A poster of a young man in Tegucigalpa’s central square. Kidnapped April 19, 1988. It’s in a photograph I just happened to take when I was there one year later. Looking at it recently, I wondered who is he? Thanks to search engines and dedicated searchers for the disappeared in Honduras, I found him. Roger Gonzáles, 24 year old student. Still disappeared.
Last week I’d wondered if Donald Trump remembered anything about the 1980s US interference in Central America. If he really didn’t realize that there might be a connection between then and the caravan of people at the US border now. (see Honduran Contra Camps 1989)
Disappeared in 1988: ROGER SAMUEL GONZALEZ
The contradictory responses of the military no longer surprise Elvia Zelaya, mother of the “disappeared” student Roger González.
Roger González, a 24-year-old leader of the Federation of Second-Year Students (FESE) and employee of the Honduran Forestry Development Corporation (COHDEFOR), was kidnapped before witnesses on April 19, 1988, at noon, while walking through the Central Park of Tegucigalpa. His captors were two men and a woman dressed in civilian clothes. Subsequently, one of them was identified by a witness as a member of the DNI*.
In the Honduran courts, five writs of habeas corpus were filed in favor of Roger González. In response to these appeals, several members of the DNI, FUSEP* and the First Infantry Battalion denied having Roger González in their custody. In one case, the executing judge was not even allowed access to the cells of the police unit cited in the habeas corpus. A statement by a spokesman for the Armed Forces, according to which Roger González had been captured by FUSEP, was later vehemently denied by agents of FUSEP itself, one of whom added that, in fact, FUSEP was looking for Roger González in relation to a violent demonstration held before the United States Embassy in Tegucigalpa on April 7, 1988.
In May 1988, relatives, friends and colleagues of Roger Samuel González Zelaya began a hunger strike in the Central Park of Tegucigalpa to protest their arrest and demand their release. The hunger strike lasted 23 days, and was suspended when Roger’s mother became ill.
In an interview with the press on October 8, 1988, the then head of the armed forces declared that Roger Samuel González Zelaya was probably hiding somewhere abroad.
However, Fausto Reyes Caballero, a former member of Battalion 3-16* who fled to the United States of America after deserting, testified in a testimony before several human rights groups in 1988 that he had seen Roger González in mid-July in the barracks of Battalion 3-16 in San Pedro Sula.
(Google translation of COFADEH page)
*DNI is Dirección Nacional de Investigación, National Directorate of Investigation (police).
FUSEP is Fuerza de Seguridad Pública, Public Safety Force (police).
Battalion 3-16 was an intelligence unit of the Honduran army “responsible for carrying out political assassinations and torture… Battalion members received training and support from the United States Central Intelligence Agency” (Wikipedia).
Reyes said he last visited the [Battalion 316] office in San Pedro [Sula] in mid-July , caught a glimpse there of a pale youth, handcuffed and blindfolded, and was told by a sergeant on duty that the prisoner was Roger Gonzalez. Gonzalez disappeared in Tegucigalpa during a police sweep in which about a dozen Hondurans were arrested after the burning of the U.S. Consulate there April 7…
Honduran police first acknowledged, then denied Gonzalez was in their custody.
Where are you Roger?
“My tongue sticks to my palate from so much repeating your name to the wind. My hands age playing insensitive gates They offer me silences for an answer … “
– Fragment of the poem Where are you Roger?, written by his mother Elvia Zelaya.
In a 2017 Conexihon post (Spanish, or see in English), Doña Elvia remembers her son Roger. He’d be 52, she says. She still offers a Mass for him. Aside from protests for answers, that’s all she can do in his memory. “When the mother buries her son, she knows that she is going to put a flower in the cemetery, she is going to visit there,” she says, but “not even that” for her. There still are no answers to what happened to Roger Samuel González Zelaya.
Donald Trump calls it “the Democrat Party led… assault on our country by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador…” (Twitter Oct. 18, 2018). A caravan of migrants started in Honduras, headed to the US border. This is one time when he legitimately can blame his predecessors. Especially the Reagan Republican administration which did everything it could do, legally and illegally, to get rid of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. That included funding an army and basing them in – guess where – Honduras. Honduras and all of us are still paying for that today. This is what I saw at a contra camp in 1989. (Click/tap photos to enlarge.)
