David Leslie Pulfrey
On June 17, 1944, just 6 months before I was born, a Lancaster, returning from a raid on a German oil refinery, was attacked by enemy fighters over Holland and caught fire. My uncle, the bomb aimer, was the first to jump. He died in a meadow near Aalten, with his family believing that his parachute had failed to open.
My father kept his brother’s medals in the tallboy in his bedroom and, with great reverence, he would sometimes allow me to handle them, I did so with awe. My brother, my sister and my son reacted similarly when they too were led to the little shrine. My son took it upon himself to track down his granduncle’s grave, he located it in Varsseveld in 1988. 30 years later, in far-away Canada, where Remembrance Day is still celebrated as a national holiday, his two daughters completed a school project about, and made posters of, their great-granduncle’s wartime activities and tragic death. And so the memory lives on.
It is an even more poignant memory now because, in the last two weeks, we have learned two more things about my uncle and his medals. The first is horrible: locals who witnessed the attack on the Lancaster think that my uncle’s parachute did deploy, but came into contact with the burning plane. The second is unbelievable to my father’s side of the family: his medals and some very personal wartime items were sold by a relative with whom we had not been in contact for many years, but had believed to be a respectful guardian of my uncle’s effects. So, on this centenary anniversary of Armistice Day, while we remember those of our family name who made the supreme sacrifice that we might have the prospect of a more peaceful life, let us also strive to keep within our families their tangible mementos, for they are priceless.