Provincial, Friday, November 11, 2011, p. A4
How words captured the horror of war
'I need no Armistice Day to recall the anguish of sleepless nights'
I hear again of darkening hours of hope,
I feel the sense of human love abate,
The fear with which men's reason failed to cope,
But sped amain, the lowering clouds of hate.
I hear afresh the thunder of the guns,
I see along the main, the gathering ships;
Muse once more of parting sires and sons
Of sinking hearts and trembling, blanching lips.
The man who wrote these lines several years after the First World War had never seen war. In fact, as far as I know, he never left the island of Newfoundland. He lived here from 1868 when he was born in Trinity, to 1946 when he died in St. John's.
But he felt war. As a father of seven, he knew what it was to stand powerless while children, sons who were scarcely men, left their outport home for St. John's, there to be kitted-out and packed in a vessel bound for England.
The verses were written when, on the occasion of an Armistice Day in the late 1920s or early 1930s, he remembered the genesis of war in 1914.
That is now 80 or more years ago, yet these lines have an immediacy; they still speak of unhealed wounds as the writer recalls the departure of well-intentioned fathers and sons. All that most of them knew was that England was in trouble. And that meant we were all in trouble.
"I hear afresh the thunder of the guns" ... and although he could never have heard them, the horror of their sound was tremendous in his ears.
This man was not completely helpless in the face of war. He wrestled with it; he wrestled with the war lust all too evident everywhere in 1914-18. And he was not without his means of expressing the experience.
I suspect it was his ability to form such thoughts and commit them to paper that sustained him to some extent, even if his sensitivity was the chink in his armour.
His was both a small world and a large world.
His attraction to the printed word gave him the scope to realize a world of fierce competition fired by jingoism. He knew from his school atlas that nations were dangerously juxtaposed. He knew that the simple life of the Newfoundland outport was not the whole world.
This man was my maternal grandfather. Walter Bugden was a teacher, a clergyman and a school inspector. He was also a skilled woodworker, a poet and a fine artist.
I never knew him except by someone else's memories, and yet, his legacy of smudged typewriter pages, handwritten attempts at an autobiography and brittle art paper bearing sketches of coastal scenes, obviate in a wonderful way any need to have met and talked.
The war had not long been raging before his two eldest sons, Reg and Ted, had enlisted and gone overseas. While they would return home and lead fulfilling lives after the war, it was the anguish of being so completely out of contact that would be most keenly remembered by their father:
"War cast its unexpected shadow over the land and fear and dread of the unknown were upon every face," he wrote. "There was much anxiety in many a home and there was prayer for the loved ones far away, ours amongst the number.
"Our son, the first born, joined his fellows as a free man, followed in like manner in a few months by a second, for 'service abroad' and the partings and the goodbyes were as if life itself had been blurred and frozen."
In time, Bugden came to abhor the annual observance of Armistice Day. He took it to be an unwanted occasion to stir our latent militarism. He would have preferred a day themed to "rest eternal."
In Newfoundland, he was not alone in seeing the martial ceremony of each Nov. 11 as a reopening of old wounds.
To some extent this is at odds with the wish expressed in John McCrae's famous poem where to forget is to break faith with the fallen.
But one has to be thankful for the words Bugden and others, few in numbers though they may be, did bequeath.
We must cherish these rare opportunities to see into hearts and minds of nearly a century ago because far too many of us were reduced to soulless statistics.
In a list of casualties published locally on Oct. 25, 1915, William John Murphy is among the newly killed. Cold and terse, it was noted only that he was the son of Bridget Murphy, widow, Conception Harbour.
That is it.
That is, as far as I know, the only thing that son and mother left to posterity. You can imagine that her months of not knowing had culminated in what my grandfather described as "the terse communiqué, 'We regret ...'"
Listed with Murphy, as well, were several others, about whom precious little was known:
Charles William Brown, Tack's Beach. dangerously ill with a gunshot wound;
William White of Loon Bay, died of wounds;
Eric Martin, 294 Hamilton Ave., wounded severely;
Cyril R. Carter of St. John's, dangerously ill at Alexandria;
William James Somerton, Bell Island, wounded severely.
On such lists of casualties, by the way, if there was something more known of the young man, it would be included as it was for Thomas Joseph Smyth, then lying somewhere overseas "dangerously ill" of dysentery: "Smyth is a son of George Smyth, cooper, Bond Street, and he was a clerk in the Hardware Department of Ayre & Sons. He left here with the first contingent."
Literature of record
If we broaden our view, we will quickly see that the story of the First World War was bolstered by literate serving men. Their descriptions in many instances slipped away from the censors and brought the full horror into the home of the average reader. Censorship and security, in any case, were not the fine arts that they were to become.
So, we get reality in all its nakedness.
Imagine the trauma for a sensitive man of letters in uniform slogging along a Flanders trench and suddenly coming upon what looked innocent enough at first but turned into a horror.
Poet and English professor Edmund Blundon served in the First World War, and deeply in the thick of it. On one particular day in an unoccupied trench, he discovered a pair of boots just standing in the mud. He went to collect them as too good to leave behind, but suddenly recoiled to see feet still in them. Around the immediate area, there was no other sign of a human.
Englishman Wilfred Owen is regarded by many as the war's most significant creative writer. Owen was killed in the conflict, but not before he wrote memorable lines, some of them on seeing British soldiers carried back from the Front after being gassed:
"If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood/Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs."
Such descriptions played powerfully against the attitude fostered to keep men bent to the task - the portrayal of the war as "a great game ... for one's king and country."
And so, despite his love of God and love of Empire, my grandfather (though nothing in the league of a Blundon or an Owen) could sound searingly bitter when he wrote his scant few observations on the war years later.
