My per­spec­tive

Advertiser (Grand Falls) - - Editorial - BY ROGER PIKE

Some­one asked me the other day if I knew any real he­roes of world con­flicts that have im­pacted the lives of New­found­lan­ders.

I paused mo­men­tar­ily be­fore of­fer­ing up the names of both by grand­fa­ther and fa­ther who were vet­er­ans of the First and Sec­ond World wars. But were they he­roes?

They wouldn’t look at them­selves as he­roes. Vet­er­ans hardly do. They sim­ply ac­knowl­edge their ser­vice in a somber, re­flec­tive way and move on with the con­ver­sa­tion. At least that’s what my dad did. Per­haps that’s the way it should be, al­though now I wish I would have quizzed him more. But there are he­roes nev­er­the­less.

Those who are re­cip­i­ents of the Vic­to­ria Cross come to mind. The VC, as it was called, was in­sti­tuted in 1856 but was made retroac­tive to 1854 to cover the pe­riod of the Crimean War. The VC was awarded for out­stand­ing deeds of gal­lantry in the pres­ence of the en­emy, al­though there have been ex­cep­tions. In 1866 there was a Pri­vate OHea who was awarded the Vic­to­ria Cross for sup­press­ing a fire in a rail­way car con­tain­ing live am­mu­ni­tion.

The first in­vesti­ture of the VC took place June 26, 1857 in Hyde Park in Lon­don, where 62 re­cip­i­ents were pre­sented to Queen Vic­to­ria. There have been ap­prox­i­mately 1,351 VCs awarded world­wide, with 94 go­ing to Cana­di­ans. The ma­jor­ity were awarded dur­ing the First Great War.

The most re­cent re­cip­i­ent of the Vic­to­ria Cross was Cor­po­ral Byrna Budd, a Bri­tish para­trooper killed in Afghanistan in Au­gust 2006. The youngest liv­ing re­cip­i­ent is John­son Be­hary, a Bri­tish Sol­dier who served in Iraq. While Tommy Rick­etts is thought to be the youngest to ever re­ceive a Vic­to­ria Cross, he is not the only New­found­lan­der to have been a re­cip­i­ent. John Bernard Croak of Lit­tle Bay served with Cana­dian Forces in the First Great War and was killed in Au­gust 1918 at the age of 26. His medals are on dis­play at the War Mu­seum in Hal­i­fax.

There are so many great sto­ries of he­roes, such as James Guin­chard, a foot sol­dier from St. Malo in France who fought in the Crimean War. The story goes that he was to re­ceive a VC for his brav­ery in sav­ing the lives if Bri­tish of­fi­cers and men. Au­thor­i­ties could not find him to award his medal and pen­sion for life. It ap­pears he dis­ap­peared af­ter he was let out of the hos­pi­tal af­ter be­ing se­ri­ously wounded and was kid­napped by a ship’s crew look­ing for men to sail to fish in the New World (New­found­land).

James Guin­chard es­caped at Port Aux Choix and trav­eled west to Daniel’s Har­bour. A fam­ily there took him in, fed him and helped re­store his health. Only when he died did the Gover­nor of New­found­land dis­cover his pres­ence. The gover­nor sent a rep­re­sen­ta­tive to Daniel’s Har­bour and con­firmed it was Guin­chard, the Vic­to­ria Cross re­cip­i­ent. He had mar­ried and had a big fam­ily, some of whom still re­side in Daniel’s Har­bour.

I’m told that one of the fam­ily mem­bers still has the bul­let that was taken from his body at the Crimean War. Guin­chard never left Daniel’s Har­bour. He rests in the ceme­tery there to­day, a re­minder that true he­roes do ex­ist.

The Royal Cana­dian Le­gion’s an­nual poppy cam­paign is un­der­way. The poppy has acted as a sym­bol of re­mem­brance since 1921 when it was first used by the Great War Vet­er­ans As­so­ci­a­tion. Now is the time to re­mem­ber the sac­ri­fices made not only by the Vic­to­ria Cross re­cip­i­ents but by all vet­er­ans.

Last year at this time I wrote of the tes­ti­mony my grand­fa­ther made at the war crimes trial sur­round­ing his cap­ture and tor­ture as a pris­oner of war in Ger­many. His tor­ture im­pacted our fam­ily in many ways.

As I re­flect on that great sac­ri­fice my heart also goes out to the fam­ily of Jamie Mur­phy, a New­found­land sol­dier who was among the first to die in the war in Afghanistan and the many other New­found­lan­ders who paid the fi­nal price for free­dom over there.

It’s hard to be­lieve we are a coun­try at war. Life goes on as we fight the swine flu and look for the win­ner of this year’s World Se­ries. It’s as if this was in Afghanistan was only made for tele­vi­sion. But it is for real. Just ask the fam­i­lies of those hav­ing sons of daugh­ters over seas.

As I said ear­lier, vet­er­ans don’t see them­selves as he­roes. They never do. They leave that up for us to de­cide and while there are no Vic­to­ria Cross medals in our fam­ily home, I look proudly at the pho­tos taken by my fa­ther in France with fel­low sol­diers like Eu­gene Cur­ran of Wind­sor and Art Sim­mons from St. Johns to re­al­ize theirs was a spe­cial time. It was a time we will prob­a­bly never fully un­der­stand or ap­pre­ci­ate. But each year at this time I try.

Take just a mo­ment to re­flect on what sac­ri­fices have been made by so many. Wear your sym­bol with pride and please ‘For­get Me Not.’

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