A Message from My Grandfather

My father, Hugh Albert Fenemore, was born in 1917 in Ontario, Canada. He was 22 years old at the outbreak of World War II (WWII). Had he served in that massive conflict, I might have never existed. However, being a polio victim, he walked with a limp which rendered him ineligible for military service. I was born on July 25, 1950 and given the names Michael Albert. Why both my father and I had the middle name “Albert” was never explained to me. I never really cared for the name and would consciously avoid mentioning it. Of course, I was completely unaware of the world war that had ended only five years before I arrived on the scene.

Michael Albert Fenemore, circa 1953

I knew both of my grandmothers, but there were no grandfathers in my life. I didn’t know why, and don’t remember asking any questions about them. I just accepted the situation. Eventually, I learned that my maternal grandfather had died when I was just one year old, so I didn’t remember him. Nothing was said about my father’s father. As far as I knew, no such person had ever existed.

As I was growing up in the fifties, I began to learn about the war, and my older brother, “Ricky,” and I used to like building plastic models of WWII military planes, tanks, etc. At our ages, the reality of war was quite unreal. To us, playing war was just fun. We discovered that it was easy to draw a swastika. We knew it was the sign of the “bad guys,” but it had little depth of meaning for us. We would draw little swastikas on paper, and sometimes, when the windows of my father’s ’55 Plymouth steamed up on cold winter mornings, we would jump at the opportunity to draw them on the windows in the back seat area. On one such occasion, my father turned around and, in a rather stern voice, told us to wipe them out and that he never wanted to see them again. I was somewhat stunned wondering, “What was that about?” I just assumed he didn’t like the windows messed up. Later, Rick told me that dad’s father had died in WWII. This was news to me. I think that was the first I had ever heard of him.

Years rolled by. At some point, I think I may have had a glimpse of a small black and white photo of my grandfather, but that was it. He remained a mystery, and one I never really thought about being a typical self-absorbed teenager who thought little about my elders. In 1974, my father died suddenly. There was now much less chance I would ever learn much about my paternal grandfather. But then, I was not actively trying to learn anything. He was a non-issue to me. How could he have been important — no one ever talked about him? I didn’t even know his name. Many more years passed, and I still knew virtually nothing about him.

As the century turned, I entered my fifties. About this time, I became aware that my sister, Kathryn, who had moved to Scotland was frequenting an ancestry website. She began digging up more and more about our family tree, and I began to learn about my grandfather. I soon came to know his name: Albert Edward Fenemore. I thought, “Hey, I’m named after him!” And that explains why my father was also given the name “Albert.” However, with my father long gone, I realized I was the only one left bearing that name. I became more curious about my grandfather. Kathryn was sharing photos she had managed to find by contacting family members. I was riveted to one of my grandmother whom I had known so well. However, in this picture, she was standing beside her soldier husband — the grandfather I never knew. It is an eerie feeling to have a door to the past opened this way.

Ethel Kate and Albert Edward Fenemore, circa 1941

I was named after this man. What had happened to him? Here is what happened. When war broke out in 1939, he was not conscripted since being born in 1894, he was almost 45 years old and too old to serve. However, at some point, he was so overcome with a sense of duty, and determined to serve, he lied about his age and was accepted into the Canadian army. In the photos above, my grandmother looks rather sad, and this is the way I remember her. She often seemed sad, and now I know why. After my grandfather had been overseas less than a year, my poor grandmother received the news that her courageous husband had been blown apart in England when munitions carried by the truck in which he was riding exploded.

My grandfather had volunteered to sacrifice his life and had paid the price. The word “hero” is often overused today, but I think it should apply to my grandfather, Albert Edward Fenemore. The name “Albert" which I was formerly not so fond of, I am now glad to mention any time I have the opportunity.

Among the photos Kathryn continued to send was this photo of a simple cross over my grandfather’s grave.

Although both the Registration of Death and the grave marker above list the precise date of death, neither of the dates registered with me. I suppose that’s because in neither case do they really stand out. The exact month and day of my grandfather’s death just wasn’t something that caught my attention. If someone had asked, I would have replied, “1942, but beyond that, I don’t know.”

At this point, I assumed there was no more to the story. However, one day, I was sitting at my computer and received one last photo from Kathryn. As it turned out, unbeknownst to me, my grandfather’s simple grave marker had been replaced with a more fitting monument. On my screen was a large, colour photo of the gravestone.

B.28999 SAPPER
16TH JANUARY 1942   AGE 48

I carefully read the inscription and came to the date:

“16TH JANUARY 1942”

and the words “TILL WE MEET AGAIN.”

I was immediately taken aback as I remembered the current date. I looked down at my computer’s date display:

January 16, 2012

— 70 years to the day from my grandfather’s death.

Some may say this was probably just a coincidence. However, that’s not how it struck me. I felt as though my grandfather had reached over from the other side to wave his hand and say, “Till we meet again.” With the odds at 1 in 365, it is enough for me to conclude there was more at work here than just blind chance. I’m glad my grandfather wants to meet me, and I want to meet the hero I’m named after. I’m not afraid of death. I fear life in this world more than I do moving on to the next realm. At the time of this writing, I’m 65 years old, so it may not be all that long until I will no longer have to gaze at his gravestone and say, “Till we meet again.”

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