Four years ago today I started my blog. I began with the stories of friends and family related to the military, war and service. In the years since then, some of the people I wrote about have died. Today, I post an updated version of that first blog.
Lest We Forget
We 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, Burgeo was accessible only 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 compared to many Newfoundlanders. It is likely that Edgar could have continued to work in the family business and never have gone to war. Why did he join the Newfoundland Regiment in the spring of 1916 to fight in Europe? Edgar was widowed and had a young daughter. He died from a battle injury one hundred years ago on November 22nd at the age of thirty-two. He was my husband'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 searched for information about Edgar so they could remember too.
When World War ll started, Newfoundland, on the far east coast of North America, became a hub of Allied activity. The Newfoundland government allowed 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, the east coast of Canada would be vulnerable. Then in 1941, the United States established air, naval and army bases on the island, with the Army base 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 be sea sick 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. They eventually moved to Australia with Patti and her husband Chris. John and Olive are both gone now, but their spirits live on through their cherished daughter.
At the same time, in England, my son-in-law's great grand grandmother was working in a munitions factory while her husband fought in Europe. He died in the war. The great grandmother, Elizabeth, died recently at 99 years old.
While Elizabeth was working in England, our friends, Hiltrud and Carlo 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 them. When they exited 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 was Richard Mercer.
He joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1950. By 1952, when he was twenty-two, Dick, as he was 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 first wife, Marie, had three children, Lori, Richard and David. They had two grandchildren.
Dick and his wife Doris lived in Osgoode, Ontario. They had three children, Sylvia, Trevor and Keith, and five grandchildren. Dick died last year.
It is interesting that now, living in Prince Edward Island, we have met another Korean veteran who is originally from Grand Falls, Newfoundland where my husband and I lived for many years.
The last story 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. His ship was torpedoed and he was rescued from a lifeboat and taken to port in St. John's. 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 against all odds. Al had moved to New Zealand, married and had his family there, two girls and their families.
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 helped the two find each other again. They wrote letters and eventually talked on the phone. It was an emotional experience for the two men, now long since deceased.
This article by Rob Antle is from The Express, a St. John's newspaper. I cannot find a reference to the year. It showed my mother who reunited the firefighter with the man he saved.
This was the fireman, Spike Arnott, who saved Al Manning from the Knights of Columbus fire.
In more recent times, Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan ended in 2011. We lost many good people there including our first female combat officer, Nicola Goddard. Many of those who returned suffer from the trauma of battle. We can never repay them for the service and the sacrifice they made. However, we must provide support, services and funds to support them with dignity and respect.
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 in the sides of hills or in fields. Many paid the ultimate price.
This doesn't 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 like the rendition by Makem and Clancy.
We are Margaret.