Saturday, 12 November 2011

The drums of remembrance

I was given a little Remembrance Day blessing yesterday by an old high school chum. Barb managed to track down the death details of two of my relatives after I had written, in a blog, that I knew their names but not their stories.

Just after I posted the blog, Barb came back with the stories, which I want to share with you today.

Herbert O'Neill was my Granny's first husband and the father of young Vern who was mentally challenged. I have his memorial medal from World War One but I had no information about him. Granny never talked about him nor did she talk about her nephew, Bobby, who also died a hero in the Second World War.

I've often wondered what happen to them. And here it is.

Herbert was a private with the Canadian Army Medical Corps. He died during an air raid on May 19, 1918 at the age of 39. He wasn't a young soldier, as I assumed; he was middle-aged man with skills he believed would be invaluable in the war. He is buried in Etaples Cemetary in France, pictured above.

Bobby Brett was Granny's nephew, and the grandson of my great-grandmother, Mary. He came from a very tight knit family and my mother, Vera, was very close to Bobby. I know it tore her up when he died.

Bobby was the pilot of a Mitchell FV989 aircraft that was lost on the night of August 17, 1944 and his crew failed to return from a flare-dropping sortie over the River Risle

Flt Sgt J.A.Bate was also killed but Flt Sgt C.K.Sherwin and Sgt N.E.Stuart survived and evaded capture. Flares were seen in the designated area/time so it was assumed the Mitchell had reached the target area.

Flt. Sgt. Sherwin later wrote this about the mishap.

"We took off in a Mitchell aircraft near Hartford Bridge at about 2330 hours on 17 August 1944 to drop flares in the Breteuil area. After completing our mission the aircraft caught on fire (cause unknown).

"I baled out and landed in a wheatfield one mile southwest of La Neuve Lyre (Q.85). I hid my parachute under one of the stooks and remained in the field during the night.

"Next morning (18 August) I went to a farmhouse and the farmer took me in and gave me food. The farmer's wife bandaged my head which I had burnt in the aircraft. I remained at this address until 23 August.

"On 23 August there was fighting around the farm, but in the evening it died down. The farmer told me that one of my comrades was outside and I found that it was an RAMC Corporal. He took me in an ambulance and handed me over to American troops.

"I was briefly interrogated in France."

Cousin Bobby never survived. He is buried in St Sever Cemetery in Rouen.

Maybe I'll go visit him some day.

Did you see what happened?

On Remembrance Day, I started a dialogue about two men who would have been veterans, two men who sacrificed their lives to protect our way of life. I put it out there on Facebook and something magical happened. The drums of remembrance started beating.

These men were just names to me. Now, they have come alive in our memory.

My children will now know their stories, and they can tell their children.

Thank you, Barb, for helping solve the mystery.

And thank you, Mark Zuckerberg.

This is a perfect example of how to use Facebook for good and not evil.

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