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Watching Him Go....

This story is submitted by Judi Illingworth of Head Office in Charlottetown. It is a very touching story written about her grandmother.

"Imagine watching your 14 year old son cross the train tracks every evening to go to the Drill Hall. Imagine watching him go overseas, barely out of high school. Then try to imagine travelling thousands of miles across the ocean to visit his grave, 40 years after last seeing him alive.

Many people would have difficulty imagining this scene but it is a scene my grandmother – Mrs Charlotte Smith (Nanny) never forgot.

Born in Ottawa, on October 4, 1900, she lived her entire life in the Ottawa area, attending Bordon Elementary and Cambridge High Schools. Nanny married William Smith in 1920 and one year later Kenneth was born. Kenny was the oldest of six children.

In 1935, at the age of 14, Kenny joined the Governor General's Foot Guards in Ottawa. That was quite young but Kenny just loved it and would come home at night and shine his buttons and boots. Kenny's duty with the Foot Guards included reporting nearly every evening to the Drill Hall. And as he crossed the train tracks that ran behind their house, Nanny proudly sat on the porch and watched him go. She always worried and she used to sit up and wait for him to come home across those tracks at night.

Kenny was the first of his group of friends to enlist and then the day came for him to go overseas with the Lord Strathcona's Horse (Royal Canadian) 2nd Armoured Regiment. For months after he left Nanny remembered sitting there at night picturing him jumping the tracks.

Kenny was stationed in North Africa and Italy and he wrote home every week. He would often send little souvenirs home and one day a parcel came for a little girl Nanny & Grandpa had adopted. Here in this parcel was a silk dress that some lady had given to Kenny for a Chocolate Bar. He was always doing things like that. He was a very giving person.

Indeed, Kenny was a giving person, and on September 13, 1944, just two days after his 23rd birthday, C40082 Trooper Kenneth Edgar Smith gave his life in the province of Pesaro, Italy. The unit Kenny was in had been trying to overtake a German stronghold: the Castle of Gradara near the town of Rimini on the Adriatic Sea.

Capt. Brown of Kenny's unit wrote Nanny to describe the events of his death. Captain Brown saw Kenny's tank get hit and that made the letter even worse to read. A few years after Kenny's death, Nanny received her Silver Cross in the mail. Having that Cross meant more than anything in the world to her and she was so proud of it. In 1988, Nanny was asked to lay the wreath at the Westboro Legion Cenotaph. I remember her saying "To be asked to lay a wreath as the Silver Cross Mother is the highest honour anybody could give me." Nanny made a point of attending Remembrance Day services every year – whether it be at Westboro or at the National War Memorial.

In 1982 Nanny, along with my Uncle Corky (another son) and his wife visited her son's grave in Italy. The trip was an emotional one, and even the prospect of seeing Kenny's grave would bring tears to her eyes. I remember her saying she cried most of the way over but the trip was beautiful. Kenny is buried in the Gradara War Cemetery, directly across from the castle where he gave his life. Both Nanny and Uncle Corky found the moment very emotional and sat there in silence crying at the loss of a son, brother, and good friend. Nanny wanted to plant a maple tree on his grave and she wished she had of brought something. She did have a little red, white and blue ribbon on her jacket so she attached it to a stake and put it in the ground. She did bring back a little bottle of soil from his grave. She was impressed with the care that was taken at the cemetery – it was perfect, not even a weed.

There are train tracks beside the road that must be crossed to enter the cemetery. Nanny felt it fitting that she used to watch Kenny cross the tracks every night on the way to the Drill Hall and here she was crossing the tracks to see him again.

Nanny died on June 5, 1991, and is buried in Pinecrest Cemetery in Ottawa. Sprinkled over her grave is the soil she brought back from Kenny's grave. Something she had asked we do. I never met my Uncle Kenny but reading letters and poems he wrote and sent home and listening to stories told by my Nanny and my mom made me feel like I did. Some day I hope to be able to take my mom over to visit the grave of her brother, something I know would make her happy."

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