974 - Salvation Army Canada


  • Nov9Thu


    Retrospective #49 November 9, 2017 Randy C. Hicks
    "Forget me not"
    "Forget me not"

    Retrospective #49 “974”
    Randy C. Hicks

    Yesterday I mentioned that my first appointment saw me land in a small village not far from the town my dad had been born in. As a child growing up we would visit the homestead every summer. It was always a trip that I enjoyed as, among the grandkids found in the offspring, I was the youngest; the “spoiled rotten” and sometimes very stubborn little grandson. One of the reasons I recall loving these adventures was I always left with a pocket full of coins and bills (do we still call them “bills?” - paper money)!

    Yes! I was that cute!

    My dad came from a typical family of that day and he had three brothers and two sisters. One of the boys had died at age two or three from some illness that was making its rounds through the community. One of my aunts was older (the oldest) than he, and the other younger. Both remaining brothers were younger. Again, as I mentioned yesterday, a sister and brother had remained in the home town.

    And then there was the other brother, never spoken of very much and when mentioned there was always a hush, or whispered words with the adjective “poor” before his name. Initially this handle confused me. I had never seen this uncle and knew nothing about him. Now some of you may be thinking that the word “poor” simply means: “Lacking sufficient money to live at a standard considered comfortable or normal in a society; attributive (of a person) deserving of pity or sympathy.” Even as a kid I kind of knew that, but that wasn’t it. It wasn’t long, however, when I discovered that the culture in which I was growing up used the word “poor” before a name when making reference to a family or community member who was now deceased. I got it. My “poor” uncle had passed away. Ok, he died, yet when we visited the church cemetery there was no headstone, no grave marker for him? That I didn’t get. The mystery grew.

    Initially it was indeed a very strange aura that hung over him, and it was as though I was being shielded from something awful about his story. Nobody talked about it. Nobody talked about him. Families are like that sometimes.

    Thankfully, time would change most of this for me and while I still have only a very brief glimpse of my dear relative it wasn’t until last Remembrance Day that I tried capturing what I now know in the following poem:

    Randy C. Hicks
    November 11, 2016

    The picture 
    Hung in the front room
    Where not a lot of natural light got in
    Making it dark 
    And somewhat scary to a small boy
    Peeping around the archway 
    I would steal glances at him
    Who was he?
    What did the uniform mean?
    Should I ask my dad?
    Or perhaps my Nan?
    After all, it was her house...
    Our annual visits 
    Fed my curiosity
    And finally 
    I found the courage
    To ask 
    Who is that
    In the picture?
    "O, that's a picture of poor Cyril"
    "Poor" of course meaning,
    I would later learn,
    He had died
    I was then told
    "He was your uncle"
    But the man in the portrait 
    Was a young man
    Uncles were old like my dad
    Even older like my dad's uncles
    Uncle Tom 
    Who lived next door 
    And Uncle Johnny
    In Rolling Cove
    Even my big brother was older
    Wait a minute 
    My brother's name is Cyril
    Named after this uncle 
    I guessed?
    No one spoke much of him
    No other pictures around
    No stories told during 
    The frequent kitchen cuffers...
    I would later learn that 
    My Uncle Cyril 
    Had enlisted
    In the Militia
    Less than a year 
    Before the end of 
    World War Two
    Close to Christmas...
    It was party night 
    At the "Knights of Columbus" hall
    In St. John's
    In honour of "the boys"
    Soon to be deployed
    But, I found out, 
    That many of them
    Would never leave the rock
    You see
    A fire broke out 
    In the old wooden structure
    Sabotage perhaps?
    The enemy's doing?
    The mystery remains...
    It was fast and furious 
    And my Uncle Cyril
    Would perish in the flames
    While trying to rescue others
    Giving up his life
    For theirs
    And in reflection...
    Though yet unborn...
    For mine...
    His grave 
    It's not in the family plot
    "Poor Cyril"
    Lies with his comrades 
    In a military section 
    Of Mount Pleasant Cemetery 
    In St. John's
    The grave stone 
    Simple, gray, 
    With the proud Caribou
    Engraved at the top
    Like a sentry
    Keeping watch
    974 PRIVATE
    12th DEC 1942
    Then there is a cross 
    And a Bible Verse
    At the bottom
    From the King James Version
    I find my heart is heavy
    My eyes "leak"
    As my kids used to say
    Please forgive me
    It's long overdue 
    Thank you Uncle Cyril
    And thanks to your friends
    And thanks to all who continue to be
    Heroes of whom
    We can be proud
    Protecting our country
    And our freedom
    By the way
    The only other information
    I could find in the records
    About “974”
    Said that he was the son
    Of James and Alfreda Hicks
    Of Bonavista
    O yes,
    One thing more
    He was nineteen...

    Lest we forget.

    In my experience, very few veterans like to talk much about their memories from war time. Some will, of course, and we are grateful especially to those who take the time to share with our young people in the schools in our communities.

    I have realized for a long time now that people grieve differently. Again there are those who keep tight reigns on their memories of loved ones gone. Such was the case with my grandmother and other family when it came to my Uncle. I can only imagine how it must have been to have a nineteen-year-old sign up for war; to have him leave home for the very first time; then to have him die trying to rescue his comrades without ever reaching the distant battlefields of Europe, even without leaving his homeland. Go figure.

    Then there are those who find it very therapeutic to share stories and fond memories sometimes, and even when tragedy may be connected with their loss. Maybe there are those in your community or extended family who could benefit from a visit this weekend to “remember” with you and tell parts of the story you’ve heard time and time again, of those no longer here.

    Lest we forget.

    Or, maybe a visit to simply be with, no stories, no memories – just an opportunity to sit with a loved one and privately reflect, letting them know you care about them and respect their silence.

    Lest we forget.

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