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CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Leo Cheverie grew up listening to his grandmother Anne Jane Hennessey’s stories about his great-uncles, Joseph Holland (Joe) and Thomas Vincent Holland (Tom), who fought in the First World War.
“I was probably as old as seven or eight when she showed me photos of her brothers. She talked about them going off to war, high-spirited; thinking that they would be back by Christmas. But then the war dragged on and on,” says Cheverie.
It must have dragged on for the brothers, too, as they continued to serve into what would be the last year of the war. However, they never saw P.E.I. again as they were both killed in 1918; one in August and one in September.
“Seventy years later she was still saddened by the loss. And this made a huge impression on me. She also talked about how saddened her family was and how her parents were impacted,” says Cheverie, noting that two additional brothers (Philip and Jack) also went to war and returned.
Looking back, the loss was heavy for everyone.
“My grandmother had to come to terms that these brothers had died far too young and that followed her for the rest of her life,” says Cheverie, adding a nephew raised by Hennessey was also killed in the Second World War.
As his grandmother told and retold the family stories, it impacted each of her eight grandchildren, making them realize the cost of war.
“In the First World War, over 7,000 from P.E.I. went overseas. Of that number 503 people were killed and more than 1,000 people were wounded. So, we know that those costs to P.E.I. and our community resonate into future generations.”
For example, Cheverie knows the story of a woman whose fiancé went off to the First World War and was killed in action. Because of her love for him, she never married.When someone is killed, it can affect the lives of an entire generation.
“The costs we put on families, the costs we put on survivors, who are wounded, through obvious wounds or through PTSD. (They) pay a lifetime price for that.”
His grandmother’s stories impacted Cheverie in another way. He promised her that he would visit his great-uncles’ graves.
His grandmother died in 1991. And his grandfather, Patrick Hennessy, died on April 28, 2002. A few weeks later Cheverie went to France on a pilgrimage to follow her brothers’ footsteps.
“I was able to stay in Arras and travel to the Vimy Monument and my great-uncles’ graves
“I felt like I was fulfilling a promise to her. I also felt it was very positive for me to go and do that.”
Along the way, he learned more about what happened to the brothers in the First World War.
“Tom had signed up with the 105th regiment from P.E.I. But, later was assigned to other regiments. So, when he was killed in August 1918, he was with the New Brunswick Regiment,” says Cheverie, adding his grave is located in the Sun Quarry Cemetery, Pas de Calaise, France.
Joseph was in the 25th Battallion of the Nova Scotia Regiment. His grave is in the Ontario Cemetery, Sains-Les-Marquion in France.
“I was able to visit his grave and signed the book.”
As he hitch-hiked and walked out to Vimy Ridge, because there was no public transportation, he noticed the number of graveyards scattered through that area of France. And he was overwhelmed.
“It reminded me of a song by Eric Bogel, ‘Willie McBride’ or ‘The Green Fields of France’, which tells about him going to the grave of a First World War soldier, thinking about that soldier’s life and the people who were missing.
“As I visited those graves I was reminded of that song, knowing that there were so many stories, not only of my great uncles, but of all the other people who were killed. It made me wonder who they left behind and what it meant, in terms of a lost generation and the stories that will never told.”