Carbonear Legionnaire recalls emotional European trip
Royal Canadian Legion Branch 23 member Charles Piercey stood in a foreign country reading from a piece of paper.
In between rows of white gravestones at the Serre Road Cemetary No. 2 in Somme, France, Piercey’s hands trembled and tears rolled down his cheeks as he read about the life of Pte. Arthur Driscoll.
As a traveller with the Royal Canadian Legion Pilgrimage of Remembrance, Piercey had been tasked with making a presentation about a fallen soldier. Piercey spent weeks researching Pte. Driscoll’s military record.
In front of his gravesite, Piercey told the story of a boy who enlisted with the Newfoundland Regiment against his mother’s wishes. Driscoll left his life as a fisherman from the Outer Battery in St. John’s to travel overseas to fight the Germans.
He saw action in Gallipoli before returning to France with the regiment. Driscoll was killed July 1, 1916 at Beaumont Hamel. He was 20 years old.
“It was pretty awesome,” said Piercey, wiping tears away from his eyes. “I still get choked up thinking about. I felt we were representing the family of this solider and were perhaps the first people from his home province to visit his grave.”
Later, he and his wife laid a wreath at the site and also visited the plaque that contains Driscoll’s name at the Caribou Memorial in Beaumont Hamel.
Piercey, a longtime member of the Legion, was one of 12 Legion representatives from across Canada who took part in the journey last summer. Starting on July 13, the group toured battlefields from the First and Second World Wars. The pilgrimage took them from northern France through to Belgium and Holland.
They visited over 100 sites in the 15 days they were travelling, including cemeteries, museums, monuments and other sites of historical significance. They took part in nine formal ceremonies and two informal ones. “I was honoured to go,” said Piercey. The Legion in this province undertakes a similar journey each summer, but tends to focus on sites mainly connected to Newfoundland and Labrador. Special ceremonies It was one of the informal ceremonies that may have had the biggest impact on Piercey during the trip.
The group just completed a walk along the Dieppe Beach when comrade John Goheen, the group’s guide, informed them he would be walking the beach again in the early morning and they could join him if they wished.
Piercey and his wife Daphne agreed to join him. So, at 5:32 a.m., the group held an informal ceremony on Dieppe Beach. Piercey performed the Act of Remembrance.
“The toast to absent comrades will never be the same again,” said Piercey. “Tears were shed.”
He also remembered marching through the Menin Gate Memorial of the Missing in Ypres, Belgium. Save for a brief reprieve during the Second World War, it is a ceremony that has been performed every evening since 1928. The gate holds the names of 54,000 Commonwealth soldiers with no known gravesites. Off the beaten path Piercey marveled at some of the sites Goheen took them to. They were away from the usual spots.
Places like the Abbaye d’Ardenne, where 18 Canadian soldiers were executed or the Chateau d’Audrieu, where another set of executions took place.
“Every time we were taken to a spot like this, we would do a ceremony and have a moment of silence,” said Piercey. “We found exactly where they were executed (at the Chateau). The Legion pilgrimage was there five years ago and we found the same wreath they laid there.”
The trip touched Piercey. When he marches with his fellow Legionnaires on Remembrance Day this Wednesday, he’ll have a different outlook and a different appreciation for the event.
“Remembrance Day will never be the same,” said Piercey. “It was something I’ll never forget. It changed my outlook on remembrance.”
Charles Piercey reads about Pte. Arthur Driscoll at his gravesite at Serre Road Cemetary No. 2 in Somme, France.
The Menin Gate Memorial of the Missing in Ypres, Belgium.
Charles Piercey and his wife Daphne pose for a photo at the gravesite of Pte. Arthur Driscoll.
A shot of a cottage at Juno Beach.