I Remember…

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.

I Remember…

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.

 

The Edmonton Tourist Goes to France!

“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” – John Steinbeck

There are no truer words spoken. I am finally over jetlag, and let me say, the older you get the harder it seems to recover from. Now that my mind isn’t foggy, I can give the proper amount of reflection to my European trip. People ask me daily “How was your trip?” In one word, astounding might fit, or maybe I need to make up a word. How about Fantastical? My trip was everything I hoped it would be, it was things I didn’t want it to be, and in many ways it was more then I could have ever expected.

For the next little while, I plan to write once a week about my amazing experiences and share some photos with you in the process. I was inspired by this blog, my new friend Sunshine often posts pictures of her travels in England.

Our first day arriving at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris felt surreal. Foggy from lack of sleep, gray and rainy day, signs I recognized except the English above the french was missing. Mom was waiting at the gate for us. She swept us up away to the traffic lanes outside, where Dad pulled up to the curb an a Caravan to escort us to destinations unknown. The plan was to head to Calais, France and spend the night. We all wanted to get to Bruges, Belgium. So Calais would be the first stop. What we didn’t expect, was the gems would would find off the beaten path. Phoebe, our trusty GPS, lead us on an expedition towards a campsite. But first we wanted to stop and pay our respects to my Grandma’s Cousin Fred. On the way, the driver spotted a sign that said Vimy Ridge. Being Canadian, we couldn’t just drive by such an importance piece to our Nation’s History, so we stopped. Remember this is our first day in Europe, and still Vimy ridge remained a one of my greatest memories of the trip.

We didn’t see the monolith at first, we were looking at the battle fields that were heavily damaged by shells that created huge craters. It was an overcast day, you could visualize the battle conditions. It was a somber site.

We walked up to the giant monolith and the path took us through a maple grove, I was speechless.

Our children were busy asking everyone questions, trying to understand what they were seeing. I am so thankful I was able to share this experience with the Offspring. It was amazing for me to see the pristine landscape, and to understand the battle took place almost 100 years ago. I no longer have family around who can share their first-hand experiences, but we do have the stories of what it was like. I can picture it vividly now as it must have been for the boys in battle who were not much older than Genetic Offspring, or the same age as my nephew.

As we approached the Monolith, quiet hush fell on our family. This massive structure with gorgeous carvings, was not only beautiful to look at, but humbling as well.

It felt strangely disrespectful to walk on the monument itself. But stairs guide you to read inscriptions, find names of soldiers who might be family and to see the views of the French country side below. The sculptures were beautiful and moving, I felt I needed to do a bit of research about the artist when I came home. The Canadian War Museum has custody of seventeen of the plaster figures created by Canadian sculptor Walter Allward (1875-1955) between 1925 and 1930 for the Vimy Memorial in France. They are now the only legacy of Canada’s most important memorial commission in which the artist’s own hand is clearly present. The stone memorial and figures in France are the work of professional stonecarvers working from his designs.

Allward had quite the vision.

We had wandered through the cimetière. This really affected Genetic Offspring. His friends and male cousins were similar in age to the boys buried beneath the stones. Far to many boys were “known only unto God”.

Surrounding the cimetière were the battle fields. There were signs posted saying there was still live munitions left in the ground. The areas were outlined by electric fences, only sheep were allowed to cross.

The picture does not give the scope nor depth to these craters. In fact just merely writing about this place cannot possibly do it justice. This was one of those experiences where actually being there provides meaning to the monumental sacrifice Mothers made for their country.

I was so very proud of our Canadian Government for the work and effort put into this place to preserve it for generations to come. I am equally thankful to the French Government for donating the land this place sits on. I cannot express how proud I was to be a Canadian that day.