‘They had never seen a gun so close’

Widow’s pow­er­ful story of war cap­ti­vates stu­dents

North Bay Nugget - - NEWS - Jen­nifer Hamil­ton-mc­cha­rles

There was no pomp or pageantry, just a woman stand­ing on stage retelling the hor­rors of war while proudly wear­ing her hus­band’s mil­i­tary medals.

“A vet­eran is flesh and bones, a real per­son, with their own story not just an old wrin­kled face that is slow­ing down,” He­len White­head said.

Her mes­sage was so pow­er­ful, you could hear a pin drop in the au­di­to­rium at West Fer­ris In­ter­me­di­ate and Sec­ondary School, Fri­day.

The stu­dents’ eyes were glued to the stage lis­ten­ing to White­head’s ev­ery word.

“I was 10 years old in 1939. I had no idea what was go­ing on. We were just com­ing out of the Great De­pres­sion and head­ing into a world war,” re­called White­head, whose fa­ther served in the First World War and her hus­band in the Sec­ond World War.

White­head shared with stu­dents her fam­ily ’s most prized let­ters and heir­looms.

She said her hus­band, Ken, served two years over­seas de­liv­er­ing mes­sages to the front line.

“The en­emy had an ex­cel­lent way of get­ting rid of dis­patch­ers like Ken,” White­head said. “They strung barbed wire across the road that would de­cap­i­tate them.”

White­head said her hus­band was 19 when he en­listed in the Cana­dian Army, join­ing The Queen’s Own Ri­fles of Canada with his four broth­ers. Ba­sic train­ing was in Brant­ford, Ont.

“All five came back,” White­head said.

“Ken came back, but not the same guy as he left. Once he re­turned home, he wanted to for­get what hap­pened there. He wanted to put it be­hind him and hoped that no­body would ever have to fight that kind of war.” As the pic­tures flashed on screen for stu­dents to see, White­head said her hus­band, who died this sum­mer at 93, suf­fered a war wound that caused him con­sid­er­able pain and suf­fer­ing.

Ken sus­tained a se­ri­ous back in­jury when the ve­hi­cle he was rid­ing in hit an ob­sta­cle on a cob­ble­stone road in France and threw all of the sol­diers out.

“It was a tac­tic used by the en­emy to blow up build­ings near road­ways and the rub­ble would fall on the streets. The rub­ble would slow down the Al­lied Forces,” White­head said.

The sto­ries her hus­band shared with his fam­ily were few and far be­tween.

“He didn’t like to talk about it,” White­head said. “He al­ways said ‘Not all of us were brave when we went off to war, we were scared.’ They were only 19. They had never seen a gun so close.”

In Ken White­head’s last let­ter, writ­ten to his fam­ily on thin tis­sue pa­per, he shared how he felt.

“He was so anx­ious to go home and leave all of this be­hind him,” White­head said.

“Ken wanted to leave a legacy for stu­dents like you,” she said as she looked to the crowd, which in­cluded her son, Matthew White­head, and her grand­son.

Jen­nifer Hamil­ton-mc­cha­rles / The Nugget

He­len White­head was guest speaker dur­ing the Re­mem­brance Day cer­e­mony Fri­day at West Fer­ris In­ter­me­di­ate and Sec­ondary School.

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