On the 11th hour
of the eleventh day
of the eleventh month…
Remembrance Day always hits me hard, because as a young elf, I heard from my earliest days about war and family and saw abiding sorrow; as an avid young reader, trying to fathom this great mystery of evil and courage that is war; and as a priest, befriending sometimes burying vets with due honours, and taking part in yearly services and Legion events.
It’s not a past past.
With that in mind, a repost of my 2008 tribute to a slain Canadian airman, who also happens to be my great-uncle.
Remember Your Friend.. Gren
Grenville Gordon Stanley
~ WITH YOUR INDULGENCE, I’d like to introduce you to a friend you’ve never met and probably didn’t even know you had. Grenville Gordon Stanley (more details here). His friends and family called him “Gren”– feel free.. for he’s your friend, and he also gave you a gift.
Gren was an out-going, funny, and warm-hearted young man, a Christian planning to study for the Anglican ministry. He was much-loved by his sisters and brother, and his parents Frederick Malvin Stanley and Susan Jane Stanley, in his home town of Saint John, New Brunswick, on the West side. Details vary on whether he had a fiancée or not, but it wouldn’t surprise those who knew him to suppose he had.
Though I never met him, his sister was my Grandmother, his veteran brother my great-uncle, and his sisters my great-aunts. Two sisters are still alive. They still miss him, 65 years on, and all that might have been.
Reporting For Duty
He volunteered for the RCAF, and after training as a Wireless Operator (or “Sparks”)– later promoted Flight Sergeant– Gren was shipped to England, as part of Bomber command. He flew as part of a Halifax Bomber Crew with 76 Squadron, taking night-missions deep into the German heartland.
On the night of the 1st-2nd of March, 1943, the 76th sent an operational flight to attack Berlin itself. The Halifax Bomber was a slower plane, with a lower operational ceiling than the more famous British Lancaster, or American B-17 Flying Fortress. The Americans bombed by day, the British and Canadians by night, seeking to cripple Hitler’s industrial output, and the infrastructure of the German War-machine.
The deadly German air-defense was deep, layered, and coordinated with radar and fighter bases and belts of flak/ anti-aircraft artillery. You had to fly in; and then you had to try and get home again.
On March 3rd, the Wing Commander GL Cheshire of 76th Squadron (Yorkshire) wrote to Gren’s Mother:
“Your son was one of the most cheerful men I have ever met. He proved himself to be a remarkably fine Wireless Operator, and by his courage and skill set us a standard of which we are al proud. He became extremely popular with everybody, and made himself a sort of figure-head in the squadron. The news of his loss has been received by everybody with the greatest sorrow.”
For in the night skies over Belgium, the Halifax Bomber flight heading for Berlin were set upon by German night-fighters. The particular fighters may have been specialized Messerschmidt 110s, Junkers 88s, or regular fighters like the Me 109.
Gren’s plane was shot down, and crashed in some fields south of Antwerp. No survivors. The bodies of the five crew were buried with full military honours, with temporary wooden crosses over the graves. To his dying day, Gren’s broken-hearted father wished he could have exchanged his life for that of his son. Gren’s sister– my Great-Aunt, told me that in tears.
The Good News
Gren was a Christian: on his way to full-time ministry and service to the church. He knew the possible cost of volunteering, but that it was his moral and spiritual duty to defend what was good from what was plainly evil.
He would have known his Bible, and heard Armistice Day services and the famous verse from John 15:13: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” His friends: his family, his fellow Canadians, his crew and squadron.. and all who would benefit from the sacrifice of time or life that those who fight are willing to make, if need be. Those in his own day, and yet to come: me, you, all those in future generations who love peace, freedom, faith, love, truth.
They May Take Our Lives..
For me, freedom is both a concept, and yet a flesh-and-blood thing. When the HRCs talk in fascistical style about a Utopian Canada, and of the government giving permission or forbidding reasonable thoughts and words, I think of Gren. Then my blood boils. Laying wreaths at a cenotaph? My head explodes.
He’s not buried in Belgium alongside his crew so that a few decades later, we could fall into a soft and cuddly version of the same sort of God-hating all-encompassing heaven-on-earth that Hitler and Mussolini and enamoured pre-war North American and European fascists dreamed of and planned for.
We simply owe it to our friend Gren– and to each and all of those precious others who suffered and fought and died– not to throw away what they sacrificed and gave us as a precious gift: the exchange of their lives for our freedom. To forget or fail in upholding freedom is to spit on their graves and on the cenotaphs standing their mute memorial in our towns and cities across the land.
So please, on this day of Remembering, say a prayer for Gren. For those who share his faith, God willing we can thank him and all the other heroes face to face in that bright and better land where war and sin and suffering and death and Utopian hells shall be no more, in the eternal city, where the Lamb of God is the undying light and peace of the blessed.
Thank you Gren. For.. everything.
While this Canadian and proud relative lives, I will remember the real price of freedom, paid not by bureaucrats and social engineers, but by the ordinary men and women from that time to this who seek God’s will and purpose in maintaining our land glorious and free. Not one day, but every day.