Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Bugle's Echo

It is the soldier, not the reporter who has given us the freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us the freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who gives us the freedom to demonstrate. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag. -- Father Dennis Edward O'Brien, USMC

I had a sense of my family's military history from when I was quite young. Summer visits to my maternal grandfather's house in New Brunswick always prompted me to ask questions about the various fascinating objects that I saw there.

Ernest Sansom was born into a family of millers and woodsmen. When he was a young man his father left to take a lucrative job in British Columbia and sent money back for the family to join him. However Ernest's mother refused to go, and his father never came back. To help support the family, he lied about his age to join the military. He saw action in both World Wars, ultimately becoming a high-ranking officer.

He was proud to serve but he never spoke openly about his experiences, and my mother told me to not ask because it upset him to remember. The one story he would tell me was a poem that he recited at bedtime to lull me to sleep:

It was a grey stormy night on the coast,
The brigands great and brigands small,
We gathered around our campfire.
"Alfonso," said our captain, "tell us a story."
And Alfonso began.
It was a grey stormy night on the coast... repeat ad infinitum.

Military memorabilia of all kinds was visible in his house, from a large portrait of him wearing his uniform that hung in the great room, to a collection of ribbons and patches in an unobtrusive brass box. Just about every item had a story attached to it. For example, a stiff piece of cloth embroidered with a crown set above a crossed sword and baton was his rank insignia. Or a table lamp created from a mortar shell casing was a gift from one of the regiments he had served with.

Over time I learned that many members of his family had also served, including two of his brothers. There is a display in the military museum in Fredericton that commemorates his grandfather, and the war memorial in his hometown of Stanley shows the names of several relatives. The family military tradition continues: my brother was active in the militia, and his youngest son has been following in his footsteps.

Today his medals, dress sword, and certificates of achievement are on display at my parents' house - proud examples as well as sad reminders of the courage and sacrifice that many people made for this country.
To most people around him, he was "the General". But to me he was just "Granddad".

*This is a re-post from the original Cinquefoil Heritage blog on Blogster which has been removed by the author.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Trans-Atlantic Journey

My genealogical journey begins with my grandmother, an immigrant from England who faced hardship before settling in Canada.

Dorothy Ethel Stride was born in 1905 in Islington, London. Her father was a member of the Metropolitan Police Force, and was a good provider. Unfortunately when World War I broke out her father was called to military service, and he was killed in 1914 shortly after arriving in Europe. Thereafter her home life became difficult and her relationship with her mother deteriorated. Near the end of the war she was visited several times by an elder brother who had moved to Canada prior to the war and joined the Canadian Army. It was these visits that we believe inspired her to come to Canada herself.

In her mid-teen years she was working as a housekeeper for a family in south London, and she secretly made plans to escape. She left England aboard the SS Pittsburgh on July 7th 1923, her passage having been paid for Mrs. Clarence Webster who had hired her to be a servant. She arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia on July 16th 1923 and took a train to the Webster farm in Shediac, New Brunswick, where she worked for a year to pay off her passage. Early in the summer of 1924 she travelled to Toronto Ontario to join her future husband, whom she had met on the ship.

Many of her official documents from this time give her name as Dorothy Barbara Stride. This name doesn't appear on her official birth certificate, but it's possible she chose the name when she was inducted into the Baptist church at age 21 in Toronto.

The Depression years were relatively kind to the family, as her husband had found a job at the Cortaulds chemical plant in Cornwall. She moved to Cornwall in 1930 with her young children, and studied to become a Registered Nurse's Assistant. Later she took a job at the St. Lawrence Sanatorium for tuberculosis patients, where she worked until her retirement in 1982.

For many years Dorothy had denied the existence of her family in England because of the hatred she bore for her mother, whom she would refer to only as 'that woman'. She also covered up the circumstances of her departure. Her story was that at age 14-1/2 her aunt Rose and several other relations conspired to help her leave England in 1920, providing money and alternate addresses for mail. She was registered in a war-orphans program which put young people on ships to other Commonwealth countries, where they had to work for a year to pay for their passage. Children put into this program had to be orphans and over the age of 16 but Dorothy lied about her status and age. She could have ended up in N.Z. or Australia, but the ship to Canada happened to be leaving on a day when her mother and younger siblings were on a holiday.

She never changed this assertion, even though she reluctantly had to admit to her other siblings when her brother tracked her down and visited her home in Cornwall. She made at least two visits back to London only to be rebuffed by her mother, and so she stayed with one of her sisters.

Dorothy lived in Cornwall for the rest of her life, known as a kind-hearted person who donated money and hand-knit clothes to various families and childrens' groups.

*This is a re-post from the original Cinquefoil Heritage blog on Blogster which has been removed by the author.