November 11, 2011


Last year just before Remembrance Day I came across a website called The Poppy Project. The researchers of the Poppy Project have created a map of Toronto with a poppy indicating every house that lost a member in one of the World Wars. The image is striking. The poppies clutter the map like blood stains, reminding us of the sacrifice that so many young men made for our country. 
On a whim, I zoomed in to my street and noticed a poppy. When I clicked on it I saw that the only house on our street to experience such a loss was ours. A 26-year-old man lost his life during WWII. He was a volunteer with the navy. In 1944, his ship, the HMCS Valleyfield, was torpedoed by a German U-boat in Canadian waters just off the coast of Newfoundland on May 6, 1944. The torpedo caused the ship to split in two and it began to sunk immediately. 
Here is a description that I found at the Naval Museum of Manitoba’s website:
As the ship was sinking, most of the ship’s crew entered the ice-cold North Atlantic water, which when measured in the last watch, registered a temperature of a mere 32 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, oily water choked the survivors, as they huddled together, helping each other to survive. Some clambered on top of wreckage, or clung to carley floats. Others remained in the water, buoyed by the life jackets.
Now that the ship had completely sunk, they found themselves alone, with their escorts virtually unaware of the deadly occurrence astern. Finally, HMCS GIFFARD, realizing that the VALLEYFIELD was missing, came to the scene to rescue survivors. However, as was the doctrine at the time, the rescue did not begin until she had spent valuable time searching for the u-boat which had caused the tragedy. By this time many men had given up, let go their hold on Carley floats or wreckage and sank from sight. A total of 125 men perished that night, all within the coastal shores of Newfoundland.”
One of those men who died was the man who lived in our house nearly 70 years ago. This young man died at sea and his body was never recovered. He left behind his parents and his young wife.
Reading about the sacrifice that this young man made for our country and for our freedom left me imagining the moment when that terrible telegram was delivered to this very door. The tragedy is profound, the sense of loss almost tangible. Within these walls, his wife wept for her husband and mourned his death. His parents, who also lived here, comforted her while coping with their own loss. His father had fought in WWI. He knew too well the realities and horrors of war. He survived to lose his son to another terrible war. That son died so that we could be free.
Today I will solemnly and respectfully wear my poppy. I will attend a Remembrance Day service as I do every year and I will think of this young man. I will think too of both my grandfathers and my father-in-law who all fought in Europe during the Second World War. I will think of the horrors of war and the courage of those soldiers to fight for what they believed in. I will speak to my children of the sacrifices that people have made and continue to make for our peace and for our security each and every day, that we don't take them for granted.
And we will never forget.
Image © Fesus Robert |

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