Killing Time in the Honduran contra camps
The Sunday Express, August 20, 1989 pp 25, 40
Last week, five Central American presidents signed a peace accord for that region, agreeing to demobilize the Washington-backed rebel army by December 1989. Contra leaders say they will not lay down their arms, but nine commanders have already asked for asylum in the U.S. In April, Dorothy Anger visited the contra camps.
By Dorothy Anger, Special to The Sunday Express
From 1 a.m. until almost daybreak, the slap-slap-slap of hands shaping corn meal into tortillas is the only sound heard in the camp in the jungle of the Yamales Valley in southern Honduras. This is the strategic command base camp of the Nicaraguan resistance army – the contras. Nearer dawn, the noise of roosters and cicadas is joined by noise of the waking troops. The soldiers bathe and do morning exercises before daylight.
At 6:30 breakfast is served from a kitchen hut just outside the barbed-wire which surrounds the camp. Fifteen kilometres from the Nicaraguan border, this is the administrative centre for the 10,000 contra troops. The troops are divided into 26 regional battalions scattered over several kilometres in the valley.
Women and men commandos
Most of the commandos, as they call themselves, are men, but there are some women among them. Now that they are not engaged in active fighting, the women have been removed from combat roles and instead are responsible for cooking. The soldiers said that when they were militarily active, both men and women cooked and fought.
The women, both commandos and civilian family members, seemed shy. They, and the children, avoided me during this visit, only occasionally scurrying by with a pot of food or jug of water. The men, however, were happy to talk about anything from politics to North American music. Most of the men I met were young, in their 20s. However, there were some as young as 13 years old carrying rifles in the drills. They jokes and laughed, talking about being homesick, posed for pictures, wanted to take pictures, and were quite happy to talk in sign language to a non-Spanish speaker like me. No different than the guys on the other side of the border, except that these guys were killing the ones across the river in Nicaragua.
Outside the base camp is a collection of plastic-covered tents, hammock shelters and small wooden huts. The soldiers on guard duty are rotated from within the ranks of the regional commands. Some soldiers, such as the five musicians in the camp band, are permanently stationed in these huts. Half a kilometre from the guard post there is a row of wooden shacks where Hondurans sell pop and food or clothing and trinkets to the troops.
Large pine trees, palm trees and ferns cloak the surrounding hills. Helicopters go back and forth all day long from a nearby U.S. Agency for International Development landing pad used to supply the contra. Security measures for visitors to the camp are even stricter since a news photograph was published, showing the USAID helicopters carrying armed contra troops, in direct violation of U.S. regulations prohibiting military assistance by the agency. Everywhere there are automatic rifles – a presence that was very disturbing at first, though I soon stopped noticing them.
Eventually I was allowed into the camp, accompanied by a man who used as his nom de guerre Commander Jackson, and was second in command of psychological operations. With him, I visited a classroom where a human rights class was in progress, a regional command post, and the strategic base command.
Classes are periodically given in literacy, artillery practice and human rights. Human rights in this context does not only mean what the contras must do to ensure they do not violate human rights. Rather, it is mostly an explication of the ways in which the Sandinistas violate Nicaraguans’ human rights. Literacy classes are held less often but are necessary because, according to one estimate, as many as half the contras are unable to read or write. Skill-development classes, such as carpentry, are supposed to be taught in order to prepare troops for return to civilian life, but as yet none have been held.
Salvador Perez regional command
In the Salvador Perez regional command, 500 commandos and some family members live in plastic-covered or wooden huts perched on the side of a hill. At the bottom of the hill is a parade ground which doubles as a baseball diamond and volleyball court. I watched a dress rehearsal of military drills being prepared for a visit by American officials the next day. Commander Jackson gave the troops a pep talk, exhorting them to remember the struggle, and the importance of throwing over the so-called communist dictatorship of the Sandinistas. The weapons carried by the soldiers included AK-47 automatic rifles obtained from the U.S. and some weapons taken from Sandinista soldiers. At sunset, the men sang the Nicaraguan national anthem, followed by their own Resistance army hymn. Night fell quickly, as it does everywhere in Central America, and the troops dispersed back up the hill in virtual blackness, to sit outside their tents and talk or play cards by flashlight.
Waiting while war is on hold
Military drills, particularly with arms, are rare now that the contra war is supposedly on hold. They probably provide the most excitement available in a very boring routine. A tiny girl of about three looked out through the doorway of her family’s hut, watched by her grandfather who lay on a hammock inside. A pig strolled across the parade ground during the exercises, causing a recess until it was shooed away.
Back at the strategic command base, there was a bit more excitement this evening, for the guide brought movies with him. The choices are a soft porn movie, “The Terminator” or “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.” The VCR machine made the decision for us, giving only Indiana Jones both a clear picture and sound. About 50 men crowded around the rolled-up flaps of the administration tent, standing or sitting on wooden benches, to watch the derring-do of Harrison Ford.
$4.5 million US per month
The overwhelming impression of the camps is of people putting in time. They are no longer actively fighting, but neither are they farming or doing any other type of productive work. They are being paid $4.5 million U.S. per month to be there.
Washington has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to the contras over eight years in military and non-lethal aid. Nicaragua has moved ahead elections by six months to February of 1990 as part of a deal which would have demobilized the contras within 90 days. This was the peace plan signed by the presidents of five Central American countries in February of this year. Despite this accord, the Washington administration wants to keep the contras in place until the Nicaraguan elections take place. The American argument is that the contra presence will ensure that the Sandinistas run a fair and open election and that without this threat they would not. The problem is, contra leaders such as Adolfo Calero have stated that, “If it is a free electoral process, it is almost impossible for the Sandinistas to win.” A Sandinista victory, therefore, could provoke charges of unfairness and allow the Americans to justify re-engaging the contras in military action.
Pawns in international games
So for the time being, the soldiers wait, with their material needs looked after but their futures in limbo. They are pawns in the international games of the United States, as ex-contra leaders have said, but they get three good meals a day to be pawns. That is more than they would get in Nicaragua or as civilians in Honduras.
A storehouse by the kitchen hut is filled with sacks of rice and flour. Big slabs of beef are served along with rice and beans for breakfast. Cattle awaiting slaughter are kept in pens near the camps. The men receive soap, toothpaste and other such items. Bedrolls and tents are basic, but durable and warm, and have “U.S. Army” stencilled on them. Cigarette rations are supplied fortnightly.
The only items in short supply in the camp are cash and information from the outside. The men get about five Honduran limpira a month – enough to buy a couple of beers and a few packs of cigarettes in Los Trojes, the nearest town. Thirty-five kilometres away, Los Trojes is as far as the men can go without special permission and a pass. The town is small, with wide dusty streets with more horses on them than cars. Along the main street in its small wooden or adobe buildings are stores, restaurants, bars, and even a disco and hotel.
No communication but contra radio
But for the most part, the troops stay at the camps or surrounding area if their families are living there. In the camps, they see no newspapers and hear no radio aside from the contra radio station. They have no communication with their families in Nicaragua. Many have been told that family members are dead or imprisoned.
The level of political analysis ranges from simple repetition of anti-communist slogans, from most of the men to whom I talked, to a willingness to consider both sides of Nicaraguan-American history and philosophy, from Pepe, a senior advisor with the contras. His willingness to discuss the possibility that the Nicaraguan people might want a Sandinista government did not extend to permitting such thoughts to be recorded on tape, however. The other extreme, more commonly found, was the opinion that life in Nicaragua would be better under anyone other than the Sandinistas. An 18-year-old recalled how much better life was under the ex-dictator Anastasio Somoza and said he was fighting to restore that. When Somoza was overthrown, he would have been eight years old.
Somocistas, anti-Sandinistas and non-affiliated
There are some Somoza-regime leftovers in the contras. Some others are disenchanted Sandinista supporters. However, most had no overt political affiliation with any side in Nicaragua, but are poor peasants or labourers who volunteered or were recruited by the contras. Coming from these men, the political rationale of oppression in Nicaragua sounds like so much cant. For example, torture by the Sandinistas was frequently given as the reason for joining the contras, although the only example of torture provided was the men’s conscription into the Sandinista army.
Despite the ban on military action, the troops still get to see some fighting. During my visit, they were talking about a recent incursion into Nicaragua and another planned for the next month. And the next week, near the border on the Nicaraguan side, I was told of a recent attack in which contra soldiers repeatedly raped a 16-year-old girl in front of her house and then kidnapped her.
There, I met two “secuestrados,” people who had been kidnapped and held by the contras. In April they and two others were released by the contras after two American doctors and a journalist located them in the camps. The Nicaraguan National Reconciliation Council, a bipartisan committee headed by the Roman Catholic Archbishop, says that 3,000 of the contras are secuestrados. The contra leaders do not like discussing the point, acknowledging only that they “conscript” people.
Dr. Susan Cookson and Dr. Tim Takaro, now living in North Carolina, worked in the northern Nicaraguan province of Jinotega. They knew nine people from the area, including several community health workers, who had been kidnapped by the contras. Finding these people in the Honduran camp was made very difficult by the contra officials, but the doctors succeeded in talking to five of the nine. One young woman to whom they talked did not want to leave the camp. She was pregnant by one of the soldiers and wanted to stay with him.
They were examined and interviewed by the doctors, with a contra lawyer in full military uniform present. The four who left signed statements which were taken to the United Nations human rights officer in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, who arranged for their return to Nicaragua.
Health-care worker and a cook
I talked to José Gabriel Lopez, a farmer and health-care worker near the village of Mancantal in northern Nicaragua, and Gema Valásquez, a 16-year-old who had been working as a cook at a Nicaraguan army camp near the town of Jinotega. Both still feared that the contras would return and kidnap them again.
José Gabriel spent nine months with the contras after he was taken from his house at night. Gema had been walking home from work when she was taken, and spent 10 months in Honduras.
The prisoners’ walk to the camp took six weeks. Neither José Gabriel nor Gema attempted to escape during the walk; José Gabriel saw what happened to people who did try. One of the men with him tried to run the night they were abducted, and was shot as he ran. Gema was beaten with the butt of a rifle when she was unable to keep up the pace.
Isolation and indoctrination
Once in the camp, isolation combined with indoctrination to make the secuestrados believe that they had no choice but to stay with the contras. Gema was told that her mother, a Sandinista supporter, had denounced her. When Dr. Cookson told her that her mother sent her love, Gema simply cried, saying, “I knew my mother hadn’t forgotten me.”
Neither Gema nor José Gabriel have strong political leanings in either direction. Gema is a young girl concerned with music and clothes, the usual interests of 16-year-olds, even in Nicaragua. José Gabriel is a Catholic lay minister whose foremost allegiance is to his faith. José Gabriel assumes he was abducted because of his health care work and Gema says the contras took her employment at a military camp to mean she was a Sandinista supporter.
For two weeks after her arrival in Honduras, Gema was imprisoned in the military police camp. She was kept blindfolded the whole time, was beaten with a hose, tied up all day with no water. What she especially dreaded was having a poncho wrapped tightly around her head smothering her, a torture widely used in Latin America, and known as la capucha, or “the hood.” Dr. Cookson said that many women are sexually molested but Gema was fortunate to escape that, although she did see another woman die after being beaten by the soldiers.
Gema said that during the night that the doctors talked to her, Pepe, Jackson and other officials warned her that she would be killed by the Sandinistas if she left, offered to move her to any camp she wished to go to, and, finally, asked that she make clear in her statement that she had not been mistreated in any way so that negative publicity would not result for the contras.
Gema and José Gabriel both said that there are many in the camps – “hundreds,” according to José – who would like to go home. They do not go because, unless people like Drs. Cookson and Takaro find them, there is no escape. They do not know whether they will be safe in Nicaragua or if their families are alive. And even if they do not believe what the contras tell them, they have no money and they cannot get further in Honduras than Los Trojes without official contra permission. If they overcome these obstacles, they must then navigate through the contra land mines on the border with Nicaragua.
“they don’t want to leave”
According to the contra human rights officer at the base camp, although the contras do take people by force, “after they see what it’s like with us, they don’t want to leave. There is no one here who does not want to be.”
Gema and José Gabriel, as well as the other two men who were freed, have returned to their customary routines. José Gabriel is again living with his wife, child and parents on their farm about an hour’s walk from Mancantal, a small community north of Jinotega. He said that he intends to continue his health care work.
Gema is in Managua living with her mother and brothers and sisters. Her father lives in Jinotega, but the teenager does not intend to visit him again until she feels safe, for the contras still patrol the area. Sitting on the couch holding a doll, she talked only to an intermediary until he convinced her that I was trustworthy.
Aileen Tobin is a Canadian nurse working in Mancantal, the village close to José Gabriel’s farm. Several of the area’s health care workers have been kidnapped or threatened by the contras, and the small clinic in town has been attacked five times in the past three years.
Afraid to travel
Ms. Tobin said many health workers have stopped going about their jobs because they are afraid: they have to travel long distances to small settlements and outlying farms and they are vulnerable to attack on the lonely roads. More importantly, they feel that they are special targets for the contras because of their work in the health field. Ms. Tobin agrees with them, but laments the resulting loss of proper health care. A Canadian doctor in Jinotega, Dr. Myung Kim, said that his tuberculosis patients often do not get the necessary treatment because they don’t have transport to the clinic and he can’t travel to outlying areas because of risk of attack.
Dr. Kim, Ms. Tobin and other health workers are angry because they see the deterioration of a health system which won a World Health Organization award in 1983, and they can do little about it. They have no medicine or supplies, and a worsening economy means there is no money to buy any. Fear of contra attack keeps patients away from clinics.
If children start to die again…
Ms. Tobin said health care workers and teachers are targets of the contras because they represent the most basic and universally available improvements in ordinary people’s lives brought about by the revolution. If children start to die again from malnutrition and other easily-cured illnesses, and if access to basic education is lost, then ordinary people will no longer see that the revolution is giving them fundamental social benefits. Combine this with an inflationary economy which means that while food is available, people have no money to buy it, and the foundation is laid for a crisis of confidence in the government.
On both sides of the Nicaragua-Honduras border there are Nicaraguans carrying no strong ideological flag who have become part of a battle which, at root, is about the right to self-determination on the part of Central America. The United States has long considered Central America to be its backyard, with plantations and industries which produce goods for the American market, and governed by American-installed or approved leaders. The Monroe Doctrine of 1823 made official policy of the American belief that no other country had any right to intervene in the Americas. Nicaragua is the first country since Cuba in 1959 that blatantly went against this dictum, accepting support from Cuba and the Soviet Union.
Contras, Cubans and Washington
The perception of Nicaragua is so radically different in Miami, Honduras and Nicaragua that one could be excused for not realizing that the same country is being discussed. In Miami, contra leaders and the Cuban exile community plan a new Nicaraguan revolution, a reversed one. In their minds, even if Washington backs down in its support of the contras, their movement will continue, with the help of “right-thinking” Americans like Oliver North.
In Washington, the highly charged rhetoric of the Reagan administration is being downplayed by President George Bush, but the same interventionist policy is being pursued.
In the Honduran contra camps, where the commanders imagine victory and the U.S.-supplied soldiers regularly eat meat, Washington is criticized because more aid is not forthcoming. In the Honduran capital the views are more diverse, but with one factor remaining constant. If you walk through the crowded main square, it is almost impossible to find a Honduran who does not want the contras to leave immediately.
Coping with an embargo and war
And in Nicaragua the leaders cut back on social programs, and devalue the currency, and scramble to obtain the hard currency needed to buy industrial equipment and other goods. They try to cope with the continuing American trade embargo and rebuild the Atlantic coast after the devastation of Hurricane Joan. They still find time to release National Guard prisoners, remove restrictions on La Prensa, an opposition newspaper, and prepare for the February 1990 election. Ordinary people now watch their children die of malnutrition and lack of health care. (In Mancantal, Aileen Tobin says, “Even aspirin, I often haven’t even got that to give people.”)
In this eight-year war, 40,000 have been killed on both sides and hundreds of millions of dollars given to the contras by the United States. Although former president Ronald Reagan did not succeed in displacing the Sandinista government, his actions in promoting trade embargoes and a costly war did succeed in destroying the economy.
“Washington created them…”
Now, thousands of Nicaraguans are leaving the country. Because the U.S. considers them to be fleeing “communism,” none have been sent back to Nicaragua. If the American demobilize the contras, most spokespeople for all sides of the issue believe the U.S. has a responsibility to take them in. Julio Somoza, a Miami restaurateur who is the nephew of the ex-dictator of Nicaragua, has said “Washington created them, Washington has to look after them.”
There are two great tragedies in this seemingly never-ending war. One is the waste of lives on both sides, through death in battle and through the slow death of poverty and displacement. The other tragedy is the possible death of a Nicaraguan idealism which brought social justice to a country and a region more accustomed to mass poverty amid pockets of opulence and brutal repression.
It has been said that the real threat posed to the United States by Nicaragua is not the threat of encroaching communism, but “the threat of a good example.” That example is of a Central American country which despite the opinion of its critics is democratic and independent. Against all the odds, it still exists.
Googling a Lymburner ancestor recently, I noticed Red Lymburner in the search results. Bush pilot, Antarctica and Mount Lymburner. So I read more.
His full name was James Harold Lymburner, known as Harold or Red. And he’s my 4th cousin twice removed. His parents were George Malcolm Lymburner and Annie Josephine Christie. He was born April 24, 1904 in Caistor Township, Lincoln Co. ON.
Red Lymburner got his commercial pilot’s license in 1931 and worked as a bush pilot for Canadian Airways until 1939. Mainly he flew mining gear and explosives to northern Quebec mines. But one time, according to a 1964 Winnipeg Free Press article (quoted in RAMWC), two oxen needed to get to the mine. Author Edward R. Green wrote:
Well, Lymburner thought, freight was freight no matter what form it came in. He bundled one ox in a tarpaulin, dragged it into the plane and packed it in with bales of hay. The flight was uneventful, so he did the same thing with the other ox. The only difference was the second ox was airsick.
So if you can fly an airsick ox in a small plane, you can probably do anything. Red Lymburner went on to prove it. While at Canadian Airways, he worked as a test pilot for Fairchild Aviation as well.
Ellsworth Antactic Expedition 1935
Red Lymburner and fellow Canadian Airways pilot, Herbert Hollick-Kenyon, were chosen to fly on the 1935 Ellsworth Antarctic Expedition. Mount Lymburner, found during their trans-Antarctic flight in November 1935, is named after Red. In 1938, he went again with Lincoln Ellsworth to the Indian Ocean part of Antarctica. That time, he was lead pilot.
In 1935 the Royal Canadian Air Force made Red an honorary Group Captain in recognition of his flying skills. The Air Transport Association of Canada named him the ATAC Lifetime Honoree in 1979. He had retired by that time and, with his wife, had moved to Clearwater, Florida.
Jessie and Red Lymburner family lines
Red’s wife was Rachel Jessie Tice, daughter of Albert Edward Tice and Emma Jane Swick. She was born in December 1901 in Caistor Township. Her ancestry also goes back through two lines to Matthew Lymburner and Margaret Kaims.
Red and Jessie had one daughter Glenna Marie, born July 1927 in Caistor Township. Educated at McGill University, her career, like her father’s, was wide-ranging. From railway rebuilding in post-WWII Yugoslavia to Guyana to Toronto. There she was Head of Archives, established a public information office and served on the Federal Immigration Appeal Board. She married Keith Tisshaw (1928-2011) in 1950 and they had three children. Ms. Tisshaw died in April 2015.
Red Lymburner died in Clearwater, Florida in August 1990. Jessie died in October 1991 also in Florida. They are buried in Caistorville United Church Cemetery.
With reverence, Bill Davis cracked the seal on a carefully preserved bottle of 51-year-old whisky Thursday [Sept. 25, 1987] and tipped out shots for himself and three old buddies.
“This is it. There won’t be any more,” said Davis as he clinked glasses with Walter Allsop, Walter Day and George Parker.
Davis wasn’t talking about the bottle of whisky in this bittersweet moment at the Grosvenor Club on a bright September afternoon.
It was the 67th and final reunion of the 63rd Battery.
Davis, 88, Walter Allsop, 91, and Walter Day, 89, all of London, and George Parker, 89, of Sarnia tipped their glasses and drank a final toast to Bill Riseborough, 90, of Goderich, who couldn’t attend, and to all their dead comrades of long ago as trumpeter Earl Todd sounded the Last Post.
1921 was 1st reunion of 63rd Battery
“There will be no more reunions, at least not as a unit,” said Davis, who could recall Toronto in 1921 when 600 attended the first reunion of the London-based depot battery that supplied trained gunners and drivers to the Canadian artillery on the voracious western front.
“It’s gradually slipped,” Davis said of the number attending the annual reunion down the long years. In 1978, at Blenheim, only eight of the old-timers were on hand.
The carefully hoarded bottle of Seagram’s Crown Royal was set aside at a battery reunion at the old Hotel London in 1936.
“The stipulation was that it wouldn’t be opened until the reunion of the last four or five members,” Davis said. “This is it.”
