PhotoHunter: Veterans

Lest We Forget

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Joseph B. Comer (2nd row, centre), Civil War Veteran

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Joseph B.'s West Virginia medal

As I have mentioned in another posting, I am waiting for the arrival of Joseph B’s medal. He enlisted with the Union forces 148 years ago, today.

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James Edward McIntosh

My grandfather, James McIntosh, was a Presbyterian minister in Scotland so was a conscientious objector. However, he “did  his part” in both wars. He served as a stretcher-bearer in WWI and then running canteens for soldiers in Dumfries during WWII.

In WWI, he once went out on the field to collect wounded men and a shell burst which appeared to have blown him and his men up. His mother was sent a telegram announcing that he was “missing and presumed dead”. It wasn’t until three days later that he and his men could get back and send word to their families that they were alive and well (uninjured, in fact).

Another time, as the British forces were being relieved by Canadians at Vimy Ridge, just before the big battle, the two long lines of soldiers filed past each other in the dusk.  He could hear a voice calling out down the lines “Anyone know a McIntosh from Aberdeen? Anyone know a McIntosh from Aberdeen?”

He called out “I’m a McIntosh from Aberdeen!”. It turned out that it was his cousin from Winnipeg on his way in to Vimy. They couldn’t stop to talk but called out news of family to each other as long as they could be heard. After the War, he learned that his cousin had survived the battle and was safely home.

My ex-husband’s grandmother and his great uncles (as well as other relations) signed  up in WWI.

Charlotte Edith Monture (Anderson) in uniform

Charlotte Edith Monture (Anderson)

His grandmother, Charlotte Edith Monture (Anderson), “Andy” to her friends, signed up with the American Army (the AEF) as a nurse. She served in Vittel, France with Buffalo Base Hospital 23. She was an amazing woman. I had the honour of transcribing her wartime diary. Until the war “hotted up” she recounted tea dances (Including one where she was asked to dance by Eddie Rickenbacker — “He was a bit full of himself”), baseball games, “flickers”, and picking strawberries.Once the American forces got into the thick of it and the wounded started pouring in, her diary dwindled to the odd entry about exhaustion and the wounded. Her last entry was after Armistice where she described a visit to the stench and mud and ruin.

One of her patients, a favourite of hers, who appeared to be on the mend suddenly hemorrhaged one night and died. She wrote to his parents and after the war went out to Iowa to visit them. They gave her a lovely silver cutlery service when she married. She died 6 days short of her 106th birthday and was buried with military honours, at Six Nations.

Her brother, Gilbert Monture, later on of the first Native Canadians to receive a degree and then achieve a government position, also served in WWI. They were Mohawks from the Six Nations of The Grand River reserve, in Southern Ontario.

My ex’s father’s uncle James David Moses, a Delaware, also from The Six Nations reserve in  joined up in WWI. Hr started off in the infantry and then joined the Air services.

Lt. James David Moses

He was shot down over France and is commemorated as the first RCAF flier killed in action. He is remembered in the First World War Book of Remembrance.

My ex’s father, Russ Moses, served with the Canadian Navy in the Korean War. He told us many times of the time when the American Army contacted his captain. They had heard that there were a couple of Indians aboard. They had a special mission for them. They wanted to fool the North Koreans into thinking they were being fired upon so they wanted my father-in-law and his friend to make smoke signals for them. My father-in-law had to tell them that smoke signals were not something that Canadian Indians ever did and they didn’t know how to make them. I guess they thought that “an Indian was an Indian”.

Natives signed up in greater numbers in all wars than their White counterparts.  All the more surprising since they fought and died for a country that they couldn’t vote in*, couldn’t own property and after the war would not receive their military pensions unless they “enfranchised” (gave up their Indian status). They couldn’t even go into a bar with their fellow soldiers to have a beer because they weren’t allowed to drink. In some cases, any benefits they got were sent to this Indian agent who got to decide how and IF they got to spend it. In some cases, the agents pocketed the money. Only in the last few years has the government started addressing the inequity of this.

My birth father served in the American Army in WWII as an officer trainer.

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Hutch in uniform

My father with his father and his third wife (his Dad’s), California, just before the attack on Pearl Harbour.

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Dad, probably in Halifax just before going overseas.

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Dad (right), somewhere in France or Holland.

My step-father, who was studying at MIT tried to sign up with the American Army in 1941. However, he was rejected because of his race (“Our ”Indian’ contingent is filled” sneered the recruiting sergeant.). So he came up to Canada and joined the Canadian Army. They cared less about his colour than his willingness to fight. He served in North Africa, Italy, Sicily, France, Holland, and Germany. Canada’s willingness to accept him at a time of war rather than care only about his skin colour was a deciding factor on where he decided to live after he graduated. He came to Canada. He also joined the Naval Reserve, here.

