On Grams’, Monica Meagher, recent visit to North Bay she told me a story I have heard many times about her beloved brother Jim.
Jim was called up to duty / service at the age of 19, he didn’t volunteer. Shortly afterwards he was sent to Brockville for training. He was in the Prince Edward Island regiment and they were known as the Hasting Ps.
The soldiers would be notified of their embarkment in the middle of the night. They didn’t want word getting out when they were leaving because so many ships had been bombed on the way to Europe.
Upon completing his training Jim was shipped overseas. The troops took a daily walk on the ship, Grams thinks it was a five day trip, and on one of these walks he met his first cousin Alan St. James from Pembroke, Ontario.
They landed in Reggio Calabria Italy and were immediately in combat with Nazis. The fighting was very heavy. Jim was gravely/dangerously wounded just as he was cresting the hill. Jim later told Grams he knew in that instant he was going to be hit.
His cousin, Alan St. James, was in the medical core and was stationed in the same area. When the gun fire slowed down that night a service man (a runner) was sent out to the battle field to check on the wounded. The runner came back to report on the wounded to Alan St. James. He asked if everybody was back in that was hurt and the runner had said “no” there was one out there but he didn’t think he would be alive in the morning. Alan sent him back out to the field to retrieve the name tag in order to notify the soldier’s parents. The runner returned with the tags and said it was McPhee, James Bonaventure. Alan immediately ordered the runner right back out to the battlefield and to bring Jim in. They had to care for Jim there until he was stable enough to be transferred to a hospital in Africa. In Africa he continued to improve and was transferred to Basing Stoke Hospital in England by boat. There he continued to improve and was sent back home by boat, tied to a hammock. When he arrived in Halifax the family was notified that Jim was on his way home. Grams says they received word that the troop trains were coming into Ottawa. Mary (Gram’s oldest sister) and Monica drove to Ottawa to meet the train. They waited for all the troop trains but Jim was not on any of them. They went back to Smiths Falls heartbroken and in tears. In the meantime, he had been sent on another train to Kingston where he was stationed. When that train stopped in Brockville, an army friend of Jim’s was getting off there to his waiting mother. She saw Jim propped up on the train with a big smile and he waved to her. She immediately went home and called Grams’ mother to let her know that she had seen Jim on the train as it was pulling away. Mary and Monica came home with heavy hearts only to be told the good news. Everybody was overjoyed. This was on a Saturday.
The next day Mary drove their mother and Monica to Kingston to see him. Archie stayed home as he was too emotional. Archie took the train to Kingston by himself the next day to see his son. Grams says, “I can’t even say how we felt when we saw him.”
Right across from the hall from Jim’s room was a German prisoner of war. Two guards were constantly posted outside the POW’s door. Jim never said anything about the POW, but Grams said they could directly see each other.
Jim was sent to the Veteran’s Hospital in Ottawa for rehab and stayed there until he was discharged home. He had to use two crutches due to his serious leg injury. He recovered but continued to be bothered by his injuries long after the war was over and throughout his life but he always had a positive attitude.
When Jim was injured, his mother received a telegram stating that Jim had been dangerously wounded and no other information.
Grams’ boss at Frost and Woods, asked her, “How is Jim doing?” She replied that they hadn’t heard anything and he just left the office and away he went. Then Helen Fortner, his secretary and one of Monica’s friends, called down to her and said you should be soon hearing. He is one the phone with Red Cross right now.
Jim wrote quite a few letters home and the family wrote right back often on the same letter from Jim using every space possible. Some of the letters that the family wrote to him were sent back to the family with his clothes.
Jim never lost his smile and his devotion to his faith, he always had a rosary with him.
Special thanks to Grams for sharing this emotional story with me again.