Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The less remembered ones

One of my grandfathers began his service in the RCAF shortly after WWII. And although he flew in and out of Korea when that conflict flared up, most of his airtime in the late 40's and into the 50's was spent either training, or flying some pretty crazy Cold War missions. My grandmother started smoking cigarettes in Greenwood, NS with the other wives who would wait and wait and wait for the Lancasters doing anti-submarine patrols at a few thousand feet above the North Atlantic to limp in with ice-coated wings after a ten-hour mission. That's if they came back at all.

As my Grandpa put it to me a year or so ago, "I don't know about the rest of the military, but on the coast, we were on a wartime footing. Nobody knew about it."

I was reminded of that story today, when I read Ian Elliot's excellent Remembrance Day article in the Kingston Whig-Standard. It talks about Private John Danaher, a soldier who drowned in Kingston before going overseas to fight in WWI. His name doesn't appear on any cenotaph.

In November 1914, John Danaher came to Kingston, eager to fight for Canada.

Ninety-five years ago this past weekend, Danaher, an unmarried Irishman -- older than most recruits, with previous service with the U. S. Army -- drowned off the Kingston waterfront before he ever got the chance to go overseas.

For more than nine decades, he lay in an unmarked grave in St. Mary's Cemetery, one of the most shabbily treated of all the area's war dead.

Today, Danaher has a headstone. It might even be on the plot where he is buried.

No one will ever know who is in the grave in the military area of the cemetery, one of several in that section that lay unmarked for nearly a century.

Danaher's name does not appear on any cenotaphs, or on the list of the area war dead. He is, if no longer an unknown soldier, very much a forgotten one.

Danaher died in a training accident, and he became a victim of post-mortem rumours of suicide, shame and unfitness for duty. Though he had been issued an army number he had the misfortune to die before being formally sworn into service. In the regulation-bound military hierarchy, that made him a soldier in every respect but the one that keeps his name off the list of war dead.

I think this quote from Jonathan Vance, an eminent Canadian historian, sums my feelings up quite well:

"Only so many people get to die the sexy deaths, you could call them, but the sacrifice of someone who died in battle at the Somme is not in any way diminished by the death of someone who drowned in Kingston."

We should remember them all.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reminds me of this . . .

12:24 p.m., November 11, 2009  

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