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Remembering the fallen in Italy
It’s been nearly 70 years since Pvt. Metro Seman died in action in the Second World War.
But this coming Remembrance Day, the service of Seman — and other Canadians — will be formally marked at Coriano Ridge War Cemetery in Coriano, Italy, located just east of San Marino, on the country’s east coast.
Seman’s niece, East Kildonan resident Donna Cudmore had posted photos of her uncle to the Canadian Virtual War Memorial website. Out of the blue in September, she was contacted by Corrin Fraser, who grew up in Pinawa but lives about a two-hour drive away from the cemetery.
After finding Cudmore’s posting on the website, Fraser offered to take a photo of the gravesite to help carry on the memory of Seman’s sacrifice.
"It was very emotional," Cudmore recalled. "This is probably the general feeling that a lot of people do have, that have loved ones that are off buried somewhere else from the war.
"It’s come full circle now that she’s actually been able to do something. For some reason, it feels complete now, that my job can be complete through her hands."
Cudmore, who is involved in the North East Winnipeg Historical Society as its publicity chair, also tends the Brookside Cemetery, which has a Field of Honour with over 12,000 veterans, servicemen and servicewomen, and their families interred. However, she hadn’t been able to make it to visit her uncle’s gravesite in Italy.
Cudmore said she has 18 old letters from Seman to her father, and has always felt a connection to him. Though her father didn’t often speak of Seman, she was able to find out about him through her mother, who grew up in the same area.
"He was the strong one and the protector, and I feel like that’s my position within my family, too," Cudmore said. "It’s funny, for someone that you’ve never met, it’s just bizarre (to have that kind of connection)."
Cudmore feels indebted to her uncle for the freedom she and other Canadians enjoy.
Fraser has organized a ceremony which will take place at the cemetery on Nov. 10, as the 11th is not a holiday in Italy. The Canadian Forces base in Italy is set to send representatives to the service, while the Mayor of Coriano and the Italian Carabinieri (military police) will be sending three officers in full dress on behalf of the Italian people.
"For me, this Remembrance Day will be extremely important, because I know that someone’s going to be there — officials and this one particular angel person doing things for all these soldiers over there, I think that it’s just unbelievable," Cudmore said.
Fraser originally moved to Italy for work a decade ago, and married an Italian man, with whom she had three children and settled down in Carpi.
After finding out a family member served in the area during the Second World War, Fraser took photos of gravesites and posted them online (see sidebar).
Fraser soon received other photo requests from across Canada, Scotland, and New Zealand. She decided to seek out other families, and has connected with 29 in total, including Cudmore. Fraser will have her car chock full of items to leave by gravesites to help remember the fallen.
"(The families) have all sent photos for me to place on the grave. Some have sent personal letters," Fraser said. "I’m going to the cemetery anyway, so it’s not that big of a deal for me to take them.
"In the beginning, I didn’t realize how much it meant to people."
Other items Fraser will place include provincial flags, and even Montreal Canadiens memorabilia to help remember one soldier who was a Habs fan.
Fraser will also take Canadian flags to the site, which was spurred on by a posting she made telling Roney’s story online. She now has enough flags for all Canadian soldiers at eight cemeteries.
"It was originally just posted to my family and friends (on Facebook), and within two months, I had 2,000 flags," Fraser said. "We can’t use the kitchen table anymore."
MP Joy Smith (Kildonan-St. Paul) sent 436 Canadian flags for the project, while the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry sent 49 regimental flags. The PPCLI is marking its 100th anniversary, and Fraser will take photos of the flags for its regimental yearbook. As well, schoolchildren from across the country have made their own flags — with a student’s handprint instead of a maple leaf — to place at graves. Seven Manitoban schools participated, while schools from British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec, and New Brunswick also took part.
Fraser plans to keep the project going in the years to come at other cemeteries in the region, and Cudmore has offered to help Fraser connect with other families in Canada.
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