible for those of us who haven't been there to understand the experience of war. However it is possible to know what was risked by those who were there. The possibilities that they wouldn't come home, or would be maimed, were a constant threat. They risked the opportunity to marry, raise a family and see grandchildren. Some of the best years of their youth were spent in the worst conditions in the various branches of the Service, on the sea, in the air or dug into fox holes or in the sides of hills. Many paid the ultimate price. This doesn't even include the civilian cost.
There is a song called "The Dutchman" by Michael Peter Smith that captures a bit of the cost of war. I particularly like the rendition by Makem and Clancy. Give it a listen.
We are Margaret.