He could not, it seems, forgive the anguish to which he had been subjected. A small half-page section in an old loose-leaf binder bears his sincere prayer:
"Do not talk to me, you who never had a son or a loved one at the Front. Do not talk to me of keeping Patriotism alive by shouting war-songs and marching in 'glorified military parades.' Nor of miskept Armistice Days. There was but one such day, and it needed but one. Since then we need rather be calm ... 'Rest eternal grant to those who sleep.'
"I need no Armistice Day to recall the anguish of sleepless nights and the all but living death of those months of waiting - waiting while two sons were Somewhere in ..."
And he ended his diary note with a brief portion of a hymn written at a much earlier time but, sadly, still appropriate in his day and age:
"Holy Father, in Thy mercy
Hear our anxious prayer;
Keep our loved ones, now far distant
'Neath Thy care."
From The Illustrated London News (December 1914)
Newfoundlanders serving in Belgium and northeastern France during the First World War saw more than their share of barbed wire. In this picture, the King's Regiment of the British Army is depicted suffering heavily while trying to penetrate the enemy's wire at Givenchy. Three lines of a perfect thicket of barbed wire lay between these soldiers and the enemy. Only one brave officer is said to have penetrated the wire.
© 2011 The Telegram (St. John's). All rights reserved.
Document number: news·20111111·ET·0006
Provincial, Friday, November 11, 2011, p. A3
Overseas missions not easy on families
Nine-year-old Elizabeth Barnes of Flatrock was quite young when her dad, warrant officer Spencer Barnes of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, took his first tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2007, but she does remember what it was like when he left again two years later.
"When he was about to leave, I was clinging on to him," said Elizabeth, now a Grade 4 student at Cape St. Francis Elementary in Pouch Cove. "I didn't want him to go - I wanted him to stay here."
Barnes, who joined the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in 1990, has four children with his wife, Ingrid Verbree-Barnes. He is the Company Sgt. Maj. for A Company in St. John's.
Barnes had been married two years at the time he decided to join the regiment. With his civilian career solidly in place, he felt the time was right to give back to his country.
Reservists such as Barnes cannot be forced to go to war zones unless a state of emergency requires a full mobilization. When he signed up, Barnes did not have intentions of going to such a place.
What changed things for him was learning about the Afghanistan mission's intent - to help people in the country.
He got a sense of the mission's impact while watching television coverage of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, where runner Robina Muqimyar competed in the 100-metre sprint. She was one of the first two women from Afghanistan to compete in any Olympic competition.
"That was, to me, proof that the changes in the government of Afghanistan, in part due to Canadian efforts, were doing some good in modernizing the country, and I wanted to help," he said.
When he brought the idea of heading overseas to his family, it was not immediately embraced, but after some discussion about the merits of taking part in the mission, Barnes' family agreed to support his decision.
Making that decision easier was the fact his older children could help out around the house. He did face some tough questions, though, prior to leaving.
"What happens if you get hurt? What happens if you die? Questions a 15- or 16-year-old would ask," said Barnes. "But you point to the training we get, and the fact we send over 2,800 people at a time. In comparison to previous conflicts, the rate of injury and death is somewhat lower. Still too high, but somewhat lower. The odds are reasonably good that it's not going to be an issue."
For both trips, he worked at Kandahar Airfield, helping with indoctrination training for new arrivals and co-ordination work for the surveillance aircraft. The tours lasted six and nine months respectively, though extra training required him to be away from home for 15 months each time.
Though he may have been far away, Barnes did have means to communicate with his family, and he did make use of leave time to return to the province for stretches.
While her dad was away in 2009, Elizabeth said she tried to focus on schoolwork instead of him so she would not feel so sad. She knew her dad was in Afghanistan to help the country rebuild and give little girls there the chance to go to school.
She was also aware of the fighting that took place in the country.
"I felt like he was going to get killed, so I prayed every night," said Elizabeth.
Elizabeth always enjoyed her dad's visits. "I was so excited - I would cling on to him for hours," she said, adding they would often play games, watch television and read stories together while he was home.
While he enjoyed his visits, he was disappointed to miss out on birthdays, school events and two sets of summer holidays.
"There were significant periods of time where dad just wasn't where he was supposed to be," said Barnes.
While Elizabeth would feel particularly upset if her Dad decided to go back to Afghanistan at any point, she can understand why he might make that decision, as people there still need help.
Barnes said the door is not closed on going on another tour of duty somewhere overseas.
As for her dad's involvement in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, Elizabeth said she is proud of her dad. He once came to her school to talk about his experience in Afghanistan, and explained how children there ask Canadian soldiers for paper and pencils on the street to use at school.
"When the local children of Afghanistan approach soldiers in vehicles, they're holding one hand flat and scratching at it with the surface of the index finger on the other hand," explains Barnes. "Most places you go, children ask for candy. In Afghanistan, they're asking for pencils and paper so they can go to school."
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: TeleAndrew
Provincial, Thursday, November 10, 2011, p. A7
Second World War vet has lots to remember
Transcontinental Media; The Western Star
Corner Brook - Willis White has attended Remembrance Day parades in many communities and, in fact, organized a few of them himself.
On this Remembrance Day, the St. George's native, who served with the Royal Navy in the Second World War, will get to play an important role once again.
White, 90, has been asked to place a wreath at the memorial located in the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) unit at the Corner Brook long-term care centre as part of that facility's observance of the sacrifices made by soldiers throughout history.
Upon his return from the war, White went to work for Bowaters as a mechanic and welder. While the company had its paper mill in Corner Brook, White's job took him to many parts of the province and he was involved with Royal Canadian Legion branches in those places. He served as president of the branch in Baie Verte when he worked there and was president of the branch in St. George's when he returned there to work at the former American air force base in Stephenville.
White retired from the base and lived in his own home until four years ago, when he moved to the veterans' unit housed in the O'Connell Centre, one of the former long-term care facilities in Corner Brook. He was then among the first crew of veterans to move into the new unit in June 2010.
