Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 6, 2006
Vet treasures medal 'for preservance'
Grateful Dutch woman sewed a statue into soldier's jacket lining
By TONY CASHMAN
Medal of St. Joseph and Jesus
An hour later everything was handed back, washed and pressed, and the cleanest Canadians in Ghent went to meet their hosts, a family who lived at the back of their furniture store.
They were the old parents, probably not as old as they appeared to teenage soldiers and a daughter in her twenties.
Conversation was an amusing parlour game. The guests spoke English to the daughter who spoke French to her mother who relayed the message to her husband (in a loud voice because he was deaf) in Flemish, the only language he understood.
These kind people could not offer the visitors a bed, but a mattress in the storeroom gave the best sleep in weeks. And Grant was able to make some return for the hospitality.
As a signaler with C Company he had custody of the company's radio telephone, which he carried in a backpack. The radio brought in news broadcasts from the BBC.
Relayed in French and Flemish, the news brought obvious pleasure to people reconnecting with a world from which they had long been isolated.
It was one of those brief encounters in wartime that linger deepest in memory because they're away from the grim business of war. Sending their guests back into it was an emotional trial for the family.
In tears, the daughter asked permission to sew religious medals into their jackets and created one of those marvellous moments when someone outside the English language zone, striving for the right word, invents a new one.
"For preservance," she said. "For preservance."
On Nov. 11, 1944, the anniversary of the first armistice, the Highland Light Infantry arrived at Nijmegen, with five months fighting ahead, through Holland and over the Rhine. Grant hadn't seen the medal but often felt it in the lining of a breast pocket.
When the army issued a new uniform, he cut out the lining and carried the medal to the end of the war and home, still in its patch. In time, the cloth frayed and the medal, more meaningful than battle stars, emerged. An inch high, it was a miniature statue of St. Joseph holding the infant Jesus. "For preservance," as the young woman in Belgium said.
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