After Dad died, someone (we think we know who) stole his medals from our house.

My mother also served in the Territorial Army in Scotland, after the war. During the war, she was in nursing. I’m afraid I don’t have a photo of her in uniform, though I know I have one somewhere.

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* In the case of Edith Anderson, she wanted to train as a nurse but no Canadian hospital would train “an Indian”. She applied to the New Rochelle School of Nursing and was accepted immediately. In 1914, she began working as a Registered Nurse in an elementary school. After the War, she returned to Canada and began nursing on the Six Nations Reserve. The first Canadian Native woman to be trained as a nurse.

I actually met the grand-daughter of the first native woman to be trained as a nurse IN Canada. I believe her surname was Brule.

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The Polish Airman

For many years, ever since I was little, really, my mother has told me the story of how, during WWII, her family met and became friends with a young Polish airman, serving with the Polish Air Force, under the auspices of the RAF.In about 1940, my grandfather was recovering from an illness and was sent by his doctor to recuperate at the seaside.Since many hotels were reserved as billets for servicemen and women and other people whose jobs were deemed “important for the war effort”, one had to get special permission to stay at these hotels. As my grandfather was a clergyman, he was given a permit to stay at a hotel, likely in Blackpool (I have to verify this with Mom). It was at this hotel that my grandfather, grandmother and my mother met Alojzy Dreja, a young Polish airman and his captain whose name is forgotten.

They became friends and exchanged letters for some time after. The captain was killed sometime later, in action.

Eventually, however, they lost touch with Alojzy. They never knew what happened to him.

Since my grandfather died between VE Day and VJ Day, and my mother and grandmother had to leave the Manse, any letters which came may have gone astray. My grandmother died shortly after the war and my mother left Scotland for Canada in 1950.

All that remained were my mother’s story and two New Years cards, and accompanying letter dated Dec. 27, 1940, and a Christmas wafer enclosed in a piece of folded writing paper. All these years later, I still have them all, including the Christmas wafer which is now broken in a hundred pieces.

This week, I was reading an article by Stan Oziewicz in the Globe and Mail about his father receiving a medal from the Polish government for his wartime service with 300 Squadron of the Polish Airforce, in England. Information about the squadron spurred me to look again for Alojzy. I had tried a few years ago but found not a mention of him.This time, however, I found a few tantalizing details using Google… details like his being awarded the Virtuti Militari, Poland’s highest military honour, the name of his squadron other details, and that it appeared that he had written a bookon another Polish airman (I think… the book is in Polish). However, I found little else.I did come across two people with the same last name but nothing more about him.

Just clutching at straws, I even emailed one of the two men with the same last name as him. The other one is Chris Dreja, one of the founding members of The Yardbirds! Hardly likely to be related…. I simply passed him over. However…. his name kept popping up so I had a closer look.

Chris Dreja was born in Surbiton, Surrey in 1945. I was born in 1956. My mother said that Alojzy was “a few years older” than her, possibly 22 or so when they met. Was it possible that Alojzy is Chris’ father? It certainly warranted checking, just on the off-chance.

After tracking down the name of his booking agent, I emailed him with the question of whether he knew or was related to Alojzy.

Today, it occurred to me to do a search of the telephone directories in the UK, including old directories. Unfortunately, you couldn’t simply do a search for the name. You had to put in a town or county. Not having any other starting point, I put in Alojzy Dreja and Surbiton.

Lo, and Behold…. Alojzy Dreja was listed in the early 1950s as living in Surbiton, Surrey! Sadly, in doing a subsequent search using the same database but searching other records, I discovered this:

Name : Alojzy Baltazar Dreja
Birth: 1 Jan 1918
Death: Dec 1985 – Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey

I cannot tell you how my heart sank when I read this.

My one hope is that my query gets to Chris Dreja and that he is, as I strongly suspect, Alojzy’s son (or at least a relative).

I have to say that it wasn’t until I began this search just a few days ago that I began to feel as though the 1930s and 1940s is fast falling into history (with a capital “H”). I have lived with my mother’s stories of her wartime service, with my father and step-fathers’ stories. Now it strikes me that they are like sand falling through my fingers…. It makes me very sad.

I updated this in a later post in September 2009 and again in Feb. 2010. I actually got the reply from Chris Dreja the day after I wrote the initial post, above.

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