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BEECHEY: Six Graves in the Village opened my heart

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My father was devastated when he went to sign up with the RCAF for the Second World War and they rejected him.

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He had tuberculosis, but that disease did not stop him from writing to so many of his friends and former high school classmates all through the war, even when he was in the sanitorium.

My brother and I grew up hearing all their wartime stories but one, those of his brother, Sidney Allan George Turner. Dad was jealous as Uncle Sid was accepted for the RCAF, became a pilot and set off overseas to fight the enemy!

I saw the telegrams to Grandma Turner, that Uncle Sid was missing and then dead. I saw his medals posthumously given to Grandma including her Silver Cross for mothers given as a memorial to her son’s death. Unfortunately, she and my father never knew where Uncle Sid’s plane went down or any other circumstance. Only a few years before my father’s death in 1999 did I discover Sid’s name on an Egyptian memorial.

Because of Uncle Sid, I was very excited to read Six Graves in the Village, a true Second World War story written by Jason Pankratz about a suitcase acquired by Frank Moore, with bits and pieces of the lives and deaths of a RCAF bomber crew shot down over the Netherlands. These two men both live in Tillsonburg and have always been active in preserving history – Jason with our Tillsonburg Legion and Frank with the Tillsonburg Military History Club.

Frank began researching the tenuous links these few old artifacts offered, which led to new links, new places to research, new people to help find the more information and decedents. There were trips to Europe, where garnered new friends and finally removed the heartache of questions the descendants had.

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This is not a novel, Jason wrote telling how Frank researched the suitcase clues to find the story, and let them tell the story.

Most readers have no idea how many years it takes to track down information or the number of dead ends you must suffer through. Of hours going cross-eyed trying to read faded, tattered paperwork; phone calls; trips to museums and the emotional rollercoaster rides as the names on paper suddenly become real people.

The same thing happens to you when you read it. Bits and pieces of information create a life. A plane not returning to base. A parent waiting and waiting for the next telegram that would say their son was rescued, died or still missing, and the devastation when they are eventually pronounced dead.

You can read some mission flight logs telling what happened during flights, the results and injuries or damages done, until July 26, 1943, when they were shot down.

There are letters from the men’s families searching for answers from each other. What did they know? What did their son’s letters say? Sharing anything so they too could find peace.

The facts I had learned about Uncle Sid’s story had never dropped from my brain to my heart. But that happened as I read about the death of these six men; and the experience of the seventh in a POW camp from which he was later freed.

It didn’t matter they flew a Handley-Page Halifax MK II bomber and not Uncle Sid’s Wellington bomber or those men flew over Europe to target Essen while he was based in Egypt and flew to his target in Tobruk, Libya. Those six men’s remains were buried in graves in the village of Ten Boer, Holland where descendants could find closure. Alas, Uncle Sid has no burial site. Yet their war experiences were so closely mirrored it opened my heart.

When I wear Grandma’s RCAF brooch and earrings next Remembrance Day, all these men will be included.

Six Graves in the Village: A True Story of WWII Canadian Service and Remembrance can be

purchased online ($24.95) through the publisher’s website www.volumesdirect.com. Search for Six Graves in the Village or Pankratz.

Congratulations to Jason Pankratz EdD, Harold Moore and all the others who made this book possible. Now we can remember them better.

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