Letter: A message from the chair of the Kagawong Cenotaph board

A poingent story of one Island family’s loss

To the Expositor:

I am Rick Nelson, chairman of the Kagawong Cenotaph Board. Because of COVID-19 we could not hold a formal Remembrance Day ceremony at the Park Centre this year. This is the first time that we couldn’t have a public service with the exception of a wreath laying ceremony at the Cenotaph. However, when this pandemic is over we hope to return next year with our regular 2021 Remembrance Day service. 

I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge a historical milestone that was celebrated everywhere this year including Manitoulin Island—the end of the Second World War. It started with Victory in Europe, May 8, 1945 and this year, 2020, marks the 75th anniversary of that event. 

I was told that in Kagawong, Victory in Europe was celebrated in front of the old post office. An impromptu parade began at the schoolhouse, with the children working their way down to the lower village. The manager of the hydro plant at the Old Mill gave a speech. Prayers were said. The cadets were there, flags were flying everywhere. Car horns were honking, people where hooting and howling. However, those celebrations were tempered with the sadness that not everyone who fought to restore the peace would be coming home. One who did was Murray Thompson of Kagawong. He served as a gunner aboard a Wellington bomber and survived a few close shaves over Germany. 

On the other side of the world in London, England a letter was being written to Marguerite Tustian of Kagawong. Her married name was now Marguerite Peters and she had recently learned her husband was missing in action during a bombing raid over Germany. The letter was being written from her nephew Flight Lieutenant Hugo Peters of the Royal Canadian Air Force. 

“Dear Aunt Marguerite, The war is over. It’s kind of hard to believe, even now. In London, a wonderful panorama of search-lights was on, rockets left their coloured trails through the sky, the guns were firing.  Streets where I’ve so often banged my shins in the blackout, were lit up like day. The streets were so packed with people that no traffic could go through Piccadilly Circus for two days. Over a half a million people were in front of Buckingham Palace. For the first time since the start of the war, the lights of London went on again and I’m sure glad I was there to see it. I’ve been making inquiries about Nick’s belongings. All his personal things will be sent home to you at the end of six months if nothing is heard of him by then. No one knows whether the plane went down over sea or land. There are so many thousands of Allied airmen who are missing now. A committee has been set up though to trace these missing men, and if they ever find the whereabouts of Nick’s plane or know his fate they will inform you.” 

Nick was Marguerite’s husband and his body was found. He was given a Christian burial alongside three of his crewmates by residents of the German village where his plane went down.  

There are so many similar Second World War stories, but these were connected to Kagawong where at our local cemetery lies a number of the veterans who served in that campaign.

On behalf of the Kagawong Cenotaph board, I wish to salute our veterans, those who are still with us and those long since departed and to the current members of the Canadian Armed Forces. 

Thank you.

Rick Nelson, chair

Kagawong Cenotaph Board