He is looking forward to taking part in Friday's Remembrance Day ceremony.
"I'm getting too old to travel out any more, so it will be nice to take part in what they have planned here," White said Wednesday.
Among the 16 residents of the DVA unit are three other Second World War veterans from Bay St. George.
"I haven't seen them in quite a while now, but we talk about everything when we get together," said White, adding the others were in the army and had different experiences than he did.
During his wartime service, White found himself aboard three ships and travelled all over the world. One of his most vivid memories is of being aboard the Dunnottar Castle, a passenger ship converted into an armed merchant cruiser that was later used for troop transport.
The Dunnottar Castle was near Gibraltar in the Mediterranean Sea when it was attacked by the German naval fleet. The ship was on its own as the Allied fleet was about 100 miles away.
"They started firing on us as soon as we came upon them," he recalled. "But that didn't last long. We had some good gunners on our ship."
The German air force was also a constant threat in the Mediterranean. One close call from a dropped bomb did some damage to the ship, but nobody was injured and the crew got the Dunnottar Castle safely back to port, where it spent about a month in drydock.
White joined the navy when he was 18. he had five uncles who fought in the First World War and he was determined to go when his time came in 1939.
"My uncles never told me everything about it, but they told me some of it and some of it was true," said White. "I probably wouldn't have went if they told it all. There were times I wished I hadn't have went, but it was nothing to worry about.
"My mother didn't want me to go, but her brother went and four of my father's brothers went, so I told her I was going regardless."
Province, Wednesday, November 9, 2011, p. A5
Doing the wrong things under Divine guidance
"There is not an army or navy man who has had the privilege to meet him, but who is enthusiastic in praise of his kindliness and in the sincerity of his interest in the veterans of the world war."
So wrote the editor of The St. John's Daily News as Field Marshall Haig "and his gentle consort," aboard RMS Caronia sailed out The Narrows on July 7., 1924, and headed home to England.
This was among the mildest sentences in a week-long hymn of praise bestowed upon Haig during his visit here, the primary duty of which was to unveil our National War Memorial, honouring those in whose death he had played a significant role.
We cannot blame the newspapers of the day for their worship of this former British Commander-in-Chief.
The war had ground to a halt a scant six years before. The relief that the end brought must still have been palpable. And as far as we knew here in our tiny Dominion, Haig was the man who got us through it.
If there were voices complaining about the cost of winning, or, to put it another way, complaining of Haig's hugely fatal manoeuvring of British forces at the Western Front, those voices were not yet very loud.
They grew louder as the Great War drifted into the past, turned from a recent event to history.
I guess history is like that. It creeps ever more closely to the truth as time moves on. Time is that unseen hand that opens old War Department documents, and places humble and official records in public view.
And it is historians who dig into that paper resource and who, as they move pieces of the puzzle together, eventually present us with a true picture. Many such true pictures make up a very telling gallery.
Such has been the case for Field Marshal Haig.
By rights, the Field Marshal should have been run out of The Narrows on the tip of his beloved cavalry sword.
It was our side that made July 1, 1916 especially bloody. The tragic errors of British planners only compounded what the Germans would do.
Haig must be one of the very few in history with such a callous disregard for human life who were in a position to demonstrate that disregard so massively.
In judging Haig, should we allow for the fact we were all building Hell on Earth? Is it fair to say that we were forced to do things that had no precedent?
I don't know if those were the kind of thoughts that would have eased any stress on Haig in the middle of his duties behind the lines (comfortably behind).
My read on all this is that his conscience needed precious little comforting.
Did you know, that in the summer of 1924, we welcomed to St. John's a person who gave tacit approval to the death quota that was expected of British regiments without which it would not seem as though they were seriously doing their bit?
We welcomed to St. John's a man who gained the Commander-in-Chief's position in large measure by criticizing the incumbent (Sir John French, was, admittedly, not much better than Haig) - and criticizing him in high places; Haig was a man who clearly saw success in battle as part of his resume.
He was a man held in such esteem by some (he was cozy with the King) that even the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George could not push him out when the Prime Minister determined the war had bogged down, that it was getting nowhere except in breaking all records in the death tally, and that Haig had no reasonable ideas to complete the job.
Let's consider a few more shortcomings of one of 'those who are set in authority over us:'
This was a man who enjoyed the best of food and drink, warm baths and a serving staff behind the lines in a French chateau as his soldiers sat in watery trenches and ate from cans.
This was a man who, when his Gentle Consort became pregnant in 1915, famously wrote to her: "How proud you must feel that you are doing your duty at this time by having a baby."
He ignored even the most obvious cases of shell-shock.
He casually signed death warrants for soldiers he decided were mutinous (even though it is clear they reacted out of line through sheer terror).
He based his life-and-death decisions on 'non-information.' A ranking adjutant of his, when he finally saw the Passchendaele hell-hole, bewailed "we have sent men to fight in this?"
It is clear that in many orders Haig issued he took no serious view of circumstances, but seems to have relied on his own self-determined infallibility:
"I feel that every step in my plan has been taken with Divine help," (Haig's letter to his wife is quoted by author Paul Fussell in "The Great War & Modern Memory").
Haig hammered away at the Somme when it had lost strategic importance; noting no success, he adjusted his own definitions of success.
Those who knew better raised eyebrows at the time but were powerless. At least the foolhardiness of many of Haig's decisions did not have to await the passage of time to be seen by some for what they were.
If we can excuse Haig's generalship based on the day and age and circumstances, how do we account for such a man as Herbert Plumer, a popular and successful British General? He was known to respect and value human life and would absolutely not order out masses of men under the game-plan of smothering the enemy with lifeless bodies. Plumer and Haig were contemporaries. Sadly, Haig out-ranked Plumer.
I must admit that while I have read much on this conflict, there is as much - more - that I should read. However, if I can't read everything there are more than enough sources upon which Haig's war record can be condemned.
