Re­mem­ber­ing our fa­ther

Son writes about mil­i­tary ser­vice of Bay Roberts na­tive Eric Wood in WWII

The Compass - - Front page - BY FRED WOOD

Eric Wood grew up on Smith Street in down­town Bay Roberts.

His fa­ther and grand­fa­ther were black­smiths and tin­smiths. They had a forge. His mother was killed in 1926 in the first mo­tor ve­hi­cle fa­tal­ity in the town’s his­tory. An older brother died of pneu­mo­nia at the age of 12. Once, upon dis­cov­er­ing an unim­pres­sive re­port card in some fam­ily pa­pers, we learned he was an in­dif­fer­ent stu­dent in school — much to his chil­dren’s de­light!

We have heard sto­ries of his grow­ing up as an ad­ven­tur­ous and mis­chievous youth. There de­vel­oped a love of mo­tor­cy­cles. Early pic­tures show a pleas­ant face, wide grin and bushy eye­brows. Those eye­brows have fol­lowed me to this day! We know of an early girl­friend of a prom­i­nent fam­ily.

That ad­ven­tur­ous spirit was ev­i­dent when in 1941 he joined the 166th (New­found­land) Royal Ar­tillery. He spent most of the next three years of his life in North Africa and Italy. The 166th RA par­tic­i­pated in some of the piv­otal bat­tles of the Mediter­ranean The­atre in World War II. They were there at Longstop Hill, Or­tona and Cassino.

Eric’s task

As a gun­ner, Eric’s task was to main­tain the reg­i­ment’s 25pound guns in Q (Qwee­nie) Bat­tery and keep them in good work­ing con­di­tion. He spoke of be­ing sick in the desert heat and watch­ing the walls on the great Bene­dic­tine Monastery on Monte Cassino come tum­bling down un­der bom­bard­ment.

How­ever, more of­ten his sto­ries were of the hu­mourous kind, the sort of dark hu­mour that sol­diers adopt. Rid­ing through Ital­ian corn­fields at night on a mo­tor­cy­cle, with no head­lights. Pe­ri­ods of ac­tiv­ity so in­tense that he wouldn’t get a chance to wash his clothes for weeks on end. The times spent with com­rades were most trea­sured.

A fel­low sol­dier in the reg­i­ment re­mem­bers Dad as a ‘bit of a lad­dio’! When the reg­i­ment was on the move he was the first into a new vil­lage, ap­par­ently scroung­ing up ma­te­ri­als and pro­vi­sions for the reg­i­men­tal kitchens, es­pe­cially of the liq­uid va­ri­ety.

A poignant oc­ca­sion for my wife and I came dur­ing a trip to Italy in 2010 when we were able to travel to the very lo­ca­tions where Eric and his com­rades fought 65 years ear­lier. We also vis­ited the graves of those com­rades and friends left be­hind in the ceme­ter­ies at the foot of Monte Cassino and on the San­gro River.

Af­ter his re­turn from the war, Eric con­tin­ued his ad­ven­tur­ous ways by go­ing to work on the Amer­i­can Air Force Base in Goose Bay, Labrador. Al­bums of pho­tos show him and his bud­dies at work or on hunt­ing and fish­ing trips into the Labrador wilder­ness — great manly pic­tures of hunt­ing suc­cess and com­radery.

It was dur­ing this time in the late 1940s that a young Win­nifred McTeer paid sev­eral sum­mer vis­its to Bay Roberts from Mon­treal with her mother. Eric and her met, and the rest is his­tory!

They mar­ried in July 1951 and moved to Bay Roberts. My fa­ther then be­gan work­ing with Cana­dian Na­tional Rail­ways do­ing plumb­ing re­pair at the rail­way sta­tions in New­found­land. By the time three chil­dren had been added to the house­hold Eric was work­ing with his brother Bill in a ris­ing plumb­ing and heat­ing busi­ness and prac­tis­ing his trade as a tin­smith.

And we re­mem­ber our fa­ther when he was at his proud­est! That hap­pened when­ever there was a func­tion in­volv­ing his com­rades and friends at the Royal Cana­dian Le­gion (Branch 32) Bay Roberts. Even­tu­ally our mother joined the Le­gion Aux­il­iary and it seemed our lives be­came closely in­ter­twined with the Le­gion. There were meet­ings and con­ven­tions; there were pa­rades; there were sup­pers and dances — oh the dances!

