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By Ryan Taylor

As Remembrance Day approaches, the genealogist's thoughts turn to relations who fought in the world wars.

This year saw a new memorial honoring Canada's war dead. The Bomber Command Memorial was officially unveiled on August 20 at Nanton, Alberta. In total 10645 airmen of the Royal Canadian Air Force are commemorated on the memorial. It is heartening to know that, even decades later, new memorials are being raised to those who died, including those in specialized aspects of the war. This is true of non-combatants in medical or transport capacities, and, recently in England, even the pigeons who carried messages between the lines.

The official Nanton memorial site says that to be listed on the Memorial the individual must have been killed while serving or training with Bomber Command. They are not included if they died in off-duty accidents or due to illness. Non-Canadians serving with Bomber Command while wearing the uniform of the Royal Canadian Air Force also qualify. The website includes access to a virtual memorial including the names of everyone listed.

Veterans Affairs Canada maintains a virtual memorial which includes all those who lost their lives in war service.

Mike Wainwright, an Englishman who has researched his own father's adventures during the war, points out that a great deal of information can be found online filling in the background of war events for individual soldiers.

He searched for Dick Hoffman, a Saskatchewan airman. He found a listing of the crew of Dick's ill-fated bomber and details of the flight during which they went down. They left RAF East Moor for Achères, near Bourges, France in June 1944.

They were probably shot down by a night fighter. Some of the crew died. A letter written by one of the pilots says, ""Apparently F/O C.R. Hoffman avoided capture for 2 months. Then while hiding with a group of R.A.F. evaders in a Paris apartment, 'treachery took a hand.' Believing they were in friendly hands, they were taken to a farm outside the city. There they were packed into a truck and driven straight to Gestapo headquarters. Then came a 12-day interrogation at Fresnes Prison. Hoffman ended up first in Buchenwald and then Stalag Luft III. Although he survived the war, he only lived till 1953."

This summarizes in a few words what was undoubtedly a great deal of suffering, perhaps even horror.

Wainwright's point is that not only official materials exist, but even something as personal as a letter which describes an individual's experience. It may be possible to find your relatives as well.

Begin with the virtual memorials, and the site of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which lists all the individuals whose graves are in their care.

Keep in mind that Library Archives Canada (www.collectionscanada.ca) can provide access to an individual's records (for World War I) and to official unit and regimental records for both world wars. The number of websites is growing all the time, and may memorialize very specific groups or events.

The British government keeps close count of the surviving veterans of World War I. There are currently eight, all centenarians. It would be interesting to know if the Canadian government keeps track of our World War I vets in the same way, and how many there are. They may be too frail to stand at the cenotaph on 11 November, but I am sure in their minds they can still hear the gunfire and the shouts of their friends in the trenches. They probably can feel the squelch of mud under their feet and see the rats scurrying near the food supplies.

However many there are, Canuck, Brit, Aussie or Kiwi, bless them. We may not know their names, but we appreciate them anyway.

Posted November 7, 2005
Column copyright © 2005 Ryan Taylor

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