Posted by: alexhickey | March 7, 2014

My Friend George Paul©

What might a young man from St. Jacques do in 1942 when he is told he is too young to enlist as a soldier in World War II?  It’s been a long time since

A man in the uniform of the Newfoundland Ranger Force standing with hands behind his back, feet braced, on a frozen lake with a strip of land in the background.  Image is black and white.

Newfoundland Ranger, George Paul

George Paul found himself in that situation.  Today, at eighty-eight, he will heartily chuckle in his deep baritone voice that he immediately signed up for the Newfoundland Ranger Force.

Before I share one of Georges’ stories let me tell you about this man whom I have considered a very dear friend for over twenty years.  George called me one evening many years ago to introduce himself and discuss what he had heard was my interest in the heritage of his home community – St. Jacques.  That phone call has resulted in many hours of telephone conversations in the intervening years as well as countless pages of letters back and forth between us.

Though George is of my father’s generation; in fact he was one of his boyhood friends, our mutual respect for the rich and emotionally laden history of the community we both were born into has allowed us to bridge those years quite comfortably.  I am much richer for the many thoughtful, reflective and historically accurate exchanges of information that have passed between us since we met.

Google map of a coastal harbour showing terrain and green vegetation surrounding the water on three sides.

Enlarge to view the location of George Paul’s home in St. Jacques

The Paul family lived a short distance back from the road at the bottom of what was known as Staple’s Hill, later known as Dyett’s Hill, in St. Jacques.  Today, a Canada Post mail box sits in front of where the house once stood.  The house was next door to what is today, St. Jacques Mini Mart. Click the Google map of St. Jacques on the left to view the location of his house.

George joined the Rangers in 1942, an act which set him on a course which took him to most parts of Canada – east, west, south and north.  During those years he has accumulated a wealth of stories and anecdotes which can keep one enthralled for hours.  One of his earliest postings with The Rangers was in Burin.  It was there he had a close encounter with the Truxton and Pollux disaster , where American troop ships ran aground near Lawn and St. Lawrence on the Burin Peninsula under severe winter storm conditions with enormous loss of life on February 18, 1942.

This was his first posting.  He had assumed duties under Sergeant Ian Glendinning just six months following the loss of the Truxton and Pollux.  After three weeks on the job Sergeant Glendinning went on leave. It was while the Sergeant was on leave that two local boys made a surprising discovery in the Bartlett’s Cove beach not far from the office of the Newfoundland Ranger.

George was summoned from his office in Burin to investigate.  Two men, Mr. P. Penney and Mr. R McDougall, whom the boys had told of their discovery, accompanied him to the beach where they observed what appeared to be a body buried in the sand.  There, with the assistance of these two local residents, this young Ranger oversaw the exhumation of another young man who had successfully enlisted in the Navy of his country, the United States, and now lay

Map of Burin Peninsula showing the raod between the two locations of Burin and St. Lawrence.

Burin Peninsula

dead upon a friendly but foreign shore.   His name was stenciled along the waistband of his navy type fleece lined underwear, otherwise known as “long-johns”, the only garment remaining on him.  Apparently the cold water and cold, salt-laden sand had acted as a preservative, for the body of Seaman 1st Class Private F. L. Edwards appeared as on the day he drowned.  It would be years later that George found out that the initials F.L. stood for Floyd Lee when he read a book by Newfoundland author Cassie Brown, about the Truxton and Pollux disaster, titled Standing Into Danger.

Burin is approximately 80 kilometres from St. Lawrence by road.  Look at the map on the left to see that distance by sea. Click to enlarge.

Private Edward’s body was hoisted on a hand-barrow, a carrying device with handles at both ends of a platform; a transporting implement which was typically used to carry salt fish.  As the men carried the body along a rugged footpath it was challenging to maintain balance and retain their precious cargo.  Word spread quickly of the discovery as is the case among small communities when something like this occurs. As they approached the main road they met the Reverend Parson Clinch of the Church of England Parish in Collins Cove who lent his assistance and advice.