Eric’s health even­tu­ally failed him, and he died in 1977. It would have been nice to have had a few more years to catch up on all that was missed, or never told, to fill in a few gaps. What was it like grow­ing up in Bay Roberts dur­ing the 1920s and 30s? What was the great Con­fed­er­a­tion de­bate like for them? Why did he re­ally go over­seas? He never did tell us.

But, that’s be­ing self­ish re­ally. Many of his com­rades never even had the chance to start a work­ing and fam­ily life. We were very lucky as kids to have the com­bined ef­forts of two car­ing par­ents. Even to­day, I will have oc­ca­sion to meet some­one from the Bay Roberts area and they will stop, look me over, and then say, “You’re Eric Wood’s young fella aren’t you?” I am 65. Eric Wood passed away 40 years ago this year. Nice that some re­mem­ber.


If we re­mem­ber them and their sto­ries, they will re­main im­por­tant to us. This gives us rea­son to at­tend the up­com­ing Re­mem­brance Day cer­e­monies and ser­vices. Those men and women, moth­ers and fa­thers, grand­par­ents or cousins, and those long for­got­ten from our com­mu­ni­ties are who we are. By pay­ing re­spect we hon­our them and our­selves.

But it is more than those from for­got­ten wars we need to re­mem­ber. To­day we still have a chance to pay re­spect and give dig­nity to the ser­vice of those who re­main in our com­mu­nity. They are the peace­keep­ers of Cyprus, the Mid­dle East, Haiti and the Balkans who thrust them­selves be­tween the worst kind of dis­putes—civil wars.

There are those who fight against ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions in Iraq and Afghanistan, in­clud­ing, as it hap­pens, Eric Wood’s grand­son. New and even more un­cer­tain times of ten­sion are rais­ing fears in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Per­sian Gulf.

Just as the pride my brother Philip and I feel in our fa­ther’s ser­vice rises up at this time of year, we as a so­ci­ety have an op­por­tu­nity to show re­spect, ap­pre­ci­a­tion and em­pa­thy to the sol­diers, sailors and air force per­son­nel who serve us to­day. With them in the spot­light we are bet­ter able to iden­tify and ad­vo­cate for their needs that were not avail­able to our fa­ther’s gen­er­a­tion of men and women in the ser­vices. Those needs in­clude their pen­sions, their health care and treat­ment, their fam­i­lies and their over­all well be­ing.

On this com­ing Nov. 11th, peo­ple will gather at ceno­taphs and memo­ri­als through­out Canada. Make a spe­cial ef­fort to at­tend. Bring along an­other fam­ily mem­ber or friend. Watch the young, the old, the re­tired and the cur­rent-serv­ing mem­bers of our mil­i­tary march by. Ap­plaud all those in uni­form who serve our coun­try and our com­mu­ni­ties. They serve so that we can live in hope­fully a safe, free and just so­ci­ety.

Be­sides, there is noth­ing like a good pa­rade. Eric Wood loved one, march­ing with his Le­gion com­rades wear­ing Branch 32 on his jaunty blue beret. It is es­pe­cially in­spir­ing on a calm cool sunny fall day in Canada. Red pop­pies ev­ery­where. You will hear the Army Cadet or Church Lads Bri­gade band ap­proach­ing from way up the street. You feel the an­tic­i­pa­tion. You stretch your neck for the first glimpse of the Drum Ma­jor and the Pa­rade Com­man­der. You’ll mar­vel at the long lines of swing­ing arms and shiny boots. You know that those who are no longer here with us would love to be march­ing too.

And you will have ful­filled a prom­ise — we will re­mem­ber them!

To­day we still have a chance to pay re­spect and give dig­nity to the ser­vice of those who re­main in our com­mu­nity.


Eric Wood, top row at the left, with fel­low mem­bers of the 166th Royal Ar­tillery. He joined the ar­tillery in 1941.


The Wood fam­ily pic­tured on their way to the an­nual Me­mo­rial Day cer­e­monies on July 1, 1960. Start­ing from the left, daugh­ter Florence, mother Win­nifred, sons Philip and Fred and fa­ther Eric.

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