To The Daily News editor of 1924, even God co-operated for Field Marshall Haig's visit (I suspect God would have not been reckless enough to do otherwise): "the weather has been all that could be desired."
The editor goes on to suggest that if we have fog and "tedious summers" we have warmth and big hearts and those would have compensated.
During his visit, Haig was praised for many things, and notably "the Field Marshal's service on behalf of the veterans of the World War" ... in The Daily News of July 7, 1924, that service was said to have inspired in veterans "their heartfelt thanks."
With the Haigs' vessel still within view of our coastline, the newspaper also wrote, "today Newfoundland bids a fond farewell ... but not without hope that some day they may revisit the scenes which the past week have rendered familiar to them. They have taken many prisoners in our midst, and bound them in the silken cords of love and gratitude. As they pass out of The Narrows, their last glance will be at the People's Memorial erected on the cornerstone of the overseas Empire" ... that term, "People's Memorial" brings to mind the fact that Haig was well-known as notoriously unable to chat with ordinary men. He was born, by the way, into the comfort of the Haig Scotch family.
When we are reminded to remember, let us remember this: that we must always question our leaders; that we must always demand from them better than we ourselves could offer.
Paul Sparkes is a longtime journalist who has always been intrigued by the history of Newfoundland and Labrador. Drop him a line at email@example.com.
Special, Thursday, November 11, 2010, p. A4
Remembrance Day 2010
A soldier's story
Capt. Gerald Whitty left numerous legacies, including pictures worth thousands of words
Gerald Joseph Whitty got to see the unveiling of the National War Memorial on Duckworth Street on July 1, 1924.
However, he did not witness the integral role the monument he helped establish would play in remembering fallen soldiers in the years that followed.
Whitty, who served with the Newfoundland Regiment from 1915 to 1919, was killed by a speeding car at Donovans on Sept. 15, 1924 - 2 1/2 months after the memorial opened.
The tragedy claimed a war hero, a person who fought for his country during the war and for his fellow soldiers after it.
Whitty was born to Catherine (Dwyer) and John Whitty Aug. 25, 1896.
He lived at 336 Water St., the street address of Melendy's gift shop today.
He worked as an agent at the Reid Newfoundland Company from 1908 - when he was around 12 - until he enlisted.
Whitty joined the regiment at Badger on Christmas Eve 1914, although his attestation paper has the date of enlistment as Jan. 4, 1915.
He stood at 5'10" and weighed 139 pounds at the time. His hair was dark brown. His eyes were brown as well. He's listed as 20 years old, but according to the birthdate listed in his file, he was in his 18th year.
Whitty did some training in St. John's and went overseas in the spring of 1915.
He headed to Gallipoli that August, and after a short period of service as a signaller, he came down with enteric fever, more commonly known now as typhoid.
He was treated at Malta and then England. There he had a severe relapse, but was promoted to second lieutenant.
Whitty returned to the depot and did some light training as he didn't feel well enough to do full training.
When troops were needed before and after July 1, 1916 - the day his regiment was decimated at the Somme - Whitty offered himself but was repeatedly refused.
His cough persisted.
He continued training with the signal corps and returned to action in April 1917.
"On July 25, 1917, while forming the rear guard to a party returning from wiring, I was blown in the Yser Canal, sustaining injuries to the eyes and a cut across the nose, as well as having everything detachable on me blown away," he wrote in a letter that's part of his Regimental file.
The worst was yet to come.
"On Nov. 21, 1917, during the Cambrai (battle) I was blown up by a shell and while suffering considerable shock I remained for 15 minutes when I received a gunshot in the right shoulder, penetrating below the shoulder blade."
While his letter doesn't state it, Whitty's actions at Cambrai were considered heroic. He was awarded the Military Cross, "for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty," according to the Royal Gazette.
"When there were very few officers left, he went forward on his own initiative and assisted in reorganizing the attack and led a charge with most successful results."
The Regiment lost about 250 men at Cambrai, but it stood its ground. Its performance there and at the Third Battle of Ypres that same year earned the corps the "Royal" designation from King George V.
Whitty wrote that from the time he was "blown up, my nerves gave me considerable trouble."
He was sent to Scotland and treated for shell shock.
He was made acting captain in July 1918, but he never saw action again.
In June 1919, Whitty was named a member of the Order of the British Empire and he returned to Newfoundland that June.
"My health at the time was far from good. I was feeling weak and debilitated and had a considerable feeling of tightness in the chest with coughing and frequent expectorations."
He was placed on the retired list in July 1919. The Royal Newfoundland Regiment was disbanded the following month, on the 26th.
Three days after that, Whitty went to work in New York, where he had gotten a job at Eastern Union Co. on Broad Street.
He fell sick upon arrival and, two weeks later, was advised to return home until he felt better. He instead went to Quebec, where he found a job with Canadian National Railways at Grand Mere.
His health forced him to resign. Unable to find light work, he returned to St. John's.
Whitty went back to work as a train dispatcher with the Reid Newfoundland Co.
One month in, he wrote, "I found that my nerves would not allow me (to keep) performing the duties allocated to me."
The young war vet was forced to quit. He was named to the Civil Re-establishment Committee - which helped returning soldiers adjust - in February 1920. That was the same year he became secretary-treasurer of the Great War Veterans Association.
Through that organization, Whitty lobbied to improve veterans' pensions, including his own.
"I was discharged with a pension of 10 per cent, same being discontinued sometime later," he wrote. "I have never felt that I should make strong representation for a pension, but in my present condition, I am reluctantly forced to do so as I feel unable to carry on with my ordinary associations."
Whitty assisted Rev. Thomas Nangle, the Regiment's padre, with making the National War Memorial a reality. He also raised money for veterans through the poppy campaign.
There were four other fatalities in the accident that killed Whitty.
