When people think of the Second World War, most have images of Germany, France or Britain. Most people wanting to visit historical sites will go to the D-Day beaches or concentration camps which is understandable.
I had four uncles who fought in WWII; two each from my mother’s and father’s family. My maternal uncle, Harry, served in northern Italy. Uncle Harry was 23 years 19 days old when he died. A sniper shot him in the neck and he perished a couple days later.
My Uncle John had been recuperating from a wound of his own in an English hospital when he found out about his brother’s death. When he got of bed and began to dress, the nurses asked what he was doing. He politely told them he was going to kill the bastard who killed his brother. The nurses had to tie him to his bed after he attempted several times to leave.
My Uncle Harry rests at Argenta Gap War Cemetery in the commune of Argenta. Argenta is about an hour north of Bologna and is a predominately agricultural area.
For years, I had talked about going to visit his gravesite. My biggest issue was figuring out how to get to Argenta from wherever I’d be staying. At first, I thought going out of Venice would be the best choice.
Knowing the train system in Europe is one of the best in the world, I began researching train schedules from Venice to Argenta and back. To my disappointment, I found only one train per day, and they were the opposite of what I needed. It didn’t matter which city I chose; I found the same issue. I would have to overnight in Argenta.
I settled on Milan and Bologna for November 2018. During my research, I had discovered a car service that would take me from Bologna to Argenta and back at a reasonable rate. The company is Cosepuri and the driver I hired was out front, waiting for me before the requested time.
He didn’t speak much English, but he was courteous and did his best. He also had an electronic translator in case he needed it. The language barrier served as a bit of a blessing as I was not in a frame of mind to talk. The silence gave me the time I needed to go over the speech I wanted to say to my uncle.
We arrived into Argenta about 50 minutes later and had trouble locating the turnoff to the cemetery. It took a few minutes to locate the exit, but when we did; we arrived within minutes. I climbed over the chain in front of the path and walked the few hundred yards to the main entrance. The closer I came to his grave, the more emotional I became. As I stood in front of his marker, I sobbed without end.
After all the prep to talk to him, I couldn’t speak a word. I didn’t factor in I would find myself so emotional in his presence. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason for the tears.
I contribute it to a combination of reasons. One would be I finally made it to the gravesite. All the years of wanting and planning had come to fruition.
Another was the connection to my uncle. I heard so much about him from my mother; I felt as if he was physically in my life from the beginning.
The last reason, this brave man gave his life so the rest of us could live ours in freedom. When I researched for information, I learned my uncle had foot issues after dealing with diphtheria. It surprised me the Royal Canadian Regiment accepted him as a soldier, but it didn’t surprise me he volunteered. His generation believed they had to do their part in the war effort.
Part of my wanting to visit his grave was for my mother’s benefit. I had to go for her. I never met him, but she lost a brother she loved and respected. I understood that more than most; that is a different story.
While I couldn’t find my voice to speak, I gave him a proper salute. I took a few pictures of the headstone to show my mother. One was of just the marker. Another was the marker with a photo of Uncle Harry and a scarf with the Clan Craig tartan. I left both at the cemetery to show someone loved the man enough to be there.
By the time I returned to my car, I could feel myself beaming. I fulfilled my purpose and my mom could see the Commonwealth War Graves Commission doing their job of taking care of her brother.
When I showed her the pictures, it amazed her how well they maintained it. I expected her to tear up, but she didn’t. I could tell seeing the marker overwhelmed her despite her remaining stoic.