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Our Eddie

Posted By on August 26, 2016

Ed Ferguson at the 38th Parallel, Korea, 1954.

Ed Ferguson at the 38th Parallel, Korea, 1954.

More Character than Legend – More Legend than Ordinary

How can it be possible – to feel both full and empty at the same time? Filled with a lifetime of memories fleeting past in rapid succession and yet a vast emptiness, a hollowness that yearns for one last conversation.

Our Eddie left us yesterday…and so it started, or perhaps restarted, a life of experience, unique to him and shared with his own. Edward William Ferguson was a Lethbridge boy, the famed bridge in Southern Alberta being his play thing having crossed and climbed every beam and walked every tie. The Second World War brought him directly into the Canadian home front collecting salvage or driving tractor as German Prisoners of War worked the field while the Veterans Guard rested.

Not for the feint of heart. Bridge on the Old Man River, Lethbridge, Alberta.

Not for the feint of heart. Bridge on the Old Man River, Lethbridge, Alberta. 1,624 metres long (5,327′) and 95.7 metres high (314′)

Dad was a rolling stone, knew his own mind and learned how to make it work for himself and his family, mother Jane and sister Joyce. His younger self worked harvesting sugar cane, packing and canning at Broder Cannery, picking fruit in the Okanagan, playing hockey for pocket money, or sinking called shots in snooker. Sometimes, I think, it was while shoveling cement on an Alberta dam project in the late 1940s that our Eddie decided there was a better way. (Dad gave up hockey as, although a Red Wings prospect, there was “No money in the NHL in them days!”)

That first better way was at McGillivray Mines in the Crow’s Nest Pass where Dad spent the days at the coal face and after hours joined his friends for cold ones and listened to Hank Williams tunes picked and strummed on a fine Gibson acoustic. It was about this time that Eddie got his first work related tattoo a Bugs Bunny portrait captioned, “Hi Charlie!” However, after a serious accident where Dad was hit by a runaway coal car and spending six months in a body cast, he volunteered to go to Korea.

Much inspired by his Uncle Louis Mills a veteran with the 15th Field Regiment (R.C.A.) Eddie joined the Canadian artillery at Currie Barracks serving with 119 Light Anti-Aircraft Battery at Gordon Head and Fort Rodd Hill, Victoria, B.C.. Determined to go to Korea his path took him to the Canadian Postal Corps where suddenly his wishes to see the world came to fruition. Eddie was sent to Korea and Japan and later served across Canada, Germany, Sardinia, Egypt, Lebanon, the Belgian Congo and Cyprus. Always the character he repeated his youthful riding the rails travels in Egypt once hopping a freight from El Katar to El-Arish via Rafah.

Sergeant E.W. Ferguson, Royal Canadian Postal Corps, Leopoldville, Congo, 1961.

Sergeant E.W. Ferguson, Royal Canadian Postal Corps, Leopoldville, Congo, ca. 1960.

My Mom, who he met before he shipped out to Korea, was rather proud of being a war bride. Eventually they were to go on separate paths and for many years Dad ferreted his way along alone, working as a Postmaster,  until he met his grand friend Marg in his retirement. We will always miss our Eddie, more character than legend – more legend than ordinary and stronger than most. His path was only unencumbered because he moved the rock, he found the way. He chose to lead when leadership was not always there for him and with me he found a way to pass along some of that bear-like strength.

Earlier today as I sat and pondered what tune could possibly mirror his life I thought of Guy Clark, whose presence is not unlike that of my father – uncomplicated, classic and expressive. Yes Eddie saw much and though he saw many things I will see the David and the Mona Lisa for him. Thanks Dad – missing you is an understatement.

Dad – wherever you go from here there will always be a new shining star above. Don’t let them bug you our great bear father, friend and soulmate. Miss you forever….and for those who knew him well the following is all telling. Love from your Jr. Cub.

One More Conversation

Posted By on August 20, 2016

Our Eddie and father...courage on the watch.

Ed Ferguson..courage…on the watch.

…for Father our Eddie

As I sit by his bedside and watch the years fade away
One more conversation one more yesterday

This week lost the stories of every day before
The Hip have played Kingston while father calls more

Today we see deeply how things could have been
Thank god for Gord ‘n’ Eddie and the things that they’ve seen

As I sit by his bedside and watch the years fade away
One more conversation one more yesterday

…from Junior who watches 

James Duffy: Canadian Scottish Distance Runner

Posted By on August 13, 2016

Around the Bay Road Race, Hamilton, Ontario 1912. James Duffy on the Burlington Canal Bridge. (Hamilton Public Library).

James “Jimmy” Duffy on the Burlington Canal Bridge during the Around the Bay Road Race, Hamilton, Ontario, 1912.  (Hamilton Public Library).