Among them was William King, a fellow veteran. Whitty and King were honoured with a funeral precession down Water Street in St. John's.
"To give you an idea of how many were at the funeral, the CLB band had turned the head of Cochrane Street when the rear guard ... had not left Water Street," reads the caption to a photo of the event.
While Whitty contributed to the war effort and helped establish the war memorial, he left another legacy - 111 photos from the war and the years that followed.
The images were donated to The Rooms Provincial Archives Division in 2006 and, earlier this week, the Captain Gerald J. Whitty Collection was posted on www.therooms.ca (search under "archival collections" link).
The photos - some of which appear on this page - provide a glimpse of some of the devastation Whitty witnessed at war, as well as some of the initiatives he was involved in afterwards.
The photographs are provided courtesy of the estate of Caroline (Grace) Ball.
Special, Thursday, November 11, 2010, p. A14
Remembrance Day 2010
War and remembrance
Second World War veteran recalls flying over beaches of Normandy
People have tried to imagine it, history has tried to tell about it, and Hollywood has tried to depict it.
- Read more special articles:
- Time doesn't heal
- 'It was hell, simply hell'
- Collection of Remembrance Day archive stories 2
- Collection of Remembrance Day archive stories 3
For instance in 1998, tinseltown superstars Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg spent millions of dollars and several months just to film a short, 27 minute re-enactment of the fateful day soldiers stormed the beaches of Normandy on what's come to be known as D-Day.
It was a pivotal moment of the Second World War, but not even the best Hollywood has to offer can fully capture what it was like for the brave souls who stepped up voluntarily and took part in something that would change the course of history forever.
To truly understand what it meant and what it was like, one would have had to be there, and experience it themselves.
Such is the case with Springdale resident Herb Pike.
Originally from Grand Falls-Windsor, Pike spent much of his childhood in the Buchans area.
"My father worked with the Newfoundland railroad," he said. "But that was way, way back."
When the railroad was put through the island, the family moved to Buchans Junction, and then on to Buchans. It was there young Pike finished his schooling at the age of 17.
The year was 1940, and conflict in Europe was on the rise, as a second war had broken out, and was quickly escalating far beyond the one that had ended just 20 years earlier. Spearheaded by a man that had already made a name for himself as evil, Adolf Hitler's Germany seemed to have the upper hand over the Allies - and word had gotten back to a young man and his friends.
"The word was going around at the time that Hitler wanted to take over the world and make us all slaves," recalled Pike. "That's what we were told - that's what everyone was told. We just knew that we couldn't let that happen, so we decided to try and help out."
Along with several schoolmates, Pike enlisted in the Royal British Air Force.
After a medical and some preliminary screenings in St. John's, they were sent to Quebec for flight training. Nine months later, Pike was given a licence and an airplane and sent to the Bahamas where he picked up a crew, and became familiar with the protocol and the practice of air combat and dropping bombs.
"We left the base in the Bahamas and flew right to England," he said. "We spent a month getting familiar with the routes and territory over there."
Then it was time to take off from the grassy banks of England's countryside and head to the battleground of Germany's airspace.
A year prior to that, Pike was sitting in a classroom in Buchans, hearing rumours of a dictator half way around the world that wanted to use him as a slave. Now, sitting in the cockpit of a fighter plane, he was off to fight the army of the very man the rumours were about.
On June 5, 1944, Pike turned 21. It was to be a day that thousands of young soldiers just like him would never forget.
"D-Day was supposed to be on the fifth," he said. "Which would have been my birthday. But the weather was really bad that day, so they pushed it off to the next day."
The picture Pike paints of D-Day is hard to imagine for those who hear it.
"We had over 3,000 planes in the air that day," he said.
One of them was piloted by the young man from Buchans.
"The North Sea was packed full of every kind of ship you can imagine. Corvettes, Destroyers, Battleships - you name it.
"They had landing barges by the hundreds," he continued. "We could look down and see all the men on the beaches - some alive and still fighting, and some not."
It's statements like that which bring home how important a part of history Pike's actions are, and how they helped reshape the world. For him, though, words like "hero" and "history maker" are like water off a duck's back.
"We did it," he said. "For some it was a big deal, I suppose, but for us it was what we did - it was what we had to do, and that was it."
When asked about the amount of combat he experienced, his response is quick and simple.
"Too much," he said with a slight quiver in his voice. "If I talk about it, I start crying and I can't take it."
In addition to the atrocities experienced during his time overseas, Pike lost his friends who left Buchans with him that fateful day, along with a brother who is buried somewhere in Europe in an unmarked grave.
One can only try to imagine what images come in Pike's mind when the subject of war is raised.
"My heart breaks when I see on the news that we've lost another soldier in Afghanistan," he said. "Please - bring them home."
As the time for the poppy rolls around again, Pike is reminded of the things he experienced all those years ago.
"It's particularly hard, because you're always brought back to it."
In any case, whether it's shaking hands with Winston Churchill, or flying over the beaches of Normandy, forever etched in Pike's mind are the pictures that history tells, and Hollywood has only tried to portray.
Baie Verte Peninsula Correspondent
Photos by Billy Canning/N'orwester
Veteran Herb Pike holds up a defused 50-calibre bullet.
Photos by Billy Canning/N'orwester
Springdale resident Herb Pike sits with partner Pearl Spidle in their home. Pike piloted airplanes during the Second World War.
© 2010 The Telegram (St. John's). All rights reserved.
Document number: news·20101111·ET·0036
Special, Thursday, November 11, 2010, p. A11
Remembrance Day 2010
'It's still hard'
Vet gives family new insight on St. John's soldier's death
Michael Power's uncle died during the Korean War almost 60 years ago, but the St. John's man didn't know the tragic details until recently.
The insight came from one of Uncle Leo Lawlor's war buddies.
