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The Suffering of Battle:
The Story of a Young Airman from Charlottetown

This story is submitted by Glady (Murnaghan) MacKay of Head Office in Charlottetown. It deviates from our women's stories, but I know you will enjoy it.

It was late night on October 8, 1944, and my grandfather, William J. (Will) Murnaghan was working as a night watchman on the old Prince Street wharf in Charlottetown. It was a chilly calm night, and there were no boats moving in the harbour. Will had a son, B. Roy, who was a sergeant major in the army and was stationed in Halifax; he could not go overseas because his eyesight was impaired. Another son, Henry Allan, had quit university to enlist in the air force, and he had been shipped overseas. Will was nodding off. All of a sudden he heard the sound of his 21 year old son calling out to him, "Pop! Pop!." ( All of the children called him Pop.) He knew it was Henry. Will glanced at the clock on the wall; he did not know what this meant, but he was afraid for his son.

After his shift was over, Will went home to 59 Dorchester Street and told his wife, Ida; sons, Albert and Ivan; and daughters, Mary, Alice and Eleanor, about the incident. He walked over to the calendar on the wall and circled # 8 and wrote down the time he had heard Henry call out to him.

They prayed, worried, waited and prayed some more and on or about October 10, 1944, while sitting on the front steps of their home, they saw Billy Griffin come around the corner on his bicycle. Billy worked for the telegraph office. They had watched in silence for days as Billy delivered the telegrams to their neighbours homes; he had never stopped at their house. Today was different. He was delivering the infamous telegram. However, thankfully, their prayers were answered. Henry was alive but severely wounded on October 8, 1944. The date and the time coincided with the time my grandfather heard Henry calling him.

Four or five days later on October 15, 1944, another telegram was received from the Department of National Defence stating that their son, Henry, had been removed from the "dangerously ill" list to the "seriously ill" list. The Department informed Mr. and Mrs. Murnaghan that according as their son's condition improved, they would be notified.

Henry and three of his comrades including a MacDonald man from Georgetown, Prince Edward Island, were in the process of taking the ammunition from the barn out to the site of the anti-tank gun. The big door of the barn was open and one of the men grabbed one end of the crate and Henry the other. They proceeded toward the gun, then suddenly there was gunfire. The man at the front of the crate was killed, and Henry was seriously wounded on the right side. The only thing that saved him was the fact that he was wearing a money belt, and the shrapnel lodged in the belt and acted as a plug and kept him from bleeding to death. His left side was shielded by the barn door and this saved the left side of his body. Henry was in shock; he got up and started to run toward the enemy. There was another barn nearby and there were four more men in it trying to get some rest so that they could relieve the others later on. They heard the gunfire and jumped to their feet, a MacLean man from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, saw Henry going toward the enemy and he ran and grabbed him and started to drag him behind the barn. They were just getting close to their destination and Henry was struck with a bullet in his back.

A man by the name of Ireland was the leader of the squadron that Henry was part of. He must not have realized the severity of his wounds, or maybe he did, as he kept repeating that he wanted Henry back in his squadron after his recovery. Henry was picked up by the medical corps and taken to Antwerp to the hospital. He suffered a compound fracture of the right humerus with a radial nerve lesion, gunshot wounds to the abdomen, his right bowel was severed in half, and knocked the crest from his right hip bone. He also had shrapnel wounds to the chest and his right hand, arm, and all the right side of his body. They performed a cycostomy to the bowel on October 9, 1944.

In order to exercise his arm and hand, he was given a frame that had a wire base and he had to take wool and sort of hook it like you were making a mat, but there was no fabric base to it so it makes it hard to visualize how it worked. It did improve the mobility of his hand and arm, but his arm had shortened from the shrapnel. He made numerous cushion covers by this method and continued to do so after he returned home. There were three of them in my home and I am sure if I looked I could find one of them. He also squeezed a tennis ball to strengthen his wrist.

He was transferred to the United Kingdom by hospital ship on the February 12, 1945. His sister, Mary, and her husband were living in England, but Mary was pregnant and took rheumatic fever and was shipped back to Canada. Her husband, Dennis Pilcher, remained in England, and he visited with Henry in the hospital.

