Getting to know Uncle Stan, the war hero

Laurie Snider
Notes From The Nest

In everyone’s lifetime there are standout days. These can be times when exceptional events occur, specific milestones pass, when receiving recognition for a talent or after meeting a certain goal like running a marathon, climbing a mountain peak, or winning first prize at the county fair.

In my own case, one of these extraordinary days took place in an enchanting old barn, just up the street from us on a bitterly cold and windy November day, 10 years past.

When our children were just youngsters, we never had any issues with them spending too much time in front of a screen. They’d enjoy spending idle hours engaged in creative pursuits, imaginative performances or outdoor play. Our middle child, Benny, especially loved to dress up as a soldier and re-enact famous battle scenes, all over our neighbourhood.

I spent many Saturday afternoons at the army surplus store with him, as he spent his hard-earned allowance on old uniform pieces, patches, battered up canteens and even rations. Many of our neighbours shared how much they enjoyed watching Benny and his friends, marching up the street dressed in oversized fatigues, bulky rucksacks and heavy metal helmets worn slightly askew. They’d duck behind hills, dart around trees and dash across lawns as they scoped out properties and pursued apparitional enemies. These were definite missions, no two ways about it!

When not outside, he was often found in our dark, dingy basement, handcrafting guns from scraps of wood, bits of pipe and frequently Randy’s belts. Many hours were also passed at the desk in his room, viewing his efforts under his magnifying lamp, as he methodically created tiny replicas of soldiers to place in his dioramas. He constructed several of these; Ypres, Dieppe and Juno Beach to name a few. It was fascinating watching him, his attention to minute detail was impressive.

As a student in grade school, studying history, he became tuned into the fact, that my great-uncle Stan had been a soldier who served in the Second World War. Benny became eager to learn his stories and initiated regular correspondence with him. These were days before cellphones, e-mails and texting.

Over the course of a couple of years, he gleaned that Uncle Stan was a Vickers machine gunner and participated in the Dieppe raid but fortunately he and his mates never got off their boat, as they were near the back of the pack. It was a terrifying, chaotic day for them nonetheless, as planes dropping bombs nearby were a constant, unnerving threat.

Later in the war, he crossed over Juno beach, as his unit made their way eventually to Holland. Shortly before the war came to an end, he was shot in the hand, resulting in a lifetime injury.

For Benny, the regular cast of characters often associated with heroic feats, such as hockey players, accomplished athletes or movie stars, were never the type he idolized. In his eyes, soldiers who were willing to lay down their lives for their country, their comrades and for freedom itself were the real heroes, deserving our respect and admiration.

This is why for two separate performances, on a chilly November day, I found myself directing an extremely, talented cast, as we told the story of Uncle Stan and the special relationship he and Benny forged. Benny played himself and a veteran actor of the Selby theatre, Dick Miller did a superb job playing the part of Uncle Stan.

We were blessed to have the charming, rustic barn of our good friends, for our venue. It was a bone-chillingly cold day and coats and blankets were required but only added to the realistic setting. Warm apple cider kept the crowd toasty, as we sang battle hymns and listened to poetry being recited.

Then, finally 200 patrons listened to the escapades of Uncle Stan, a brave, young soldier, who showed up to fight in a viscous and terrible war. They also learned of Benny, a young man who cared enough to hear out and understand an older gentleman and his stories, acknowledging his commitment and sacrifices, over sixty years later.

On that remarkable day, I was full of pride for our son, for his tenacity, caring and efforts. I was also proud of Uncle Stan for his courage, commitment and willingness to serve. With a grateful heart, I was pleased to bring their story to life. This was a standout day!

It’s been 99 years now, since the end of ‘the war to end all wars’ and yet war has continued. It’s more important now than ever, to remember why these soldiers fought and died and reflect on what our freedom means to us. With respect and gratitude, to all who have served and are serving now, including our son Benny, Thank you!

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