Lorne RodenBush, who had reached out to the fallen soldier's family through a letter in The Telegram, recalled what happened May 26, 1951, in an email to Power.
Leo had become a driver shortly after arriving in Korea, even though he wasn't trained for the position.
"I saw Leo's truck returning from picking up the rations and water," RodenBush wrote. "I ambled over to the parked vehicle. Enquired as to how it was going. Thumbs up. Leo reached for his Sten gun (a cheap mass-produced weapon), removed the magazine, placed the gun between his legs. A round was still in the chamber and went off, with the shell hitting Leo in the heart. The accident happened in front of my eyes. His departure was instant."
Power has always known his uncle's death was accidental, but this was the first time he had heard the details.
He says he was totally surprised, and saddened.
"Even now, it's still hard," he said in an interview.
Leo Lawlor was his mom's brother, one of Madeline (Lawlor) Power's three siblings who went to war. (Leo's twin, Francis, survived and died last year. Lawrence, another brother, also survived and died a few years ago.)
Power was born three years after his uncle's death. Still, he said Leo remained part of the family and everyone was proud of him.
He said it was always such a sensitive subject and his mother would cry at the mention of Leo's name. She always called him "Poor Leo" because he died so young.
Late last month, Power and his family were pleasantly surprised to read RodenBush's letter.
In it, he wrote that in mid-October he was one of six Canadian veterans who visited South Korea.
One thing he did there was pay his respects to Leo.
RodenBush sent The Telegram a picture of Leo's grave in Busan and noted the man's family could contact him if they wish.
Power emailed RodenBush, who then replied with a note to share with the family.
He recalls some memories of his buddy, who he shared a bunk with during basic training.
RodenBush also recounted Leo's tragic death and sent photos of his grave.
"I wanted to show you his resting place - an absolutely manicured burial grounds," he noted. "He is remembered. For me at every Remembrance Day - as I remember pilots and airmen that also died much too young and in the service of our country. I know that Leo is remembered. You can be proud of him."
Power, no doubt, is.
The 11th day of the 11th month has always been special for the St. John's accountant.
This year, however, it'll have a heightened meaning.
"It'll be a teary-eyed day on Nov. 11 this year," he says, noting he and his son, Jeff, are contemplating a trip to see Leo's grave after Jeff finishes med school in Australia.
Leo will also be on RodenBush's mind as he attends Remembrance Day ceremonies at the National Cemetery in Ottawa.
He told The Telegram his army buddy's death made him grow up in a hurry and that contacting the family helps give him some closure. Interestingly, Leo and RodenBush had eerily similar regimental numbers.
The Newfoundlander's was NL 800052, while the Saskatchewan-born RodenBush's was SL 800052. There were 26,000 Canadians who served in Korea. About 12,000 are still living.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @bartlett_steve
Above right, Lorne RodenBush visits Leo Lawlor's grave last month in Busan, South Korea. Inset, Leo Lawlor and Lorne RodenBush at basic training in Camp Borden before going overseas to Korea. Lawlor is in a white T-shirt. RodenBush is at the top of the pyramid.
© 2010 The Telegram (St. John's). All rights reserved.
Document number: news·20101111·ET·0031
Special, Thursday, November 11, 2010, p. A11
Remembrance Day 2010
First world war
The mechanical saviour that answered battlefield prayers
The scene was Gueudecourt. The land did not look so forbidding to Newfoundlanders already familiar with the Beaumont Hamel region. It was, however, showing the trauma of three months of severe fighting - large shell holes, mud stirred into a grey molasses by persistent torrential rains and the movement of machines, men and animals. And then there were the water-filled holes. Almost certain death traps.
But this was the challenge.
This was the Somme.
Here the British and their allies faced the kaiser's men and here so many young lives would be summarily ended - by the single rifle bullet finding its quarry; by the indiscriminate leaden sleet from machine guns and by the water traps which hungrily drew down the wounded man or the man who took a misstep, encumbered as he was with his 60-pound pack and rifle.
Piecemeal victories which accumulated over the more than four years of war ultimately grew to become the compelling force which dashed the kaiser's dream. But they were costly. More than 700 Newfoundlanders were killed, wounded or missing after the July 1 carnage. Successful fighting at Gueudecourt spanned two days and took another 120 Newfoundlanders, either on site immediately, or in due course as men died of their wounds - one would be hard put to imagine a greater hell than lying wounded on a darkened battlefield. At night the only action may be the sporadic gunfire as some sleepless German watched for a wounded man to rise, or listened for him to cry out and so betray the plot of mud where he would die.
The first two years of the war had gone well for the Germans on the western front. The vast killing fields of northeastern France, toward Belgium, therefore became the arena where the British and their allies would strain every sinew to drive the Germans east. It was a contest entered by valiant men at the behest of reckless and out-dated officers.
With all this, it is not difficult to imagine a man yearning for the advent of some technological breakthrough. Visceral urges, if not cool and collected invention, would have impelled men to pray for some sort of mechanical saviour.
The advent of the tank occurred on the Somme in mid-1916. It was first mentioned in dispatches in mid-September that year.
With the number of conflicts that have convulsed the world since 1914-18, we are familiar with tanks today - the fierce power of their main guns, their brutal ability to intrude into virtually any scenario. There is a definite lack of argument after a tank cannon fires point-blank.
In 1916, tanks were a novelty and, with no humans in evidence, they took on their very own persona.
One Philip Gibbs wrote (apparently on site, of a particular "tank" in 1916):
"A tank had been coming along slowly in a lumbering way, crawling over the interminable succession of shell craters, lurching over and down and into soft earth, and grunting up again, and sitting poised on broken parapets as though quite winded by this exercise, and then waddling forward in the wake of the infantry. ...
"It faced the ruins of the chateau and stared at them very steadily for quite a long time, as though wondering whether it should eat them or crush them. Our men were hiding behind ridges of shell craters, keeping low from the swish of machine-gun bullets and imploring the tank to 'get on with it.' ...