The big day was finally here. Henry was placed in a hospital ship along with Daniel J. MacDonald and were on their way back home. He arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in April of 1945, and was examined in a hospital there and then sent to the military hospital in Debert, Nova Scotia. His wounded right side was finally closed over surgically. He remained there until his discharge from service in September of 1945. His pain was not over. He entered the Charlottetown Hospital on September 10, 1945, and he would be a constant patient there for years to come. You see, the shrapnel kept causing infection, and he would break out in bumps as big as plums and a hernia grew next to the cycostomy scar. He would have to have hot compresses applied to try to drain the infection.

Henry was dating a girl, Catherine Lee, whom he had known before he went to war. Henry and Catherine wed on February 13, 1947, and they had four children Lee, Margaret, Roy and Maureen. Maureen was named after a nurse at the Charlottetown Hospital who cared for him.

He, of course, kept having medical problems and physical ones. He was not allowed to lift heavy objects; his right hand had been impaired and his right arm was not flexible since the shrapnel embedded in his elbow. In February of 1952, he had to have his first repair job done on the abdominal area. He remained in the hospital until May of that year. The operation was unsuccessful as there was not sufficient tissue within the abdomen to lap over in order to keep his stomach in place. Later that fall or winter, Henry, once again had to go to the hospital. He could not eat without repercussions from the stomach and of course the bowel that had been severed in two. He had skin grafts from the hip and the skin was used to make an anchor to hold his stomach in place. Through all this, Henry remained a very positive person and always had a smile and something nice to say to everyone he met.

It seemed second nature to Henry to have to go to the hospital. I have never heard him complain and, to be honest, I never heard him talk about his war days or any of his ailments.

Henry's brother, Roy, opened up a business, The Island Typewriter Company. They worked together until Roy's untimely death at the age of 33 years on July 15, 1948. Roy was being treated for an kidney disease and was given medications, one to be taken immediately and the other, an antidote, which was to be taken a half hour after the first was administered. There was a lack of communication between the doctor and the pharmacist. Roy was not given the antidote on time and died as a result of this. Henry was not able to run the typewriter business for very long as he could not lift any heavy objects. He later got a job with the Post Office and worked his way up to Assistant Post Master and worked there until he retired.

With all of the crosses that he had to bear, the ultimate one came on March 16, 1962, when his oldest son, Lee, then 14 years of age, died of leukaemia after a lengthy illness.

Henry got sick in 1983 and was diagnosed with colon cancer. He remained brave and wished to be at home. He succumbed to the disease on April 24, 1984, one day before his 60th birthday.

His son, Roy, joined him on July 4, 1993, one day after his 43rd birthday; a victim of an automobile accident.

It is with pride and sadness that I tell of my Uncle Henry's ordeal during the war. He leaves behind his widow, Catherine, who lives in Charlottetown; daughter, Margaret, who lives in New Brunswick; and his youngest child, Maureen, who resides in Charlottetown.

I am also very proud of his brother, Roy, who did good work with the Forces in Canada. My only regret is that I never talked to Henry about the war and that I never knew my Uncle Roy. Roy had left his widow, Alma, and children, Joyce Robbins, Marina Webster, William Roy Murnaghan, Patricia Kelly, and Eileen McCabe. His four daughters reside in Prince Edward Island and his son, Bill, lives in Toronto, Ontario.

I am glad that I had the opportunity to tell my uncle's story as relayed to me by his widow, Kay, his brother, Albert, and sister, Eleanor. Kay learned about Henry's experience mostly through his nightmares that plagued him for many years.

Glady Murnaghan Mackay

Here are two notices that appeared in the local Guardian Newspaper:

"Wounded Oct 8 - official word was received yesterday by Mr. & Mrs. William Murnaghan, 59 Dorchester Street, City, that their, gnr. Henry A. Murnaghan was wounded in action in Belgium, October 8th. Gnr Murnaghan enlisted on March 11 1943, and went overseas the following August. He has three brothers: Cpl Roy Murnaghan in Halifax, and Albert and Ivan in Charlottetown: also three sisters: Mrs. James Smith, City: Mrs. Dennis Pilcher, City; and Eleanor at home."

"Wounded man improves - Mr. & Mrs. William Murnaghan, 59 Dorchester St, received a telegram yesterday evening from the Department of National Defence stating that their son, Henry Allen Murnaghan, wounded in Belgium, Oct 8th has been removed from the "dangerously ill" list to the "seriously ill" list. The Department informed Mr. & Mrs. Murnaghan that according as their son's condition improves, they will be notified."

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