Days of Champions

Amidst the clattering of today’s world events we have some respite as the Olympics fill the ranks and files of media. Not without their “discussion” too, the Olympics celebrate achievement and highlight angst. There are stories each day of overcoming adversity, of participation and winning, sometimes even without receiving awards. The games should remind us that leadership goes beyond days of champions but also to those who take part, whose struggle is the journey and not always how they finish.

With that in mind I dig into the pictures file to pull from my many snaps the resting place of a champion and soldier, James Duffy of the 16th Battalion C.E.F. (The Canadian Scottish). Duffy’s marker at Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery, Belgium records, “IN MEMORY / DIED FIGHTING FOR LIBERTY / EX LONG DISTANCE / CHAMPION RUNNER OF SCOTLAND”.

Champion Runner James Duffy memorial at Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery, Belgium. Son of Mr. and Mrs. James Duffy, of 12, St. Mary Street, Edinburgh.

Champion Runner James Duffy’s headstone at Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery, Belgium. Son of Mr. and Mrs. James Duffy, of 12, St. Mary Street, Edinburgh. (Ferguson 2010)

Duffy grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland having moved their as a child from his native Ireland. It was in Scotland that Duffy developed his interest in long distance running winning several events before immigrating to Canada in 1911. Working in Canada as a tinsmith and stone-cutter he continued to pursue the long path, qualifying for the 1912 Summer Olympics, Stockholm, Sweden where he finished fifth. Afterwards Duffy competed in several marathons and in April 1914 won the Boston Marathon ahead of fellow Canadian Édouard Fabre. A little over a year later Duffy was killed during the Second Battle of Ypres four days after the 1915 running of the Boston Marathon in which Fabre was to be victor.

As a onetime runner who enjoyed distance over the short track Duffy reminds me of my time, my apparent loping stride around the ring, along the road, up and down Tolmie or Cadboro still with more distance ahead. I was coach and student preferring solitude thinking of the road to come…the journey ahead. And at Vlamertinghe an inscription has allowed me to reflect upon one person’s life and what it can mean to family, friend or visitor.

Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery is located 5 Kms west of Ieper (Yores) town centre, on the Hospitaalstraat. (Ferguson 2010)

Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery is located 5 kilometres west of Ieper (Ypres) town centre, on the Hospitaalstraat. (Ferguson 2010)

So too I recall the fictional runners from Peter Weir’s 1981 film, Gallipoli. Coach and student in ritual preparation for the race ahead. A reoccurring theme throughout the film…side by side…strength in their steps.

Canadian in a British Regiment: 1 July 1916

Posted By on July 3, 2016

Hawthorn Ridge, Somme.

Hawthorn Ridge, Somme. On July 1, 1916, at 7:20 AM a mine was detonated on this German held position. The following letter, whose author remains anonymous, was published a few days after the 1 July 1916 attack. Mention is made of Dum-Dum ammunition whose use in warfare was first prohibited in 1898 and further ratified n 1899 at the Hague Convention. The protest banning their use was led by the German government.

IN THE GREAT ADVANCE

Canadian Officer’s Graphic Letter.

The following is a letter from a young Canadian serving with an English regiment – an officer in the first line on the first day of the big offensive: -

July 1.

     I am writing this in a dug-out about 200 yards from German lines. My whole platoon is here with me, and we are waiting patiently for the order to attack. I am sitting on the sharp corners of a bully beef tin, a fat Tommy is asleep across my legs, and the German guns are making a fiendish row. A huge bit of shell has just landed outside the dug-out.

July 4.

      I have now a few moments to sit down and write a brief summary of my doings. First of all I slept on a real bed last night. I had only had about five hours’ sleep till then since June 27, and yet I felt most “horribly healthy.” On June 27 we went into the trenches, tramped about in mud all day and night. Our company had only one platoon’s frontage, and consequently the dug-outs were crowded. We were constantly getting shelled, and had to move our quarters. One dug-out we evacuated had seven men killed in it ten minutes after we left. On Saturday morning, July 1, a division went over on our left and another further down on our right. The line has a bend, and consequently the Germans were all driven into the village. The attack succeeded on both flanks and joined hands, making a pocket simply packed with Boches. This attack was preceded by seven days bombardment, and although the trenches and houses and wire entanglements were battered to bits, a great many of the enemy emerged from their deep dug-outs with machine guns practically unharmed the moment we advanced.

     At 2.30 the order to attack this village was given. My men were all asleep in the dug-out, but I had them all out and over the parapet fully equipped before 2.40. The fire that greeted us was so terrific that I sent a message to the company commander to find out what I was to do. He came personally to the spot where I was, just behind a gap in the wire entanglements (they had been cut the night before). I shouted out, “I am ready to advance.” He shouted back, “Get along then.” I jumped up and yelled “Come on, No. ―.” They rose and followed to a man, although they had been suffering heavily from rifle and machine gun fire while still on the ground in front of the parapet. I dashed forward, closely followed by my platoon sergeant.