George, being of the Roman Catholic faith, had been contemplating contacting the Catholic priest for assistance; however, as he said to me, “Parson Clinch was of such a tremendous assistance – counsel wise and in other ways”, that he was asked to preside over the burial.

In Georges words,  “It was a Christian burial—that is what I was aiming for; away from that mound of cold, salt-water sand where the sea had deposited its victim—miles and miles and miles from an overhanging cliff where seaman first class, Floyd Lee Edwards, along with others, took refuge from a battered and broken ship until the relentless tide and a gale of wind swept them one-by-one from the ledge of the cliff to which they were confined as I learned later.”

A formal report was forwarded to Chief Ranger Fraser at headquarters in St. John’s which officially marked the end of George Pauls’ responsibilities in this matter.  According to George,  “Parson Clench sent full particulars of the event to authorities in Washington, and sometime thereafter (about two or three weeks later) I had the occasion to be in his company again, and he told me that he had received a nice letter back from President Roosevelt in which he said to thank me personally, for services rendered.”

There was no information on Floyd that could give local authorities a home address or contact whom they could reach with news of the retrieval of his body.   Through the years George Paul has lamented their inability to contact family and let them know that their son was given a decent burial.  He made several attempts by writing officials in the United States and even survivors of the tragedy; however, to no avail.  He received responses to these inquiries thanking him for what he had done and for trying to locate the family.

Newfoundland Ranger George Paul was transferred to Goose Bay, Labrador shortly after this event early in 1943. He returned to the island of Newfoundland in 1945 when he was posted in Grand Bank, again on the Burin Peninsula.  It was then that George learned that the body of Floyd Lee Edwards had been exhumed and transferred from the Ship Cove cemetery to the Roman Catholic Cemetery in Burin and later disinterred again when a U.S. ship visited the area and the remains returned to the United States.  Just where Seaman 1st Class Private F. L. Edwards was laid to rest in the United States I do not know.

Cemetery grave markers on yellow grass, American flags flying, blue sky in background.

Macoupin County Cemetery, Girard, Illinois

About a year ago I revisited this event with George and through research was able to determine that Floyd Lee Edwards was the only son of William and Melissa Edwards of Girard, Illinois.  He was born in 1908; enlisted in the US navy and was assigned to the USS Pollux.  His father had died in 1939 just before the outbreak of WW II.  His mother died in 1951 without ever knowing where her son’s body ended up after the tragedy.

The photo on the left shows the Macoupin County Cemetery in Girard where his parents are buried and where Floyd is remembered for his untimely sacrifice to his country

Near their tombstones there is a stone marker which reads:

EDWARDS, Floyd Lee , W2, S1/C , Navy, USS Pallox(sic), 18 Feb 1942, Girard Cemetery Girard Twp Girard IL

Floyd’s name is included in the Girard Book of the Dead of WWII, of which an excerpt is shown on the right.

page thirteen from Girard, Illinois Boog of the Dead showing a list of soldiers who died in war

Girard, Illinois – Book of the Dead, p. 13.

Though I know nothing of the personality or life of Floyd Lee Edwards, the story relayed to me by George Paul brought a very personal and up-close view of war tragedy on our own shores.  It also spoke volumes to me of the character of my friend and the deep empathy he feels for his fellow human beings.  Whenever I think of this story I imagine that young man from St. Jacques, who too had tried to enlist to fight the same enemy, as he stood observing the process of retrieval as it unfolded before him and I remember the passion in his voice as he told it to me over sixty years later.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. Again. A great story….. I remember a beautiful sunny afternoon in the late Forties, we were all sitting out on the veranda in St/.Jacques when this handsome Ranger came to visit…..a striking presence…….and a wonderful friend>>>>>>>>John

  2. Sweet… my great uncle! 🙂

  3. […] recently deceased friend of mine, George Pauls, once described to me in a letter his experience of catching trout in St. Jacques Pond around 1930. […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: