This is a collection of stories that were gathered before Remembrance Day, about special people who have participated in a war, or have recollections that the writer thought would be worth sharing…
ART SMITH is a Wetaskiwin ‘icon’ due to the fact that he spent 35 years teaching High School Biology in that city. Married for sixty-two years to his sweetheart, Madeleine, who sadly left her family and many friends far and wide in January 2012. He was a peace-loving man, despite having been a soldier in WWII. Posted in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, he retired as a ‘gunner’ in the Fourth Canadian Armored Division. The son of a United Church minister who lived and preached in eight Alberta communities, he spent his entire life in that church and became an active volunteer for many organizations including the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. He shared his passion for peace and his war stories in countless school presentations through the years and this year has ‘presented’ to ESL locations. (English as a Second Language). Art Smith is a unique and interesting gentleman who has many stories to share, and his input is valuable to many who will never forget his war stories.
The BATTLE OF ORTONA was the bloodiest battle of WWII on record. This story was shared by Teresa Spinelli, owner of Edmonton’s Italian Centre Shop, created by her late father Frank Spinelli, a pioneer of Edmonton’s business community. Teresa became aware of a war story about an entire Canadian regiment that perished there, and of the gratitude expressed by the leaders of Ortona when they offered the City of Edmonton a memorial statue of this battle. Sadly, City officials declined this gracious offer (a bit of a mystery) and on the occasion of a trip to Italy, Ms Spinelli visited Ortona, where she was graciously welcomed as a Canadian of Italian descent. Upon her return, she ordered a replica of this statue to be created, which is now proudly standing in Giovanni Caboto Park, on 95th Street, North of Edmonton’s downtown core. A bit of WWII history now stands where anyone can view it and fans of our Canadian Military and history can thank Ms. Spinelli for her inspired and generous gesture.
Carl Frederick VOGT was the beloved grandpa of a Leduc resident, Sherrie Seebach. As shared by Sherrie, her maternal grandfather fought in WWII. After the war, her grandmother died of polio, leaving two daughters with their father. The story that stands out for her was being told two years prior to his passing that her grandpa had been shot in the leg and hand by a German sniper, while in a three-day battle over a bridge in Cleve, Holland, and that all that was left standing was a small church. Sherrie was a pallbearer at his funeral in 2006 in Stratford ON, and shares that her grandpa Carl Vogt was a Legion member for…59 years!
A friend shares his memories of growing up in a small town household of Northern Alberta where Remembrance Day was celebrated with reverence – and with no argument! His father was a strict parent who insisted on school clothes and shined up shoes as the entire family was expected to attend the local ceremony. It is touching to see that nowadays many young families attend Remembrance Day Ceremonies, with their children and sometimes with babies in tow!
Kathy Diniz is a well-read Leduc friend and resident who has a lifelong interest in war stories. She shares that her maternal grandfather stayed behind in England after WWI to assume bomb disposal duties. Not a safe occupation by any means but a necessary one, Thomas Dunne faced his duties with pride and determination, and never talked much about the war after his return to settle in Brooks AB. While Thomas was on guard duty, the Germans broke through the lines, so the entire battalion had to fall back, abandoning their forward guards…one of the few stories his family ever heard! The removal of ‘leftover’ bombs is a cause that got global attention when it was embraced by the late Princess Diana.
ARTHUR MADIUK (1921-1944) was born and raised in the Village of Thorsby: with several siblings, he was the son of Polish immigrants and the brother of Phyllis Madiuk, a former mayor of the Village of Thorsby and a past president of the Thorsby Legion for a 6-year term. Phyllis, a member of the Legion Auxiliary was a young girl when the telegram came in January 1944, announcing the tragic news of her older brother Arthur’s passing… LAC Arthur Madiuk was laid to rest in the Thorsby cemetery, with full military honors, including a 21-gun salute. When hearing Phyllis’s account of her brother, it is evident that she still feels a pride to be related to a WWII fallen soldier.
Among many brave military men and women who gave their life to protect innocent people and their freedom, I choose to honor CAPTAIN NICHOLA GODDARD with a few words. The first female Canadian soldier to die in battle, Captain Goddard was dedicated, talented and popular: a cheerful leader who shared her optimism with all who knew her. She was also a beloved daughter, a young wife (26 y.o.) and the oldest of three sisters. She passed away in 2006, after having lived in several Canadian communities including Edmonton. Her character was so unique that so far, the Canadian Military and our government have named a NW Calgary school in her honor (the Captain Nichola Goddard Middle School) and a Foundation to help fund the education of children of Papua New Guinea where she was born (her parents are educators). Finally, plans are to name a ship after her, that is being built in Halifax NS, one of a fleet of nine Coast Guard vessels to be named after Canadian military heroes. Her final resting place is in the War Cemetery in Ottawa.
There are many people in our communities who can still share war stories and memories. In this region, we could approach Marvin May (a Leduc volunteer and LINX worker), Iain Weikl and Sean Cuppins (Leduc Legion pres and VP), Mabel of the Legion’s Auxiliary, Colin Johnston of Edmonton (two tours of Afghanistan with many ties to Calmar), Connie Jackson (formerly of Leduc, whose only brother died fighting in WWI), Tom Thomas and Bob McKerracher of Calmar…we could hear some interesting and touching stories of courage and military pride!