     We were met by a perfect inferno of rifle and machine gun fire. I looked over to the German trenches, and it was a sight I shall never forget. The fire trench was on a steep bank about 150 yards of it parallel to our trench, and then it went up and away to our left. The part that went up the hillside was packed with Germans four deep, firing over each other’s heads. The part parallel to us was crammed so full that one line used the parapet and jostled each other for room while the remainder stood up on a step behind and fired over the first line’s shoulders. I could hear the machine guns, but could not see where they came from. I afterwards learned that they were 10 feet below the parapet in dug-outs fired through loopholes so that only a direct hit would knock them out. One look was enough. I ducked my head and ran for all I was worth – not back – but straight at the guns. I felt like some Johnny in the Light Brigade. My men fell like ninepins. Men collapsed or rather fell down headlong with a groan. My orderly fell by my side.

     At last I reached a small gully or shell hole or something. Down I flopped, and looked around – not up. The greater part of my platoon were either lying dead, wounded or dying in the short 100 yards that I had gone, so I came to the conclusion that it would be unwise to advance, especially as I found out afterwards that the German fire trench contained 500 men and eight machine guns in 150 yards of trench. My servant had six bullets through him, so I got him dressed up a bit. Another man had five shots through his arm in a two-inch group. Imagine the rate of fire the machine guns must have had. Another man crawled in with his arm shot in two. The German snipers, at any rate, were using dum-dum if not explosive bullets. The wounds were simply ghastly.

The use of expanding bullets, known as dum dums, provided propaganda discussions from both sides of the frontlines. Although Dum Dums were produced at the British India Dum Dum Arsenal, Calcutta, India.

German propaganda related to French Dum-Dum ammunition.The use of expanding bullets, known as dum dums and named for the British India Dum Dum Arsenal, Calcutta, India, provided ample propaganda value for either side of the fence during the Great War.

It would have been inadvisable to show one’s head, so I kept low. I soon found out I was being sniped at from German trenches to the right. I was pretty savage by this time – I suppose if I hadn’t been in such a rage I should have been frightened. I crawled out and took an entrenching tool from a dead man and dug myself in.

     I saw the wounded of my platoon trying to crawl up to my gully for protection, but as soon as they moved a machine gun was turned on them. The poor devils dropped flat, but that was not enough. The snipers had seen them move, and fired shot after shot at them with their dum-dum bullets until there was no doubt about their being alive. Then sent over shrapnel and coal boxes. I was simply furious and dying to get at them by this time, and so were the men.

Huge Lyddite Shells.

     The German fire gradually got less intensive, but in its place came huge lyddite shells which burst directly overhead. They made a great cloud of yellow smoke which was beautiful against the blue sky. Lyddite shells unfortunately explode vertically downward, and I had a few anxious moments as pieces of shell as big as your head sat down beside me. After that two beautiful white albatrosses with black crosses painted on their wings came over, escorted by a huge, grey battleplane, the whole followed by a perfect swarm of little white puffs of shrapnel from our anti-aircraft guns. They did not stay long, however.  Two of our battleplanes came along, and the whole lot fled.

     At dusk the Germans had retired to their dug-outs, leaving a few snipers and machine gunners on guard, and I was able to get back to our lines. When I jumped in, or rather fell headlong in as fast as I could, I found another regiment in our places. I was looked upon as risen from the dead.

     I enjoyed myself rather when I got to my shell hole. I was rather isolated, but comparatively safe. The sniping that I did kept my spirits up wonderfully. I also had a meal of bully beef, biscuits, and chocolate – so did my platoon sergeant, after some persuasion. He said he had lost his appetite.

Canada Illustrated Weekly, July 22, 1916 pages 93 – 94

You Don’t Seem So Far Away

Posted By on June 26, 2016

Patricia Colleen Dougan...my mum

Patricia Colleen Dougan…my mum

Miss You Forever

She was a Dougan…a Ferguson..a Rafuse. Daughter, sister, wife and mother.

She was half of all that I am.

She loved to dance, finding her way across a dance floor where one day she found herself in the arms of a soldier, a man she waited for. With the end of the Korean War Colleen and Eddie were married and had a son. Colleen, my mother, stood beside me through all my foibles and successes. She knew when to sing or knew just what to say, and though the years took my parents on separate paths and far apart she eventually found her way home.

When she came home, she was tired and frail. For the last few years Parkinson’s claimed her vitality and yet she fought back day after day. If one could only be so strong…and though I desperately wanted to save her, all I could do was let her go…perhaps on another path…where she might sing and dance again.

As I flip through image upon image of our family, her siblings and parents, nieces and nephews, she loved all. And then I find the one image that captured the heart of my father and here it sits before me. Mum…though for the last year you did not know me, speak or open your eyes…when I look upon you now…you don’t seem so far away.

Love you…miss you forever.

Patricia Colleen Rafuse (formerly Ferguson, nee Dougan)
August 1937 – June 2016