Monday, May 25, 2015

In Memoriam

Another Memorial Day is coming to a close. We had our usual round of backyard barbecues and a relaxing day off from work and school. I want to thank those of you, particularly in social media, who remind us that this day isn't just "the unofficial start of summer." We do not wish each other a "Happy Memorial Day," rather this day is solemn, respectful. We remember our war dead.

Sadly, our family has experienced the loss of someone in uniform.

Edward Eugene Hennessay was my mother's older brother. A tall, lanky red-head who had a gift for math and numbers, he was highly regarded by everyone. He was a considerate and loving brother and son. As the only boy in the family he was not obligated to serve overseas in World War II. My grandmother had hoped he would serve by defending their island, Bermuda. But the Nazi threat was too great, he said. He needed to fight.

Edward was a corporal in the Bermuda Volunteer Rifle Corps, attached to the Lincolnshire Regiment. He was sent for training in Europe, eventually landing in Belgium. There, he was billeted with a local baker and his family. He wrote home about how lovely it was, after living in primitive conditions, to sleep in a bed with fresh lavender-scented sheets and to awaken to the tempting aromas wafting from the bakery downstairs. It was there that he fell in love with the baker's daughter, Julia, who became his fiancee before he was shipped out to combat.

Julia immediately began corresponding with my grandmother, her future mother-in-law, always addressing her letters Dear Mother. But Julia was never to become an official part of our family.

Edward was killed in combat in March 1945 at the Battle of Winnekendonk in Germany. It was part of Operation Veritable, which was designed to clear German forces between the Maas and the Rhine. Records describe fierce hand-to-hand combat between Edward's regiment and the Nazi forces. The family was told that he died trying to save a fallen comrade.
Edward's gravesite

Despite efforts by my family to bring his body home to the island, he is buried in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery.

His death resonated through the family. My grandmother was heartbroken, She never visited his grave in Germany. A family friend placed flowers there, bringing my grandmother one of the blooms from the bouquet. My mother, just 11 years old, was devastated. Julia continued to be in contact with our family. She eventually married a man who understood about this love and loss she experienced. Their first son is named for my uncle.

I'm sorry I never knew him, but I am proud that he was a part of keeping our world safe from a terrible threat. When I married my husband, I didn't carry a bouquet of flowers. I carried my grandmother's Book of Common Prayer. Pressed in its pages, a dry and flat blossom, labeled simply in my grandmother's handwriting,  "flower from Edward's grave."