"Fire leaped from its nostrils ... the German machine-guns splashed its sides with bullets which ricochetted off ... it got on top of the enemy's trench, trudged down the length of it, laying its sandbags flat and sweeping it with fire ... the German machine-guns were silent, and when our men followed the tank shouting and cheering, they found a few German gunners standing with their hands up as a sign of surrender to the monster who had come upon them."
In the closing days of the war, a British officer described what he termed "the new fighting monsters."
"The most terrifying engine of destruction which the war has developed is the British armored motor car, or 'tank' as the soldiers have named it.
"This land dreadnought is an adaptation of the American caterpillar farm tractor. Several thousand unarmored cars were bought by the British government which added the armament.
"The cars are about 23 feet long and nine feet wide overall. The main weight is carried on two chain belts, or caterpillars, having corrugated surfaces."
Again from today's perspective they sound clumsy and almost comical. But on the battlefields of the kaiser and the king, they were a sheltering mother with a vicious temper.
"A 'tank' travelled about halfway up Bouleaux Wood until in a position enabling it to enfilade the enemy's trenches," an officer wrote.
"Then the commander discovered that the infantry were not coming up behind him, so he went back for them. Again he went forward with the infantry following, passing over enemy trenches and continuing his journey to the outskirts of Morval." ... The officer goes on to relate how the infantry again became hung up by German machine gunning and when the tank commander discovered this, he returned yet again to the stranded men, but, before advancing, hoisted his tank "astride the German trench" and, well, suffice it to say, silence fell suddenly.
"In one group of advancing tanks eight out of ten reached the point to which they were directed at the beginning of the offensive. Northwest of the Ginchy Telegraph, one of this group silenced a group of six machine-guns in a redoubt, concentrating its fire on one after another.
"All of them did useful work in clearing other machine-gun parties out of craters.
"The enemy had poised his guns on the far lip of the crater. It was extremely difficult to spot them in the tumbled earth.
"Another tank in this group captured a full trench of Germans just east of Delville Wood. The pilot saw a white flag waving violently and advancing toward him as he was about to halt his tank on the trench and sweep it from both sides. Behind the white flag streamed a long procession of unarmed Germans with their hands in the air. The tank accepted their surrender and told them to pass back to the British lines."
The war was ended barely a month when The Scientific American, in one of its regular issues, wrote:
"During the last days of the great war the Germans endeavored in numerous and divers ways to hamper the tank fleets of the Allied forces. For there is no mistaking the facts that they finally came to appreciate the effectiveness of the tank; and their persistent ridiculing of the tank idea for so long a time only served to make it impossible for them to catch up with the Allies in this branch of modern warfare."
Photo Underwood & Underwood
"The Germans dug deep and wide trenches in front of their lines so as to prevent tanks from passing. Despite all such devices and concentrated anti-tank artillery and rifles, the Germans could not stay the advance of the tanks which always found a way of getting around obstructions of all sorts." - From The Scientific American, issue of Dec.14, 1918.
From The Scientific American, Dec. 14, 1918
"The greatest offensive weapon of the war: the irresistible Allied tank."
Special, Thursday, November 11, 2010, p. A10
Remembrance Day 2010
WAR AND REMEMBRANCE
Remembering Cpl. Brian Pinksen
Corner Brook native was the first member of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment killed in action since the First World War
For the family of Brian Pinksen, this Remembrance Day will be something new. Pinksen died at the end of August as a result of injuries he sustained in Afghanistan.
"It's just amazing the different feelings you have. You're so proud, and yet you don't think it's fair that he had to leave you. Yet he died fighting for our freedoms," said Kerry Pittman, Pinksen's uncle.
"We really don't know what to expect. I'm pretty sure it's going to be pretty emotional, be-cause again, it just brings back all these feelings."
The 20-year-old Corner Brook native was described as a soldier who loved what he did.
"As a soldier, his heart and soul was definitely in the military," said Capt. Robert Wheeler, a member of the west coast battalion of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.
"He loved it, and when people love their jobs, they tend to excel."
Wheeler served as assisting officer after Pinksen was hit by an improvised explosive device in Panjwai District, southwest of Kandahar City.
"We're there for any of the needs of the family," he said.
"It's kind of like helping them through the process."
Wheeler informed the family of the attack and accompanied them to Germany, where Pinksen was taken for treatment.
When he died, it came as a surprise.
"He was supposed to be airlifted to Halifax, so I was ready to meet him in Halifax when we got the bad news," Pittman said.
"Then all of a sudden, we hear he's had problems. Then, we hear he's passed away."
Pittman said Pinksen's parents divorced when he was nine years old, and that Pinksen had tried to step up as a father figure to his two younger brothers.
"Brian kind of matured a little faster than the average teenager," he said.
"By the time he was ready to graduate from high school, he was already buying his brothers Christmas gifts, doing things for his mother, always talking about his mother, how supportive she was to him."
Pittman said he also tried to fill the gap as a father to the three boys, especially when it came to hunting and fishing.
"If I went hunting, Brian was with me. And that's what keeps me going now - I mean, half the things I own for hunting is what Brian bought me in the past couple of years," he said.
"I think over the years I bought him his hunting clothes ... and now he was trying to pay me back."
During those times, Pinksen and Pittman had plenty of conversations about the military and about the war.
Pittman "didn't really want him in (the military)" and worried about what might happen to him, he said.
"He knew the history of Afghanistan, and he knew the situation going on over there," Pittman said.
"I didn't have a leg to stand on, because he had more knowledge about the area than I did, and the true reason why Canadian soldiers are over there."
Front, Wednesday, November 10, 2010, p. A1
Voices of veterans
In the week before Remembrance Day, The Telegram sat down with several veterans at the DVA Caribou Pavillion in St. John's.
