As a kid I grew up listen to stories on both sides of my family about the war. It was always The War. Of course my family meant WWII. It was real to my family, not just some newsreel or stories that had been handed down. Grandfathers, Fathers, Uncles, Brothers, Cousins and Friends all had first hand knowledge of The War. In my family I think my Beloved Great Grandmother known to all as little Gram suffered more than most. Her husband had survived the Great War, but then she was asked to give up her sons for the Second World War. They all came back, except one.
Warrant Office Class I Gerard McEachern, Royal Canadian Airforce, killed in action over the North Sea, 19 May 1943.
He had finished his tour of duty but took one last flight for a buddy who was too sick to go. I heard stories of how my Gram knew it happened before she received the telegram. The story goes, her son came to her in a dream and by morning her hair was white. My family is filled with story tellers. True, we embellish things. I am not sure of the actual details surrounding this momentous event but I know it changed her. How could it not? When a mother loses a child a giant part of her heart is ripped from her chest and she dies a little bit that day. His picture was always on her dresser when I came to visit. She always commented on my curly hair, just like his. But she never told me any stories about him. I heard all kinds of crazy stories about the rest of her children, 5 in all, but never about Gerard. I imagine the pain in remembering made her chest wound open up and bleed. As a child, I never understood. Of course I thought I did, of course I was wrong. As a mother I can’t even begin to imagine the pain she went through. Then one day last year, I could almost imagine. We were in Belgium visiting Ypres. The Meinin Gate was the destination.
I remember hearing my Honey’s excited voice, “WE ARE DRIVING THROUGH IT!” Cool! So we had arrived to the Menin Gate. It was impressive! It records the soldiers of the British Empire without graves. We walked through it, looked at names and saw my son’s name. Although I knew that wasn’t really my son, it still weakened my knees. At that moment I knew I never wanted to actually see my son’s name on a wall. I was ill.
We moved our way up to the grassy park that was high above Yrpes. I needed air, I didn’t share my feelings with my family. My honey wanted to keep exploring but I needed to change my view. Like my Offspring, the time had come for me to end the War Memorial visits. It was starting to affect me.
Today I watched the services from Ottawa, our Nation’s Capital. I saw Prime Minister Harper and his wife lay a wreath, then the young moms of Soldiers who were killed in action Afghanistan. Heart braking. I looked over at Genetic Offspring and requested that he never put me in that position, ever. I am grateful for all the mothers who gave up their boys. I can’t even imagine how they can keep breathing every day. Every boy that is laid to rest in fields all over Europe had a mother. Walking amongst the head stones of boys, whose ages are the same as my son and his friends, or my nephew and his friends, was shattering. The stones all had a maple leaf and if the name was known it was there. If the religion was known, the symbol was on it, be it a cross, star or moon. At that point, I think Religion no longer matters. We are all one under God.
Today I remember the boys whose stories I have heard time and again. I remember the stories of men who lived to tell me about it their time in past wars. I remember friends who have come back from wars in recent memory and retell the vivid stories of things they cannot unsee.
I remember you and your sacrifice and honor your mother for letting you go.
12 thoughts on “I Remember…”
yes it was sad to see all those graves but it is something to remember because they gave there lives for all of us and remember you saw your uncle’s grave in a smll town in france and he left a young wife and tow very small childern .gram
Beautiful, memories of Little Gram made me feel good, her loss has always made me feel badly for her.
The other side of your family came home largely intact physically, but they all carried war-time demons with them until they died. Your Great Uncle Gerry had a very harrowing war. He was a sapper or engineer. That meant he spent the entire war, from when he landed at around 9:00 AM on D-Day, until VE Day in front of the front. He was hunting land-mines and booby traps. He was literally under constant fire. Before he died he told me a lot about his war experiences, he was my favorite Uncle and a truly good man. He called the incoming rounds ‘bees’ and unlike his younger brother, bees did not much bother him. He was blown up while taking mines and bombs to an explosives dumb. He was left for dead and picked up by search and rescue about 5 days after the explosion. He had exposed grey matter and a bad infection.