The four who gathered Wednesday with a handful of friends and relatives are all old men. All, except Parker, spent time on the western front in 1917-18.
All are deaf to some degree, perhaps as a result of the crash of howitzers across the mud of Flanders.
The Western Front
“I was there – everything from Passchendaele to the armistice in 1918. I was in Mons the day after the war ended,” said Day. I never expected I’d be sitting down at a reunion in 1987. But then, I never thought that even last year.”
Allsop said he “started at Vimy and went right through.”
How was it?
“Oh, good and bad.”
The manpower shortage was so bad in late 1917 that Davis and his draft were shipped out of Halifax on Dec. 1 after only one week of what was supposed to be a two-week quarantine. Five days later, an ammunition ship exploded in the harbour, killing 1,630 people.
“We were supposed to still be there,” Davis said.
Parker admits he got only as far as England but there, he says, “I learned to roller skate.”
His combat was limited to a trip to Dublin “where we all ended up in jail.”
Bob Symington, a nephew of Davis and a Sarnia justice of the peace, drove Parker to London for the reunion.
When the glasses were recharged with what Davis called “sipping’ whisky,” Symington proposed the toast: “We’ll all meet again in 20 years.”
Replied Parker: “Not unless some of you young fellows change your ways.”
1936 Seagrams Crown Royal
Davis said the group had planned one toast, then would decide on the fate of the remainder of the bottle of 1936 whisky. But it soon became apparent the bottle was about to become a certified casualty of the day.
Davis said the bottle – “they don’t make them like this any more” – had been sought avidly by a distillery representative.
“I’m going to give to the RCR (Royal Canadian Regiment) Museum …
… was opening that bottle, all I could think of was all the fellows who have passed on.
“I feel it in my bones, I know I’m going to be the last guy.”
Mom clipped this article out of the London Free Press in September 1987. However, she missed part of the conclusion on the other side of the page. That’s why there’s a bit missing at the end of my transcript.
So I don’t know who felt it in his bones that he’d be the last guy alive. But from what I found out about these men, maybe it was Bill Davis. Here’s what I learned googling them:
William Carlton Davis, Driver, Reg. No. 334049
Bill Davis was born June 29, 1899 in Exeter in Huron County, Ontario, son of Ellen and Arthur Silas Davis. His attestation papers give printer as his occupation. He married Ruth H. Hills. He died in 1996, aged 96 or 97. The troopship he sailed on from Halifax, just before the explosion, was the White Star Line’s SS Megantic. She went out of service in July 1931.
Walter George Day, Gunner, Reg. No. 334125
Walter Day’s attestation papers say he was born in 1895. This article says he’s 89, making his birth year 1898. Perhaps he made himself older when he enlisted. His papers list his occupation as farmer. He died in 1990. An online genealogy of his wife’s family says, “On January 15, 1917 Walter enlisted with the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force with the 63rd Artillery Battery… While in Europe he was involved with the battle at Vimy Ridge.”
George William Parker, Sgt. Reg. No. 3132758
George Parker was born in 1897 in Watford, Lambton County. His occupation is farmer on his enlistment papers. He died in 1990. The Lambton County Museum website says, “William and Sarah [Parker]’s son George served in the 63rd Battery in World War I where they used horses to pull big guns into position. When he returned from the war, he began working at Mueller’s Brass Foundry in Sarnia. Despite having only a Grade 8 education, he became President of the company. He also had a farm at Lot 28, Con. 1 SER.”
George Walter Allsop, Gunner, Reg. No. 333829
Walter Allsop was born in 1896 in Toronto. His parents Charles and Matilda lived on Askin Avenue in London when he enlisted in 1915. His occupation was given as printer. I found reference to a marriage that might be his. If so, he married Madeline Mabel McCullough, on September 23, 1922 in Middlesex County, Ontario.
William James Riseborough, Driver, Reg. No. 334338
Bill Riseborough was born in 1899 in Blenheim, Chatham-Kent in Ontario. His parents were Elizabeth and George William Riseborough. He was a student at the time he enlisted.
That is all I could find out about these five men. Their attestation papers are at Library and Archives Canada. And the Seagrams bottle? The RCR Museum at Wolseley Barracks in London doesn’t yet have a full listing online of their artifacts. I took a virtual tour of their WWI display (in Gallery) but did not see it.
