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Jay Currie

One Damn Thing After Another

10/30/2004

Grandfathers

They celebrated Smokey Smith's 90th today. Our only living Victoria's Cross winner. A one man army in the Canadians' war in Italy. Here is a bit of his VC citation,
At a range of thirty feet and having to expose himself to the full view of the enemy, Private Smith fired the P.I.A.T. and hit the tank, putting it out of action. Ten German infantry immediately jumped off the back of the tank and charged him with Schmeissers and grenades. Without hesitation Private Smith moved out on the road and with his Tommy gun at point-blank range, killed four Germans and drove the remainder back. Almost immediately another tank opened fire and more enemy infantry closed in on Smith's position. Obtaining some abandoned Tommy gun magazines from a ditch, he steadfastly held his position, protecting his comrade and fighting the enemy with his Tommy gun until they finally gave up and withdrew in disorder.

One tank and both self-propelled guns had been destroyed by this time, but yet another tank swept the area with fire from a longer range. Private Smith, still showing utter contempt for enemy fire, helped his wounded friend to cover and obtained medical aid for him behind a nearby building. He then returned to his position beside the road to await the possibility of a further enemy attack.
veterans affairs
My own grandfather was not a one man army. He shipped out from a privileged life in Quebec City at the beginning of World War One. Served in the trenches for eight months more or less and then was lucky enough to obtain a Commission in the infant Royal Airforce. Pilot training included a crash which injured him severely enough that his own father took ship across the sub infested Atlantic to help him recuperate.

Then he flew, and how he flew. No he wasn't the Brown who shot down von Richthofen. That was another Canadian. But Captain Frederic Elliott Brown flew well enough to be recognized WWI flying ace with ten kills to his credit. He flew well enough to win the Military Cross, twice, and the Croix de Guerre.

Here is the citiation for the first MC,
"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Whilst leading a patrol of five machines, on observing four hostile scouts -diving on one of our formations, he at once engaged them, driving one of them down completely out of control, while his formation dispersed the others. Later, on sighting another hostile scout, he engaged it and forced it down spinning and out of control. While returning to his aerodrome, he observed an enemy two-seater, and, though his engine was running badly and might have failed him any moment, he attacked it and drove it down in a vertical nose dive. Previously to this he had driven down one other machine, which was seen to crash, and a third completely out of control. He is a most daring and skilful pilot." MC citation, Supplement to the London Gazette, 22 April 1918
the areodrome
My Pom was a funny little man in many ways. I remember him as old, he died when I was in my teens, and bearing the round sweet scent of pipe tobacco kept in a worn leather pouch in his tweed jacket pocket. He was quite small, perhaps five eight, with deliberate, almost feminine, gestures.

He'd come back from the war. Many of his friends didn't. So many that Quebec City seemed empty. He moved to Toronto, led a slightly rackety life in the twenties, lost his money in the crash and, with four kids to support, became the secretary of a golf club.

He was too old to fly in the Second War. So he served as a trainer and a recruiter. The medals he'd won served as his introduction to high schools and universities. Every boy, and most girls would recognize the MC with bar.

Like most of the veterans I've had the honour to know, my grandfather was reluctant to talk about his war. Of course, as a kid I had no idea what questions might have broken through his shell. His son-in-law, my father, played a lot of bridge with the man he called "Mr. Brown" to his dying day. He was well under that shell.

At some point, I said something or other remarkably ignorant about WWI. I can't remember what. My dad had a scowl, which my youngest, Max, has as well, which silently expressed his frustration with having to deal with idiots. He scowled, "Jay, every man of them was a hero. Every Canadian, at Vimy, Ypres, the Somme, Passchendaele, knew he could be killed that second. They stayed and they fought."

"And, Jay, your Pom flew a canvass and wood airplane into machine guns and ack-ack." Dad’s voice dropped, "Everyday, for over two years."

In a couple of weeks, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month we officially remember. We remember the losses; but we should also remember the sheer courage, the grace and the heroism of the men who, day after day, looked at their death square on and did their duty.