A soldier’s journey
While John Palmer lay on a truck on the beach in Normandy during D-Day, he looked up at the sky and thought that all of the explosions looked like fireworks.
It was a strange juxtaposition for the young soldier who was born in Saint John, New Brunswick in 1921. He had come to associate fireworks with celebration, not with the tragedy of warfare.
But Mr. Palmer had known tragedy long before he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps to fight in WWII. When he was only 14 years old, his father, Joseph, a dockworker, died in an industrial accident. It was a significant trauma for his family, both emotionally and financially.
It may have been his father who inspired John Palmer to join the army. Joseph Palmer had fought with the Canadian military in WWI shortly after emigrating from Holland in 1910; his son had always been very consci- entious and committed to family.
Evidently, he wanted a family so badly that he married a woman before he was shipped overseas. His family cannot remember the name of this woman. All they know is that she died of tuberculosis and that Mr. Palmer learned of her death while he was fighting the war.
The heartbroken soldier kept on. He was responsible for shipping supplies like ammunition and fuel to the fighting men.
He had a motorcycle which he would ride everywhere to ensure that the trucks were going where they had been dispatched.
At times he was ahead of the front lines; he had to move the ammunition up so it would be there when the guns got there.
It was one of the riskiest jobs in the military because there was no infantry to back him up.
Mr. Palmer served his country well and he left the military with the rank of Sergeant.
Adjusting to post-war life was a challenge for Mr. Palmer.
He had a son, John (also known as Jack) who he didn’t even know. He did various jobs in Montreal before landing a position as an appliance manufacturer in Montreal.
One night in 1945, Mr. Palmer’s mother introduced her son to a lady named Eva St. John at a German Dance Club. The two married in 1947 and, along with Jack, Eva had a ready-made family.
Eva St. John grew up in Maxville, where she was one of nine children.
Her father was Napoleon St. John. Her mother was Delina Poirier. Eva St. John went to work in Maxville as a caretaker for young children.
After she and John married, they had a son, Doug, who lives in Sacramento, California, where he does consulting work for Texas A&M University.
Although the young family enjoyed their time visiting Maxville, the language issues of Montreal living quickly took their toll on Mr. Palmer. Eventually, he and his wife decided to relocate the family to California.
So in 1965, they left. Mr. Palmer didn’t have a job waiting for him but he knew what the employment situation was like on the west coast and was confident he’d be able to find something.
In less than a week, he found another job at General Electric as a service technician.
Life took Mr. Palmer many places: New Brunswick, Montreal, Europe, California, and, eventually, his final home in Abbotsford, B.C., where he passed away on Feb. 13, 2018 at the age of 98. His wife predeceased him by two years.
But Maxville must have held a big part of his heart because it’s there that he is buried. His ashes were laid to rest there on July 28 in the St. John family plot of the St. James Cemetery.
His son, Doug Palmer, says that his father found WWII to be both brutal and, in a weird way, the most exciting time
“He remembered the London bombings and going into the subway to seek shelter from the rockets,” he says. “But despite that, there was an element of camaraderie. He was a young man visiting Europe and going to beer halls.”
PROUD FAMILY: John Palmer's son Doug Palmer seated with his son Christopher behind him, Darlene Palmer seated with son Michael behind her.
LEGION HONOURS: Members of the Alexandria branch of the Royal Canadian Legion at the final resting place of John Palmer.