I found out my great uncle served in World War II because of a guided tour – that’s an unusual source!
You have to understand that my great Uncle Holmes and Aunt Edna knew me since, well, since I born. We lived in the same small village, LaVallee, Ontario, Canada where they owned the general store. Mom often went into the store to buy what we needed – groceries, my first pair of saddleback shoes, and a cuddly, stuffed donkey my sister loved are what I remember. The store had what seemed like to my young eyes a huge scale to weigh sliced meat – and each new baby sister. Mom would go in and place the baby on the scale to see how much she weighed now. It wasn’t a big store but always had something new to admire.
My Aunt and Uncle lived above the store and sometimes my dad would take us there. He and Uncle Holmes would lean against the counter visiting the way men do. We kids would play with the fascinating red vinyl stool with pull down steps. I loved pulling the steps down and climbing them to reach the seat. I was almost as tall as Dad and Uncle Holmes then. Uncle Holmes had a calm demeanor that was soothing. It’s no wonder that when I started doing genealogy, I researched that family first.
Holmes Andrew Miller was born May 6, 1919 according to his government issued birth certificate. I went to the municipal office to view the original registers and discovered he was born in April not May. I asked about this discrepancy and he said his parents registered his birth with the correct date but the certificate they received was wrong. Rather than deal with the government, they just started celebrating his birthday on May 6. Such an easy solution but this shows that government documents are not always correct.
From these stories you can see I knew Uncle Holmes. I even researched him – mostly by asking him and Aunt Edna questions. No one ever mentioned he had served in World War II and I never asked. Let me tell the story of how I found out.
For three summers, while I was in university, I worked at Old Fort William in Thunder Bay. It was and still is a living history site representing the Northwest Fur Trading Company. There were students portraying historical figures, a farm, an aboriginal encampment, activities, and dramatic skits throughout the day. I was a tour guide.
One day my assignment was to lead a World War II veterans reunion group. Can you see where this is going? I was introduced to the leader, then looked around. There was my Uncle Holmes and Aunt Edna! What a surprise! He informed me that this was his regiment. That’s how I learned he served in the war. The leader was thrilled I knew someone on the tour. He gifted me with a souvenir regimental pin. I still have and treasure it.
A few years later I was visiting them in LaVallee. I told them about my new job, a bicycle courier in Winnipeg. I delivered mail to downtown offices. Uncle Holmes quietly told me he was a cycle courier in the war. He delivered messages back and forth on a motorcycle. I wish I had asked about his experiences.
It’s strange how we sometimes learn about our relatives. People are open to telling you their stories once they know you are the family historian. It’s possible they want their story remembered.