Most of the time this blog is devoted to the topic of K-12 distance education. One of the few exceptions to this is on Remembrance Day, when I post a tribute to veterans in general and my grandfather – Samuel Barbour – in particular. As of 2:15am today, my grandfather passed away.
At a time like this, I find myself very much at a loss for words. One of the good things about the situation, is I have had the opportunity to write a great deal about my grandfather in the past. Most recently when he was one of two “quiet heros” that Pearson Park in Wesleyville was dedicated after.
Samuel Barbour was born in Southwest Arm on January 25th, 1920. His childhood was similar to most young men in rural Newfoundland of that day. He fished, he played, he went into the woods – almost all of the time accompanied by his dog, Skipper. Sam attended a one room school in the community, at least until he was thirteen years old, when he had to leave school to go to work fishing up along the Labrador (as many young men of his generation had to do to help support their families).
When he was 19, war had descended across Europe for the second time that century. On June 8th, 1940, Sam enlisted in Greenspond and a little over two weeks later he arrived in St. John’s to begin his military service as a Gunner (GNR) in “A” Battery of the 59th (Newfoundland) Heavy Regiment of Britain’s Royal Artillery. After a week of preparations, he shipped out on the S.S. Nova Scotia and landed in Liverpool. For the next four years Sam would be stationed in England. First was a stop in Brookhouse, near Lancaster, for the regiment’s initial training. After this he spent most of his time in England as part of the coastal defense system in Lympne Castle, a tiny community along the southeastern corner of the country on the English Channel. As D-Day approached, Sam found himself in Tunbridge Wells – still in Kent County in the southeast.
Six or seven days after D-Day, Sam and the “Fighting 59th” found themselves on their way to France. The initial plan was for them to be a part of the second wave that went across the English Channel two to four days into the invasion, but a big sea prevented their earlier departure. Upon arriving on the continent on July 4th, 1944 at Courseulles-sur-Meron, the 59th Regiment saw its first action, shelling a concentration of German tanks west of Carpiquet. Sam and his fellow soldiers would fight their way through France and then up to Belgium. It was in Belgium that Sam was involved in an accident, when his gun – a 155 millimetre Long Tom – malfunctioned and exploded. Sam, along with several members of his company were injured. He would spend the next six weeks in hospital, before going to a holding unit for one month for rehabilitation, and then returning to his unit.
After fighting their way through Belgium and into Holland, the “Fighting 59th” were selected to take part in the Battle of the Rhine. The Newfoundlanders proved to be one of the most effective heavy artillery units during this battle, and became the only Allied heavy artillery that crossed the Rhine River. Following the Rhine, the 59th participated in the attack on Bremen, and were in the process of marching to the attack on Hamburg when the war ended. Sam finished his overseas service on July 7th, 1945. He was official discharged on July 30th, 1945.
Upon returning home from the war, Sam stayed home for much of the winter. In March 1946, he went aboard the Investigator, a government experimental boat. The same year he met Margaret Attwood, and three years later on June 7th, 1949 they would marry. Sam and Margaret would have three children of their own, as well as one nephew they adopted.
The 1950s saw much of rural Newfoundland in decline, and the tiny community of Southwest Arm was no exception. In 1956, as a part of Joey Smallwood’s resettlement program, Sam moved his family to Valleyfield – taking apart their home in Southwest Arm board-by-board and nail-by-nail; then building a new home using the same materials.
Sam would eventually receive his Master’s fishing ticket and began to captain several federal government boats, conducting experimental research – first on the Strait Shore and then the Blue Hake. He retired in 1983. Over the past thirty years he has continued to stay active, visiting his four children, seven grandchildren, and numerous great, grandchildren. An avid reader, Sam still finds his way to Pearson Academy and the municipal cenotaph each year to participate in Remembrance Day activities.
And being an active member of the community, I wasn’t the only one who had the opportunity to write about him. During the Remembrance Day ceremony at Pearson Academy in 2011, one of the teachers – Ms. Georgina Bishop – read this passage that she had written.
“Tribute to Mr. Barbour”
As a literature teacher I encourage my students to make connections to other texts they see or experience as well as to the world around them. My grade sevens have been doing a unit entitled “Step up,” and on their test was a story about a war veteran entitled “A Quiet Hero.” I asked my students to make a connection to the text with some other reading or event, but found myself making connections of my own. You see, we too have our very own quiet hero.
Every year on this most special day he dons the blue beret and navy jacket adorned with medals – the recognition of his service, courage and bravery. He and his beloved wife make the journey down the hill to our school. When they arrive, faces wreathed in smiles, they bring a card with a beautiful and thoughtful message of thanks and a gift for our students. A gift, mind you! The question begs asking, “Haven’t they already given enough?”
Apparently not. Amazingly, they still give. They share with us their precious time and memories of long ago days. Mr. Barbour never brags, but over the years the pieces have come together: Fallen comrades and friends. The slight limp, the shrapnel which is a permanent souvenir from his time overseas in the trenches… the quiet acceptance of all that has come to pass in his life.
Years ago, his country called him to serve and he answered without question. Every autumn, we call, and once again he steps up. Once more he “goes over” and takes us back in time so that we might never have to follow his path or fight his battles. He bears witness so that we will never forget. Samuel Barbour is our very own “quiet hero.”
I, sir, am a lover of the written and spoken word. Yet, these few, so simple and heartfelt, seem so inadequate. We thank you for your lessons, your courage and your sacrifice. We thank you, sir, for our freedoms.
Earlier this week I learned that as of the end of the fiscal year (i.e., 31 March 2013) there were only 91,400 World War II veterans still alive in Canada. In the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, there were 600 World War II and Korean War veterans. Today, there is one less World War II veteran.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved…