"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Picturing a more meaningful Remembrance Day

Beny-Sur-Mer
At the urging of a friend, my brother Doug and his wife Wendy visited the Beny-Sur-Mer Canadian war cemetery in Calvados, France, a few years ago while travelling in Europe. They were told it would be a moving experience.
It was certainly all that and more, for they stumbled upon information about a grave bearing the inscription: "Lieutenant F.S. O'Neill, the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa, 26th June 1944."
Arnprior, Ont.
Knowing that, upon arriving from Tipperary, Ireland in 1848, our ancestors, Francis and Julia O'Neill and their young family had settled in the Ottawa Valley, Doug and Wendy wondered whether the F.S. O'Neill was related to us. They obtained a photo of the headstone and sent it to me and my five other brothers.
Peace Tower book.
Intrigued, we dove into some on-line and personal research shortly thereafter and we discovered that, yes, F. S. O'Neill was, indeed, a relative, and a rather close one at that -- he was my father's first cousin, Frank Smith (his mother's maiden name) O'Neill, and that, according to a story my father related to us for the first time, Frank had died on a patrol or a scouting mission shortly after D-Day.
Just hours after I first posted this blog, a distant cousin in Toronto came across it and sent me more information about the death--information which came to him by word of mouth from my distant cousin's grandfather. Reportedly, Frank was clearing a farmhouse or gatehouse, inland on the road toward Caen, and was hit in a doorway by light artillery or possibly rocket fire. He was killed instantly.
Lt. Frank Smith O'Neill, RIP
My family's Internet sleuthing and emails also produced a wealth of images, including: a photo of a cenotaph, in Arnprior, Ontario, bearing cousin Frank's name; and a photo of the page on which his name is recorded in the memorial book, displayed at the Memorial Chamber of the Peace Tower in Ottawa, which bears the names of all those who gave their lives for Canada in the Second World War.
But there was one image we hadn't found--a photograph of cousin Frank himself.
And so, on the eve of Remembrance Day 2015, I decided to restart my Internet search. It didn't take long for me to find what I was looking for on Veterans Affairs Canada's Canadian Virtual War Memorial website.
There, alongside a photo of his grave marker, and a photo of a Roll of Honour produced by the Bank of Nova Scotia (commemorating employees who died during the Second World War), was a photo of the man himself.
What a difference such a photo makes to our remembrance of this relative who gave his life for his country.
Cameron Highlanders, in Iceland, en route to England.
Making the photo even more moving is the fact that cousin Frank bears a passing resemblance to our father and an even closer resemblance to one of my brothers' sons.
And so, Remembrance Day has an especially deep meaning for us this year, as we remember the life that our cousin, whom we can now picture, gave in defence of his country and all it stands for. Thank-you, Frank!

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