A soldier’s story

Student experiences one family's journey THROUGH WAR AND DEATH


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As a Grade 12 student at Kelvin High School, I have had the unique experience of understanding the sacrifice of war on a personal level.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/11/2014 (3052 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

As a Grade 12 student at Kelvin High School, I have had the unique experience of understanding the sacrifice of war on a personal level.

Last March, I went on Kelvin’s Canadian Battlefields Trip with five other students and our history teacher, Christopher Young. In addition to visiting the sites where Canadian troops fought during the First and Second World Wars in Holland, Belgium, France and England, we each researched a Kelvin soldier who fought and died overseas during one of those wars.

I was assigned Clifford Lloyd Miller, a Second World War soldier who died in battle on Oct. 5, 1944 at age 33.

At first, I knew little about Miller apart from what his military file told me. He was 28 when the war began in 1939, 5-9, blue eyes, medium brown hair, married with a young daughter and lived on Winnipeg Avenue. He had enlisted in the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. With only these facts and numbers, how could I develop a true connection with this man?

Then, although it was a shot in the dark, I phoned Miller’s grandson, Greg. This conversation yielded amazing results, especially considering Greg was out of town until a few days before we left on our trip, and I had been unable to speak with him. It was almost miraculous when he arrived, unexpectedly, at Kelvin with a family artifact: an old shoebox full of all the letters Miller had sent home to his family. Suddenly, I developed a more profound bond to Miller.

After reading his letters, it was clear Miller became increasingly fatalistic over the course of the war. When he enlisted, he believed the war was just and loved his country. He wrote poems that were patriotic odes to Canada. As the war progressed, however, his writing is marked by feelings of anxiety, loneliness and torment. A few days before he was killed, Miller’s letters expressed his anticipation of death and his hope that his daughter, Joan, would be OK.

In one letter, he urges his wife not to grieve for him if he is killed. “I really would rather you would marry again only this time someone more worthy of you than I, but never, never let Joan forget me. That you must promise.”

His letters are a heart-wrenching account of the impact of war on families.

The final document in the box is the telegram sent from military command to his family in Winnipeg declaring Miller had been killed in action. It is a frank and startling conclusion to a very emotional story. His member of Parliament, Stanley Knowles, also wrote a letter of condolence.

An unlikely connection grew out of Miller’s death. In 1945, a Dutch girl named Betty Kolderie began a pen-pal correspondence with a Canadian girl named Joan Norrie from Winnipeg. The two had been connected via a Canadian soldier who had met Betty during his service in the Netherlands, but Betty and Joan eventually lost contact and their pen-pal relationship stopped. Betty never forgot the impact Canadian soldiers had on her life, both in liberation and personally.

As an adult living in Bergen-Op-Zoom, the site of a Canadian war cemetery, she noticed one day the gravestone of Clifford Lloyd Miller with its inscription from his “loving wife and daughter, Mabel and Joan Miller of Winnipeg.”

Touched, Betty reconnected with Joan Norrie to obtain Mabel Miller’s address. As a gesture of thanks towards Canada, Betty began to care for Miller’s grave. Betty and Mabel maintained a pen-pal relationship until Mabel died. Subsequently, Betty corresponded with Joan, Miller’s daughter. In 1972, Joan and her family visited Betty in Holland. The next year, Betty’s daughter Yvonne travelled to Winnipeg to complete her Grade 12 year. For many years, the families kept in contact, attending major life events such as weddings and anniversaries. Betty is still alive, though she no longer lives in Bergen-Op-Zoom.

When I contacted Miller’s grandson Greg, he was touched to hear I had visited his grandfather’s grave and had presented his story to our group. The project was a reminder to both of us it is important to remember those family members and fellow Canadians who put their lives on the line so we can live peacefully today.

When I returned from Europe, I had coffee with Greg who brought his son along so he, too, could learn of his great-grandfather’s role during the war. Clifford’s story is, in a sense, a personal embodiment of what Remembrance Day is designed to be.

It is a day that asks a lot of us as Canadians: to remember all those soldiers who died representing our country. If this begins to feel like an overwhelming task, focus on just one soldier fondly, even if only for a moment — to ensure we better appreciate their great loss, and the dreadful nature of war, so that we can attempt to live our own lives as peacefully as possible.


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