He was taken to London and treated. He recovered and was sent back to the front of the front in 6 weeks with a nice new steel plate in his head. The cold of the steel was a constant reminder of the war for him the rest of his life.
I remember this day as a sacred thing. Guys from Saskatchewan; like our uncles and my dad, were transformed from farms and small towns and their quiet lives, into cannon fodder and killers. Canada had more people under arms per-capita than any other country in the war. The call to war was answered from all over our country by young men, some only slightly older than your son. They soon learned war was no lark, but they achieved a great deal and kept us free.
We owe them a lot, and I am glad that you are passing those stories down you your children, lest we never forget.
Thank you Tourist Lady.
I heard Grandpa’s stories but never Gerry’s. Thank you for this.
There are some interesting stories about Gerard McEachern some of the details are a little fuzzy but Aunt Flora’s version goes like this:
In his death notice that appeared in the Regina newspaper he was listed as “Flight Lieutenant” but his war record lists him as “Warrant Officer Class I”.
There were some incidents that might explain the discrepancy in rank. When Gerard joined the airforce he was already a pilot — he had been flying the air ambulance for what is today Speers Funeral home in Regina. I think he did his basic training in Calgary. He found the training boring in that he had already been flying under dificult situations. At his graduating ceremony they were required to do an in formation fly past. Gerard was in his correct position but he was flying his plane upside down.
On his last Christmas in Canada before shipping out he was confined to base so he went AWOL — he was going home to see his mother and that was that. The MP’s did show up to arrest him but he was hiding out at a friend’s house.
Just after he shipped out your great grandmother go a call from the theater operator in Regina and she was invited to see a newsreel that showed Gerard wrapped up in a blanket on the deck of a troop carrier on his way to England.
There was one further incident in England where he was court marshalled for striking a superior officer. He beat that one. When the officer came into Gerard’s room Gerard punched him out. He beat the charge because the senior officer was in his pyjamas and not showing a rank.
At the time of his death he was serving as a gunner on a bomber. The plane was hit somewhere over German Territory and was limping home to England when it crashed into the North Sea. He was flying a mission for some one else who was to sick to fly.
I think I get my obnoxious rebel side from him 🙂 I miss you and your interesting stories. Come for dinner or I’ll come to Calgary 🙂
I too have a great welling up in my chest every Nov 11th. A whole ball of emotions that run the whole range from sadness to pride. Pride for our country and way she has contributed so much in these “War to end all Wars”, again and again. Sadness for those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice and for those left behind, the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and all their extended families. I’m also saddened for the lives lost for those who did manage to make it home, then and now.
By that I mean the ones suffering from PTS, Post Traumatic Stress, as it is now called. I know this because my dad was one of those survivors.
He never spoke much about his 6 years “overseas”, but I now know that it affected him so very much. Remembrance Day, for him, was another day to try and forget, but brought to the forefront by all the services being held.
He was a Sapper in the 2nd Cdn Regiment, R.C.E., 13th Field Co. His service record shows he was in England until Aug 1943, then Sicily, Italy, France and Holland.
He only spoke once of it shortly before his death in 1989. He told of working on a bridge, and turning to speak to his friend working beside him. In his words “He was gone, nothing left”. Then he just shook his head and clammed back up.
I’ll never ever forget those 5 words.
Thank you Dad
And thank you to all of those whose lives have been altered by their sacrifice.
Hey! That’s MY grandma!… and my dad’s brother! Amazing what you can stumble upon googling a name. Hello long lost Edmonton relatives!
I feel like I just had a valuable lesson in family history. Even when questioned my Dad never talked about ANY of this, or any of the war… EVER.. PERIOD! Frankly, I’m not surprised.
Let us never take for granted what these brave men (and woman) fought so valiantly for…..
Hey Cousin! It surprises me your dad never spoke of this! He told the BEST stories!!! I could sit by him for hours and listen to anything he had to say. Oh Uncle El, I miss you too xoxox
Could not imagine the loss of a child, no matter how old they are. To think I almost joined the army in 1999… who knows what may have happened! My grandpa was a pilot in WWII.
Ah, the path not taken… I have a couple of those ones too.