Now, before I tell you the rest of the story, let me explain that back in those days, it was fairly common for couples to be married at the minister’s home rather than in a church; I wrote about another such wedding, which took place in October 1939, here. And in this post I told you the story of probably the most famous wedding in Queensborough’s history, that of village storekeeper and unofficial mayor Roberta (Bobbie) Sager and her longtime beau, Allan Ramsay, in the mid-1970s. The wedding was top-secret, and man was the rest of Queensborough surprised when they learned about it the next day. It happened right here in the Manse living room where I’m typing these words; and it is one of the great boasts of my life that I can say I was present on that historic occasion when my dad, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, declared Bobbie and Allan man and wife.
But back to the June 1945 wedding of Joan Murray and Roscoe Keene – the happy couple you can see having confetti tossed at them in the photo at the top of this post, and eventually Grant’s aunt and uncle.
Grant sent me that photo, as well as the one you’ll see just below, because he knew I am interested in a) local history and b) photos showing the Manse (the house I grew up in, and to which I returned a few years back) in earlier times. To which I say publicly (as I told him privately at the time): Thank you so much, Grant!
Here’s the second photo:
I’ll dispense fairly quickly with the house details that Raymond and I spotted with interest in examining these two photos. And then I’ll turn to my main focus for this post: war and remembrance. Because, as we all know, this coming Friday is Remembrance Day.
So yes, house details: it is fascinating to see what our Manse looked like a little over 71 years ago. Probably the first thing I noticed was the lovely maple tree on the front lawn behind Joan and Roscoe in the first picture; that tree was an important part of my childhood in this Manse. Here’s a photo from about 1968 of my two little brothers, John and Ken, playing in the shade of that same tree:
The tree was, most unfortunately, cut down some years before Raymond and I bought the Manse; as I told you here, we have honoured its memory and striven to bring shade back to our front lawn by planting a new maple in its place.
We were also interested to see that in 1945 the rounded door to nowhere off a second-storey room (my father’s study during my childhood here), as well as the “official” front door (which no one ever used) that shows up in both of Grant’s photos, were painted quite a dark colour as opposed to white, which they are today. There are also the old windows, two panes over two, that I hope to replicate as part of our renovation/restoration project. And finally in that first photo, I am struck by how well one can see, in the top left corner, the house far to the rear of the Manse on the property next door. Trees that have grown up since then would make that house invisible in a photo taken from the same angle today.
In the second photo, the main change we noticed was the railing along the porch of the Kincaid house in the right of the picture, immediately to the north of the Manse. Raymond and I added that empty historic house to our Queensborough holdings a year and a half ago, and arranged to have a new porch built to replace the crumbled old one:
But we didn’t think about a railing. So that old photo is food for thought, and possible future action.
However: architectural details are surely not what you will find most interesting about these photos. What makes them compelling is the story behind them, which I will tell with Grant’s help.
“My uncle’s wedding, June 9, 1945,” he begins. “He married a war widow, Joan Lomax-Murray.
“Her first husband, Alec Murray, was a Barnardo boy who grew up at Hazzard’s.”
Now, I’ll stop the narrative here to explain for younger readers (or readers from other countries) who may not catch the reference: “Barnardo” children, named for Thomas John Barnardo, were children from the United Kingdom who, because they were orphans or came from impoverished families, were “rescued” and sent to Canada, where they were raised by Canadian families, usually rural ones. Here’s how Library and Archives Canada explains it, in the introduction to a large amount of information about “Home Children”:
Between 1869 and the late 1930s, over 100,000 juvenile migrants were sent to Canada from the British Isles during the child emigration movement. Motivated by social and economic forces, churches and philanthropic organizations sent orphaned, abandoned and pauper children to Canada. Many believed that these children would have a better chance for a healthy, moral life in rural Canada, where families welcomed them as a source of cheap farm labour and domestic help.
Thomas John Barnardo began the movement, first opening a school in London for these kids who came from dreadful circumstances, and later arranging for them to travel to Canada. Doubtless his intentions were good, but many of these children, torn from home and everything they knew, were placed in unsympathetic families who used them as a source of free labour. Here is a story from the Winnipeg Free Press that gives a sense of what some of them endured. That said, there can be no doubt that other “Barnardo boys” found good and welcoming homes in Canada. It seems Alec Murray was one of these; the fact that, after his death, his English widow went to the trouble to come and visit his Canadian “family” tells you that he must have spoken fondly of that family and his experience in this country. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s let Grant continue to tell the story.
As he told me in a phone conversation this evening, Alec Murray – known locally, like other Barnardo boys, as “an English lad” – became very much a part of the Madoc and Madoc Township community, and particularly the community around the tiny Madoc Township community of Hazzards Corners. He worked on farms in the area, and was very active in the historic landmark church that marks those corners.
As an adult, when war came to the Commonwealth and the world, Alec Murray returned to England, to serve and, it seems, to revisit his roots in the area of Manchester, England. While there, he met and fell in love with a young woman from that same area – and they married. Here is photo of that wedding at Swinton, England:
When you see the bright smiles on the faces of Alec and his new bride, the former Joan Lomax, it’s heartbreaking to know that Alec did not survive the war. Private Alec Murray “of Madoc, Ontario” was killed at Ortona, Italy, in December 1942. Grant continues:
“His widow came to Canada to visit with Alec’s Canadian family, and [eventually] married my mother’s brother, Roscoe Keene. It is a long and touching love story that I hope to put on paper someday.
“My mother [who, readers, you will recall from the second photo in this post was there at the wedding at the Manse] always said that there should have been a stone in the cemetery for Alec Murray as he had become a ‘Hazzards boy,’ always active in the church. When my Aunt Joan died, Uncle Roscoe had the stone inscribed with their names [his and Joan’s] and “Farewell My English Rose” added after Aunt Joan’s name.
“At the bottom of the stone, he had this added: ‘In loving memory of Sgt. Alec Murray C4552, Killed in Italy 09/12/43. He gave his all for us.’
Here is a picture of that gravestone:
I don’t know about you, readers, but as Remembrance Day 2016 approaches, my eyes fill with tears when I read, “He gave his all for us.”
Perhaps especially so because the inscription was done at the behest of Roscoe Keene, the now-nonagenarian second husband and widower of Joan, who died in 1999. The same Roscoe Keene who is the dashing young man you see in those photos taken on his wedding day – June 9, 1945 – here at our Manse in Queensborough, and who now lives near Kingston, Ont., enjoying a well-deserved retirement after many years as a marine engineer. What a class act Mr. Keene is, to have had an inscription honouring Alec Murray added to the tombstone for himself and his late wife in the historic cemetery at Hazzards Corners Church.
“Yes, Alec Murray is remembered at Hazzard’s Cemetery!” says Grant. “Now, I think my uncle is a classy guy, and I have told him so. I think that whole story would make a great Nov. 11 story.”
And indeed it does. A story of love, loss, sacrifice, strength and reslience.
Let us not forget.