This past week I received a call regarding the laying of wreaths on Remembrance Day. That got me to thinking of my own experiences with November 11. My earliest memories of Remembrance Day (or 'R-r-rmistisis Day as my mother always called it) have always been ones of standing behind St. Mark's Church in St. George watching as the veterans lined up in the street to pay tribute to their fallen comrades. At the time there was a good number of WWII vets in the ranks who seemed ancient to me, (I realize now that they were only in their fifties at the time, which oddly enough is not quite as ancient to me as it was 30 years ago.) In addition to the WWII vets there were still a few of the WWI vets.
The helmet worn by James Robinson Maxwell. The wreath to be laid at the cenotaph in Blacks Harbour on November 11.
Somewhere along those ranks, head and shoulders shorter than the others, but none the less still proud, stood James Robinson (Bob) Maxwell. He always looked like he wore his glasses too tight because of a grove between his ear and head. That was where the bullet passed. He had seen Vimy Ridge and lived to tell the tale. He was overseas in WWI, enlisted again in WWII and was sent overseas again. Although instead of Europe he was sent to Newfoundland, which was still foreign service at that time. 'Grampy Bob' as he was known to me was my great-grandfather. He lived the years after the war in a little house in Pennfield on the Mealey Road, with his two daughters living one on each side of him with their families. No trip to Pennfield was complete unless we crossed the road to visit this little man and his memories.
When the new cenotaph in Blacks Harbour was dedicated the oldest surviving veteran present was none other than Bob Maxwell. He was proud of what he had offered his country, and his nation was proud of the service he gave. I was one of many family members that day who watched on, as that pride was shown by the look on his ancient weathered face.
Today he lies on a hill overlooking the peaceful town of St. George - a far cry from the battlefields of Europe, a world away from the numerous battles that rage on in Baghdad and Fallujah, the mountains of Afghanistan and the streets of Beirut. The media that we now have access to spans the distances, and yet unless we are there, unless we see the children covered in blood, crying for a parent who can no longer hear their sobs, unless we can stand with the mother who has lost another son on his way home from school - we can never know what it is like to stand in desolation and see the man with whom we had breakfast shot down in a hail of bullets in a foreign land.
Just as we are proud of the contributions our military on active duty is achieving, we must be proud of the contributions that the generations past have achieved.
This Remembrance Day, I, a great grandson of a WWI vet will pause to remember not only him, but all the service personnel who have served our country so well over the years. I will return to Blacks Harbour and will bring Grampy Bob's great-great grandsons with me. And I will tell him the stories, so that another generation does not forget.
SOURCE: Homeport News (October 29, 2004 (Volume 1, Issue 11)) - written by permission.
In memory of James Robinson Maxwell (1894-1984) and all of the military personnel who have served in the Canadian Forces throughout the years.