Albert McGrath served in the Mediterranean in 1944-45.
Charles Lutor served in the anti-aircraft and defence forces in England from 1941-45.
Frank King started his service in coastal defence in England and then went through France, Belgium and ultimately into Germany.
John Stratton served in the Royal Air Force from 1940-70, flying in bombers during the Second World War.
Each man had different experiences with war, and shared opinions on why they served, how they think about Nov. 11, and what things will be like after the last Second World War veteran is gone.
What follows is an edited transcript of their conversation with The Telegram:
So many years after the Second World War, what do you think about how Remembrance Day is observed? Has it changed over the years?
Lutor: Newfoundlanders carry out July Drive more than November 11, to my mind. Great emphasis is placed on the July Drive.
King: I think we who are older, our attitudes haven't changed, but I think the younger generations have a different concept, or they don't seem to celebrate the same as we do, or think of it the same as we do - the seriousness of it. ... They probably think about it differently, but they certainly don't take it as seriously.
Does anyone agree or disagree with that?
Stratton: I don't see anything wrong with the way it's conducted at the moment, actually. ... It's done very similarly to the way it's done in England, and I see nothing wrong with it. And I think the youth of today certainly have got more respect for the servicemen than I did when I was growing up.
Communications made a difference
Do you think there's anything today that people get wrong about the war?
Stratton: Well, no one understands everything, but I think they're fairly well educated.
King: A war is a war, and that's it.
Stratton: No, a war is a war, that's too simple. No one understands completely a war, not even the generals who run it, or the politicians who get the generals to run it.
Do you think that people still understand the course of events? Are they as educated as they should be?
Lutor: If more people like Winston Churchill had been around in 1937 or in the '30s, we wouldn't have had a World War II. Churchill knew the course of events. Churchill knew what a character Hitler was, but the rest of the people ignored the guy.
Stratton: I don't think Churchill could have done any more than he did. One man can't do -
Lutor: No, had there been more people around like Churchill -
Stratton: Ah, if there had been more people like Churchill, but not Churchill on his own, a great man that he was.
Lutor: But Churchill realized that Hitler was a bloody vagabond, you know. He was a bad guy.
King: I came from a rural outport. Looking back, I feel that we knew very little about the activities of war, and what it really meant. I'm sure today the younger generations are much more versed than we were, and understand it much more than we did. So possibly we won't be so anxious to go do war anymore. That's what I'm hoping anyway.
McGrath: I think if you go to war, you've got to go first and not wait until it comes down on top of you. They should have spoke up to Hitler long before. He gave lots of signs about it.
After the last Second World War veteran has passed away, do you think that will change the way people remember the war?
King: I don't think so. The younger generation will probably become more conscious of the significance of what we were doing.
Stratton: It's more or less ingrained within us, and and the children as well, that this is the way you should treat (veterans) and I honestly can't see that changing.
McGrath: There was more recorded in World War Two, you see, than there was back in World War One.
King: And that information has been passed down the line, and the younger generations have been taught more in school than we were. So consequently, the chances of volunteering to go to war, which we did, may not be as good. Newfoundland is the only part of Canada that didn't have conscription.
Stratton: I'd venture to say that after the First World War, children knew very very little about the war. Very little. Now, in the Second World War, I think children knew a lot about it, and that's chiefly due to communications, and that is the reason why we have now been 65 years without going to war. I know you've had little wars in the Middle East and the Far East, but we've had no major wars in 65 years, whereas after the 1914-18 war, we were less than 20 years before we were back into it again. And the reason is communications.
So, how do you as veterans view the Afghan war, and the soldiers coming back from that? Do you view them as the same as you?
Stratton: I've got all the respect in the world for the ones that are coming back from Afghanistan. But I think it was a war that was unnecessary.
King: Yes, I agree with him.
Stratton: That one and the Iraqi war.
Lutor: I estimate that they shouldn't be there, but the soldier is the best judge of that. The man that does the fighting. He's fighting for women, (for) rights. ...
McGrath: We're talking about peace. There hasn't been peace there. It's largely tribal, and if this tribe gets a little better off than the other, then very often there's envy resulting in war. And it's been going on there for a long, long time. The British were there and after them the Russians. Over a hundred years ago, there was the same kind of war was going on, except the weapons have changed.
The Second World War is widely remembered as a war about freedom. Do you think that people today take their freedom for granted?
Stratton: I'm sure they're taking it for granted.
Lutor: I think people are travelling around the world more. My grandchildren have travelled more than I ever did, and I've been around the world twice. God dammit, they're in Brazil, they're in Manitoba one day, they're in Alberta the next. The companies fly them all over the place. Yes, I think today's children are much more enlightened than we were. And they value freedom. They see examples where they go, of non-freedom.
King: Yes, I agree with him that freedom is known more, and cherished more by the younger generation. I think it was ignorance in our day - lack of knowledge - whereas today, a kid of 15 is just as knowledgeable as anyone else is. And consequently, they do know what's happening, and they do believe in freedom. Of course, I think they'd fight (for freedom) just as much as we did for it.
So few people today want to join the Forces, whereas during the First and Second World Wars people lined up to join. Why do you think that's changed, and do you think that's a good thing or a bad thing?
McGrath: Had we known what kind of thing was going on in Europe -
Stratton: Communications had developed an awful lot. Very few people had radios in 1939, for instance. None in 1914. And you're bombarded now with conditions that would warrant you to either reject or grasp the idea of joining the forces.
King: Living conditions had an awful lot do to with it in the Second World War.
Lutor: In between the wars in England, we would play with German toy soldiers and British toy soldiers, and had forts and everything - German and English - so we were at war for 20 years in a sense, as boys, and there was a kind of romance to war. You soon found out that there wasn't any romance to it.
Stratton: I don't think there was any romance in the 1914-18 war, there was in the 1939-45 war. At least people saw romance to it.