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ON THE 11th HOUR: when the war went quiet
Local historical society member speaks on familial ties to both World Wars
Strolling down Water Street in Carbonear it’s impossible not to notice the dozens of banners bearing the names and faces of the many veterans who called Carbonear their home.
Each one features the name and face of a soldier who served during the First World War and Second World War.
The banners, which were set up in 2017, are part the results of the commemorative poster banner project of the Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 23, Carbonear.
Today the banners line the road from Water Street all the way down to Crocker’s Cove, each one with its own story to tell.
The banners honour people such as Allan Charles Hayter, a resident of Carbonear who served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War.
Other such names on these banners include John Cornish Sr., as well as John Cornish Jr. – two Carbonear men who served during the First World War and Second World War respectively.
Cornish Sr. was a private with just under four years of service under his belt. Originally hailing from Europe, Cornish fell in love with a Carbonear woman, and moved to the island with her to start a family.
His son, John Cornish Jr., followed in his father’s footsteps in a way by enlisting to go to war during the Second World War.
Initially, Cornish Jr. was assigned aircrew class in 1944, after working as a surveyor for a number of years. After being shipped to Toronto to complete basic training, Cornish Jr. was given the role of air gunner and was promoted to the rank of sergeant.
Keith Thomas, a resident of Carbonear and member of the town’s historical society, is the nephew of Cornish Jr. and grandson of Cornish Sr. As someone in the community with something of a passion for history, he says it is an honour to see his family members recognized for their service and efforts throughout their lives.
“Those banners are rather significant, actually. They’re located just across the road from the home that they lived in when Cornish Sr. moved to Carbonear,” explained Thomas. “So, it’s like they’re overlooking, or looking back on, the home they lived in and had so many memories in. It was a bit of an emotional day to see those banners go up, but it was good. It feels good to see them get that recognition.”
“Pop Cornish was shot in the leg during the war. He was in his early 20s, so it was something he struggled with almost his entire life. He didn’t want to hear anything about amputation back then, and never did get the leg amputated, so it did give him trouble a lot,” Thomas said of his grandfather, who passed away of a heart attack in his 50s. “He would wake up at night sometimes, screaming, thinking he was back in the trenches – it was PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). His time at war really did have an effect on him, certainly.”
Thomas has, over the years, dedicated some of his time to researching the lives of these family members, not only to sate his own curiosity, but to ensure there are records out there for those who may want to know more about the particular individuals. He feels this type of information is important when it comes to remembering the lives of those who sacrificed it all for their home country.
With the help of fellow Historical Society member William Ford, Thomas was able to find some information about Cornish Sr. and Jr. that he was previously unaware of.
He told The Compass these revelations give him a certain sense of satisfaction, such as the fact that John Cornish Jr. was not an actual pilot, but a pilot officer, explaining why the hat he wore had a bib, standing out amongst the other hats worn by those who served in the aviation portions of war.
“The only people that really know about these people anymore are family members. Generations after their death, their stories aren’t really well-known, so I think these banners serve as a great way to not only honour all these people, but to remind everyone that each person had a story,” Thomas said. “Now, people can know who John Cornish Sr. and Jr. were, or anyone who’s on one of the banners. That’s special.”