War is, for better or worse, a major part of history, and therefore a significant aspect of our ancestry. Most of us, if we dig deep enough, will find a point at which our family story was altered, somehow, by battle.
In honour of Remembrance Day, I will be posting a series of entries about my own family's military history, beginning with my closest ancestors who served in WWII.
Frederick Norman Harding
1917 - 1971
Fred was my maternal grandfather, though I never met him; he passed away nine years before I was born. Though fiercely devoted to him (her phonebook entry remained "Mrs. Fred Harding" until her move to a care facility), my grandmother is a very private woman, and did not talk about him much, so everything I know about his military service has been pieced together from newspaper articles and documents I have found over the course of my research.
A September, 1943 blurb in the Lethbridge Herald reports his "safe arrival overseas", and states that he had enlisted three months prior, taking his training in Wetaskiwin. He served as a Private with the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, and in late September or early October of 1944, was badly wounded on the Dutch border and airlifted to England to recover before coming home to Canada.
A few years later, he would meet my grandmother, and the two would go on to raise four daughters in Lethbridge. Fred passed away in 1971 at the age of 53.
George Alexander Stalker
1904 - 1988
George was my great-grandfather, the father of Fred's wife. Like many others of his era, he did not talk about the war upon returning home, but he did keep many material reminders, including his stripes, pay books, identification card, and military portrait, which I am honoured to now have in my possession, and which give us an idea of his experiences overseas.
He enlisted on June 26, 1940, at the age of 35. He served as a gunner, earning the rank of General, and was likely involved in several intense battles as part of the Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment. While it's not known when exactly he returned home, the last pay book in my possession is from late 1944.
George returned home to a four year old daughter he had never met (his wife was four months pregnant when he was deployed), and their seventh and last child was born a couple of years later. He returned to farming, and also managed a United Farmers of Alberta store. I remember him as a kind and energetic man, who took great joy in family celebrations. He passed away in 1988, at the age of 83.
1906 - 1962
Edwin was my paternal grandfather's step-father. The only son* of German immigrants, he was a postal worker and member of the National Guard in Illinois.
At the beginning of the war, Edwin was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 202nd Coast Guard, and was stationed first in Fort Bliss, Texas, then, due to his having been a private pilot, was transferred to the Air Corps, which took him to Missouri, Georgia, and then overseas to the Pacific Theater, where he was promoted to Captain. In my grandfather's own words, "he flew forward artillery and parachute spottings, won the Bronze Star with 4 clusters, the Air Medal with a cluster, was shot down and survived several days in the jungle of Luzon, Philippines. As the war ended, he was flown to a hospital in Japan, where he recovered from severe jungle rot of his legs, (which plagued him for the rest of his life), and was discharged in 1945."
Upon his return home, he continued his military career, training pilots in both the United States and Turkey, becoming among the earliest tactical helicopter pilots, and finally being promoted to Colonel and Commander of the Air Division of the Transportation Corps. A building at the Fort Eustis United States Army instillation is named for him.
My grandfather speaks highly of Edwin, describing him as encouraging, supportive, and kind. He passed away in 1962 and is buried with his wife, my great-grandmother, in Arlington National Cemetery.
*When I first published this piece, I said Edwin was an only child, when he in fact had two sisters. This has been edited for accuracy.