63rd Battery, CFA CEF
The 63rd Battery was based in London and Petawawa, Ontario. It was part of the Canadian Field Artillery of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Organized in March 1916, absorbed by No. 1 Artillery Depot in Oct. 1918, it disbanded on 1 Nov. 1920.
I am so glad my mother kept this article. It was a joy to read and to get to know these men a bit. Also humbling. Especially Mr. Allsop’s assessment of going “right through” from Vimy Ridge to the end as “oh, good and bad.” To their descendants, you have good reason to be proud. Thank you, Drivers Davis and Riseborough, Gunners Day and Allsop, and Sgt. Parker.
Lest We Forget
100 years ago today, the guns fell silent at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. After four years and three months of war. 1,564 days. Nearly 60,000 of about 620,000 in the Canadian Expeditionary Force died in battle.
Cover Girl, one of the biggest cosmetic lines, has stopped all animal testing of their products. This is such good news. There are still some caveats to think about, but hurray!
One caveat is “except where required by law” – which means China. But if they are putting pressure on China to change their policy – well, they’re a really big company capable of a lot of pressure.
Second caveat is the parent company Coty has not ceased animal testing in its other lines. But they say they are working toward it. That’s hopeful. So buy Cover Girl again? Maybe. If it shows them that their decision is one their potential customers want them to make. Then wait and see if they follow through with their other brands. If not, it’s time to stop buying and start writing letters.
Coty Statement on Animal Testing
Below is a post I wrote for my St. Thomas Dog Blog in 2010. I have removed most discussion of specific cosmetic companies, including Cover Girl, because it is now outdated. For all brands, it’s best to google for information on current practice and changes in ownership.
Animal Testing (Oct. 14, 2010)
It’s very hard to buy products that are not tested on animals or made by companies that test on animals in at least some of their product lines. In this, I am not talking about government-mandated animal testing on pharmaceuticals and medical products. I’m talking about cosmetics, hair products and household cleaning products.
I knew that L’Oreal still used animal testing for their cosmetics and hair products. That made the news when L’Oreal bought The Body Shop, a company that prided itself on natural and cruelty-free products. So even though the Body Shop did not test on animals, its new parent company did. So it too went on the animal testing boycott list.
I looked online then to try to find products that were not tested on animals. The majority I found were brand names I’d never heard of or seemed to be available only in the US or online. But I want to just go into a drugstore and buy what I want. Not so easy. Physicians Formula is reliable for not testing on animals, but isn’t available in all stores.
But what about toothpaste, cleaning products or anything outside cosmetics and hair stuff? The biggies – that test on animals and make almost everything you have in your cupboards – are Proctor & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson. P&G alone, just in cosmetics and skin care, owns Cover Girl, Max Factor (both bought by Coty) and Olay. Crest and Colgate toothpastes are made by P&G and J&J.
Parent and source companies
The issue isn’t as simple does a company do it or not. Some don’t do animal testing on some of their lines but do on others. For example, P&G owns Clairol which makes Herbal Essences hair care products. That line is not tested on animals, but others sold under the Clairol name are, as are products made and sold by the parent company P&G. So while bunnies’ eyes are not burned out if you buy Herbal Essences, they’re being used to test other Clairol and P&G products. And P&G isn’t losing your money due to their continued use of unnecessary animal testing. (P&G sold Clairol to Coty in 2015)
Also, some companies do not themselves use animals for testing their products, but they rely on research from companies that do. So while their hands are technically clean, they are still supporting the use of animal testing. At this point, product scientific research and formulation is pretty well-established. All the animals that needed to be blinded or have their hair fall out have given their lives for our safe beautification. Technology exists which can safely test products for human use without asking for animal sacrifice.
Who doesn’t do animal testing?
You can find a pretty comprehensive list of companies and brand that don’t use animal testing and those that do at caringconsumer.com. It’s part of the PETA site and has well-organized lists of companies and product names. I printed out the ones I needed and will be doing more animal-friendly shopping.
The black and white photo of the rabbit comes from P & G Kills, which provides good background on the company’s history of animal testing (available through Scribd).
The second photo used to be on the Wikipedia article on Animal Testing in the toxicity testing section. That has long relied on the Draize eye test. In a nutshell, it means putting a substance in an animal’s eyes and waiting to see what happens.
Newfoundland Mi'kmaq, family history, Coronation Street, etc.