A young soldier’s letter collection reminds us why being apart for Remembrance Day matters

Remembrance Day ceremonies and events are not immune to COVID-19 and will be different this year. The National Ceremony Committee in Ottawa is discouraging crowds to gather in person, and the Napanee ceremony around the cenotaph at the Courthouse is moving to a streaming platform. Typing those words feels cold and disrespectful but for the service men and women we honour on this day, it’s exactly right. They fought and fight for the safety of Canadians, and we need to do the same.

There are many ways to honour veterans and the fallen outside of traditional ceremonies. Our vaults here at the Museum and Archives are evidence of that. We have everything from uniforms and boots worn by a local soldier to photographs and war correspondence. By preserving the objects and records that tell their stories, we’re always doing our part to ensure those stories live on and are remembered.

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2019.10.01  Artillery boots, William Beeman, 1914-1918
N-1811  Hazel H. Denyes, nursing sister [1916]
N-1832  Alfred Eklund of Newburgh, [1915]



Years ago, while researching a topic on the Second World War, I stumbled on a collection of letters written by Roland James Saundercook, a young man in active service for the Royal Canadian Air Force, and I have never forgotten them. His letters written home to his family are, at first glance, a mundane account of weather and troop movements. Dig deeper and you start to realize Roland Saundercook, not yet 20 years old, is feeling homesick and dreaming of the time spent with his family in Collins Bay. 

“How is Joannie coming at school now I hope good, sometimes I wish I was trotting 2 miles to the old school. I did[n’t] realize it then, but I had a lot better time then, then I do now and how.”

 

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Letter, Roland J. Saundercook to his family, October 20, 1944



Included with Roland’s letters is correspondence between various war offices and his family. Roland and his flight crew were missing in action over Germany after a nighttime flight exercise in March, 1945. The family received heartbreaking telegrams and letters about their missing son and the efforts the military was taking to locate him. In the following years, the family did everything in their power to locate Roland by submitting packages of information to various war offices, hoping a member of personnel in some office, somewhere, might connect the dots and send word Roland was found safe and sound. It wasn’t until March 4th, 1948, that the family finally received confirmation their son was killed in a crash that fateful night three years earlier in Germany when his plane went missing.

 

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Roland J. Saundercook outside his house in Collins Bay
Royal Air Force Station letter about missing air crew, March 17, 1945
Royal Canadian Air Force letter about Missing Research and Enquiry Service, March 4, 1948



Few people have read Roland’s letters. It is with great honour and deep respect that we share those letters here. These letters don’t tell the complete story of Roland Saundercook or the trauma his family endured, but a morning spent with his entire collection here will.

This Remembrance Day, truly honour the legacy of service women and men like Roland Saundercook and their families, by staying home, staying safe, and watching a live stream ceremony. 

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