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Remembrance Day: A Family Story

In January 2005 I received an email from Veteran’s Affairs Canada (VAC) saying that George Wilkinson wanted to contact the person who had posted a picture of Lorne Marr on the Virtual Memorial website. In August 1944 Dad’s brother, Lorne, was killed in France and George is my cousin. I had posted Lorne’s picture after seeing an unfamiliar picture on the site, taken in England. This message led to many fascinating emails from George. He kept me on the edge of my seat as I waited for the next installment as George was able, writing on his lunch hour, outlining his adventures and the contacts that had led to new information about our uncle, particularly during his time in service, beginning in 1939.

A particularly interesting part of George’s quest was his search for the young boy that Lorne, a dispatch rider, had hit while on his motorcycle – in Jamaica, George’s mother had told him. George learned that the picture that had appeared on the VAC website in 2004 had been taken from a book, The Maple Leaf Army in Britain. He managed to locate the book and discovered that the accident had occurred in England, not Jamaica. He also learned that the “boy” in the picture, Peter Hunter, now a retired police officer, was the child Lorne had hit and befriended. Among the surprises awaiting him was that Peter had been hunting unsuccessfully for members of Lorne’s family since he’d retired in 1992. He’d concluded that Lorne must be an only child, ironic since Dad was the oldest of eight!

Peter had wanted to make sure that Lorne was remembered, even if he had no family. He attended a writing workshop and wrote two letters to Lorne. The workshop leader was so impressed that the letters were read as a paradigm for a writing contest on the BBC.

George also learned that a compilation of day-to-day memories of the Argyll and Sutherland regiment soldier, Black Yesterdays, included a photo of Lorne. The book was out of print, but George was thrilled when he was given a copy shortly after we started corresponding. In March 2005, Mike Strobel, a Toronto Sun columnist, interviewed George, featuring Lorne’s story. In June of the same year, George and his lovely wife Darlene, flew to Britain to meet Peter Hunter and then travelled with Peter for an emotion-filled visit to Lorne’s grave in Calais.

There is so much to this story I can only touch on a very small part of it. Peter posted an account, “Lorne – A Canadian Soldier” on the BBC site, “The People’s War.”* Another cousin gave George Uncle Lorne’s medals. A dispatch rider who answered directly to Lorne confirmed George’s research, particularly the circumstances of Lorne’s death in a “fog of war” incident. Mike Strobel told George “he’d be crazy” if he didn’t write a book about his quest. All this in 2005, the Year of the Veteran.

George did go on to write the book. You can read the story of his quest to find out what had happened to our uncle in Peter’s Argyll. Every November 11th, George still attends a Remembrance Day Service and remembers his  journey of discovery to uncover the story of the uncle who had taken hold of his imagination and captured a piece of his heart.

*There are a couple of errors in Peter’s account. There were eight children, not six, as noted above, and Lorne had two brothers, not one, who survived the war, my father and my Uncle Dave. 

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