Dear Uncle Charlie,
Just wanted to follow up with a quick note to tell you how
great it was to finally spend some time with you. I know we’ve talked before, but it was extra special being
able to do it on your turf. I’ve
wanted to visit you for a long time.
Ever since Grandma first told me your story nearly 40 years ago. I knew you were the baby of the
family. The youngest of 10? Wow. I knew you worked for the Canadian Press. And I knew you shocked everyone when
you enlisted and would soon be off to war. I remember Grandpa telling me about your going away party in
Calgary. You came home for the big
sendoff. He wanted to know why
you’d enlisted as a ‘regular’ soldier instead of serving as a
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correspondent. It would still be a
dangerous assignment, why head out to the front lines?
And I’ll never forget your answer:
“Well, somebody has to carry the rifles”. And so you did.
The young guide at the Juno Beach Museum told us the area
along the coast of Normandy is quite a bit different now. The years have chipped away at some
dunes and built up others. I
walked out as far as the tide would let me and looked back. I wanted to get a feel for what it must
have been like. It’s still an
intimidating shoreline. The
museum was excellent and I learned more about your unit – The Queen’s Own
Rifles of Canada. You hit the
beach about 3 kilometers from where the Museum stands. Legend has it the hotel cleared that
day was the first building ‘liberated’ in France. There are all kinds of photos of the big moment with proud
soldiers smiling for the camera.
Were you there? I looked
for you. Today the hotel is known
as Canada House and they proudly fly the Maple Leaf.
It’s a beautiful thing to see.
The world knows all about June 6, 1944. Truly, an important moment in
But June 11th must have been a hell of a day as
well. D-day plus 5. That’s the date engraved on your marker
and every soldier in your row. As
I walked around the cemetery I could see you had plenty of company.
N.E. Vincent, 19.
G.A Crawford, 20.
A.N. and T.L. Westlake. Were they brothers?
J.H. Docking, 22.
They must have teased you for being the ‘old’ guy at 32.
I wrote down all 12 names in row D-3, including the three
markers for “A soldier of the 2nd World War—known unto God”.
You know who they are.
Tell them we’re thinking of them.
Heading out now to explore more of France and then spend
some time in Italy. Free to
embrace what this wonderful world has to offer, while knowing as a Canadian,
we’re the luckiest in the world.
again, we thank you.
I was truly moved to visit the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian war
cemetery in Calvados, France.
It fulfilled a promise I made to my Grandma as a child, but more
importantly, has always been something I just had to do. The cemetery is about a ten minute
drive from Juno beach and is meticulously maintained. The grounds are stunning and many of the soldiers have been
honoured with fresh flowers, poppies and mementos. From atop the monument towers you can look out over the rows
and rows of markers and see the ocean in the distance.
A beautiful place to rest.
Charlie Stewart Hood can be found in row D – 3 – Marker
“Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” John: XIV.27