Heroes hidden in plain sight: signs mark homes of fallen WWII soldiers near Montreal
It started with a log book.
The book's blue hardcover shows its age, but that’s also what’s special about it -- its age.
The pages are filled with pencil marks, and the name “Frank B. Croke” is scribbled on the side. The entries are records, Frank Croke's logs, of his training exercises during World War Two: air tests, flying times and rounds fired.
Dr. Robert Drummond got the book as a gift from a patient about a decade ago. But then the doctor discovered that the onetime owner, Croke, had lived just a few blocks away from him in Montreal West.
The discovery sparked an interest that’s turned into a labour of love.
“Everyone has a story to tell,” says Drummond. "My job is to find and tell those stories.”
His mission is not just to honour how soldiers died but also the lives they led before being sent overseas.
Over the last 10 years he’s delved into the personal histories of nearly every man listed on Montreal West’s cenotaph.
“People come out once a year and pay their respects, but there’s no personal connection," he said.
"When you dig into their stories and you find 'This person lived on my street, this person went to the same school, went to the same church, played hockey here,' it brings it closer to home.”
After more than 100 visits to Ottawa to research the soldiers' stories, he started putting small signs outside their former homes -- marking the place they longed to return to, but never did.
Katherine O’Neill lives on Brock Avenue, in what was once Charles Dexter Schnebly’s home.
“It makes you feel proud, but also sad,” she says.
“When you see, on some blocks, multiple signs in front of houses... it makes you think of all the families that lost sons and husbands.”
Drummond’s research has become more detailed over the years, to the point where he's now finding out what sports the men played, what they did in the spare time and even the personal items that were sent to their families after they died.
He hopes to turn his research into a book, and to expand the remembrance by now also researching Montreal West soliders who served in the First World War.
Why does he do it? To pay respects, but also simply to remember -- and to remind others -- that they were real people, neighbours and young men, people's sons and granchildren, like any of us.
“'There but for the grace of God go I,'" he quoted.
"These young men, they were younger than my children. I could not imagine my kids having to do this.”
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