Hodge: Veteran offers some closure on WWII loss of an uncle

…the odds that a surviving veteran living so close not only saw my uncle die, but read my column 70 years later is halting.

The world really is a small place and the advent of new social media technology has made it even closer.

Irony of all ironies, the latest reminder of what a small world it is came to me from a senior citizen in his 90s.

His name is George and he lives in West Kelowna.  The spry gentleman was kind enough to take the time and telephone me on the weekend after reading last Friday’s HodgePodge.

In that scribbling, I mentioned how the two great wars had held a significant impact on my family, severely wounding my grandfather and killing my Uncle Roy.

Until George called, the actual events which led up to the death of my uncle had been fairly sketchy. No one, including my Aunty Rae and my deceased mother, ever knew for sure exactly what happened on Sept 1, 1944, except that Roy and the remainder of his tank team were blown to smithereens. Roy was only 21.

Like so many, he was a proud young trooper decked out in his B.C. Dragoons uniform and attached overseas to ‘C’ Squadron of the 9th Armoured Regiment. He left behind his two sisters, proud parents and loyal hunting dog, as he waved goodbye and hopped on the troop train. It was the last he saw his Penticton home.

All my life Roy’s picture has remained on my mantle as a reminder of how lucky I am that he gave up his young life so that I and others could live in this marvelous country with all of our often taken for granted rights and freedoms.

Over the years, I have often wondered just what actually happened that fateful day. Thanks to George, I now have a better idea.

Luckily for myself, George still happens to read newspapers; though I believe he told me (hard to hear on the phone) he read my column ‘on the line.’ Regardless, when my wife took his phone message I quickly returned the call.

“I saw it all, I was less than 100 metres away when he died,” George explained.

Apparently the battle that day near the Gothic Line in Italy had already been a disaster for Allied forces with heavy German bombardment nailing the Canadians relentlessly. That horror was further compounded when a barrage of ‘friendly fire’ also began to decimate his comrades.

However, Roy and his tank crew managed to survive all of that and pushed further into enemy territory.

Horrendously poor judgment by his commanding officers ordered Roy’s squad forward into a massive trap. According to George, just as Roy’s tank crested a hill it took a direct hit from a German anti-tank gun, killing all aboard but two.

According to George, he along with a couple of other boys from the Second Corp ‘got’ the fellows manning the anti-tank gun wounding one and taking a second fellow prisoner as well.

Despite the lack of a lengthy conversation, I admit to being somewhat amazed how fortunate I am to have heard from George, and look forward to meeting him in person.

Considering how few veterans are still alive from that war, the odds that a surviving veteran living so close not only saw my uncle die, but read my column 70 years later is halting.

Every year I make a point of dropping in to the Remembrance Day social in either Kelowna or Rutland following the service. This year I joined the throng of veterans, family members, and supporters at the Parkinson Recreation Centre and the place was packed solid.

When I mentioned George and our connection, it brought a smile to a couple of veterans, who were not only pleased I had received some closure but also assured me I was about to meet a real character in George. I can hardly wait.