Remembrance Day services at community cenotaphs, in churches and at the national and provincial capitals were held this week — perhaps with extra poignancy because of recent events in Ottawa and St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, and because 2014 is an anniversary of the start of both World Wars. We acknowledged with gratitude the sacrifice of the lives of men and women who died in the service of our country. We should also remember what their loss meant to their friends and families who survived and had to carry on without them.
People talk about the number of children from single-parent homes in our schools today. I was born during World War II and realize, looking back, that this was true 60-65 years ago as well. A number of my classmates had lost a father during the war. Others’ parents had survived but found it difficult to adapt to post-war family life. It was not unusual for children to be living with grandparents or other relatives.
The loss of a son or brother could also skew family dynamics. In several homes close to where I grew up in St. Marys, the losses were still very fresh. The Sager family who lived on the southwest corner of Widder and Huron Streets is one example. This week’s photograph, provided by Jeff Sager, shows the entire family probably about 1936 or 1937. Roy and Bill, the oldest, are in the back row. In the front, their mother, Ethel, holds Dorothy, the youngest in the family. Next is Ernie, then Robert, seated wearing a good tie, then Pansy, her hand on Robert’s shoulder, and Jack beside their father, Frank.
They were among our most interesting neighbours. We went into town along Widder Street almost every day and I was intrigued by Mr. Sager’s small barn where he kept farm animals. Not just chickens — many properties had chickens — but large animals including a horse that he used for plowing sidewalks in the winter. The Sager children were cheerful and friendly, well-liked in the neighbourhood. This included Pansy who was by then married to Pete Gregory and lived across the road with a family of young boys.
I wondered how everyone fit into the small Sager house, especially when I learned that before the war, the family was larger. The two oldest boys had enlisted and both died in Europe, Roy in 1944 and Bill in 1945. (Adding to these terrible losses, 18-year-old Robert died in 1941 during an operation.) Mrs. Sager was sometimes chosen to place a special wreath at the cenotaph during Remembrance Day ceremonies. She was a Silver Cross Mother.
Richard Holt’s new book, The Fallen, tries to place the names on local memorials within the context of their families and the community. This book will help us truly remember! Publication details will soon be available.