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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Fighting Newfoundlanders

2005 is the year of the Veteran. With this in mind, I thought I’d take a moment to talk about the treatment of these brave men and women in our culture today. As mentioned in a previous article – Are Legion Members Getting a Fair Deal – from May 31st of this year, I believe our Veterans are getting a raw deal in this country and even in our own province.

As of July 1 they will no longer be allowed to light up a cigarette in their own Legion halls, as they age, they are often forgotten in senior’s homes and, as they have always had to do, they continue to fight tooth and nail for every cent of support they can squeeze out of Ottawa. Add to this the fact that our youth know little or nothing of their exploits and you may be able to appreciate the sad situation they are in.

Although each of these factors are of major importance to our Veterans, I would like to address specifically the lack of knowledge by our young people.

Ask a teen today about our war history or our military contributions around the world and you will most likely get a blank stare. This is due in part to our school system itself. A system that would rather discuss the merits of popular music than to delve into the history of our unsung heroes. It is also the fault of every one of us, every Father, Mother, Aunt or Uncle. The fact is, none of us are doing enough to keep the memories alive.

There was a time when stories were handed down from generation to generation, today the only stories we see are on a television screens. The interaction of people that used to ensure the spread of our culture through conversation and song has all but disappeared and with it so does our knowledge of the people and events in our history that we should all be proud of.

In this new fast paced world, it is not a stretch to see why the brave men and women who ensured our freedom on foreign shores often feel like outsiders and outcasts.

In an effort to help bring to light some of the true heroism demonstrated by the “Fighting Newfoundlanders”, I’d like to tell you the story of one of them in particular. His name is Cyril Gardner, originally from British Harbour. Lieutenant Gardner has the distinction of being the only known allied serviceman to receive the German Iron Cross during WWI.

The Iron Cross was handed out to only the bravest German military personnel and even though Lieutenant Gardner was not in the German forces he was given this honor on the battlefield.

It might appear at this point that perhaps the Lieutenant was a traitor or a spy for the Germans. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Gardner was a true hero who performed his duties so well that he not only served our country, he gained the respect of enemy forces as well.

It all happened one night when Gardner’s unit was engaged in battle with a German patrol consisting of about 70 men. During the evening, as darkness fell and the weather turned, fighting eventually stopped and both sides dug in. It was in the night that Gardner, who spoke German, took it upon himself to grab his machine gun and head out to the enemy encampment.

As he approached the enemy stronghold Gardner began speaking in German. Thinking it was one of their own, the Germans let him approach. The Lieutenant immediately turned his machine gun on the officers, capturing them unharmed. With their “head” cut off so to speak, the remainder of the troop quickly surrendered. Lieutenant Cyril Gardner had single handedly captured an entire German Patrol.

It was as our Newfoundland Hero escorted his prisoners back toward his own lines, their hands behind their heads, the incident took place that earned him his odd prize.

Approaching his own encampment he was met by a British Officer who congratulated him and immediately brought his weapon to the ready. The officer said he intended to shoot the prisoners immediately rather than have to care for them.

As the German soldiers looked on in horror at what they understood to be happening, Lieutenant Gardner once again demonstrated not only his sense of bravery, but his sense of fair play as well. Risking court marshal or even having his superior officer turn his weapon on him, Gardner stepped into the line of fire to protect his prisoners. He told the officer that if even one German was shot, then the officer would be the next one to die.

After a moment of hesitation the British officer stood down and walked away. It was then that the commander of the German patrol, who had many medals on his uniform, stepped up to Gardner and removing the iron cross from his chest, pinned it on Gardner’s, to the applause and cheers of the German soldiers.

It’s an amazing story and one that is not very well known in our province. This display of pure bravery and compassion is a clear example of the kind of people our province can and has produced.

This is the type of story that our children should hear. It is through the efforts of men like Lieutenant Cyril Gardner and many others that we live in a free country today. It is these people that are our past, it is these people that can help us understand the kind of culture we used to be and perhaps should become again.

If we don’t respect them, listen to them and help them in their golden years then we are not only letting these men and women down, we are letting ourselves down. By not taking the time to learn about and listen to our fighting heroes we are forgetting their past and losing our heritage.


Wince said...

Now THAT is a pretty cool story. I never herd of that one before. Where do you come up with cool tidbits like that?

What gets me is July 1st. Everyone knows July 1st is Canada Day. Hopefully everyone knows that July First is also a day of remeberance in this province to remember thoes who fell on the same day during the Battle of the Somme.

For as long as I remember, we Newfoundlanders would have a Memorial Service at the War Memorial on Canada Day. Then one day while living in Ottawa I was dismayed to hear that they were moving the Memorial cerimonies because they conflict with Canada Day celebrations.

Shame on the people responsible for this absolute disrespect. Move Canada Day if anything. We don't need it.

Patriot said...

Truer words were never spoken

Kevin, Off da Rock said...

I work in a shipyard in New Orleans. Several of my
co-workers are ex-military, several having seen action in Vietnam.
I enjoy hearing their stories, but I've noticed that I have to encourage them to tell the
stories as they are not used to people being interested in what they have to say.

Here is an interesting one for you: Today, the pilot of an American U-2 spy plane was killed in a crash in southwest Asia. One of my co-workers is ex-USAF and was a U-2 pilot. He told me this morning that there is a high probability that the pilot was not killed in the crash but rather may have been dead long before the plane hit the ground.

This veteran explained to me that
the spy pilots are trained to take a poison pill in the event that they may go down behind enemy lines. He also told me that the U-2 spy plane is a glider and can land almost anywhere, so the odds of a crash occurring is minimal.

This guy suspects that the plane was shot down, even if the true details of the incident are never released.

Also, a church member of our old chuch in Alabama was in WWII. He
fought the Germans as a para-trooper. He once told me that when they would jump from a
plane, they were given a flask of whiskey to drink before they hit
the ground.

He said that while they were parashuting in, they were prime targets for the Germans, so the whiskey kept them calm, and, in some cases, acted as a pain killer.

He told us once that he drank 2 flasks on the way down. After he
landed, he realized that he had landed in an area completly surrounded by Germans. Most of his troop had been shot before touch-down, many killed. He immediately began shooting German soldiers. He shot 30 and managed to capture 40 alive.

This old man had a wonderful sense of humor, he then asked me did I
know what the morral of the story was. When i said that I didn't, he said this,

"Don't mess with me when I've been drinking."

I encourage all young folks to talk to the veterans. The stories are much more enteraining and informative than any movie or anything on TV.

Anonymous said...

Great Story, Kevin!!

Rick H. said...

When I was kid I remember one of our history subjects being Newfoundland history. That was removed from the schools years ago. It was a major loss for our culture and in my opinion it should be put back in place.

We have a very colorful past and a lot to be proud of. Its pride in yourself that gives people the ability to believe they can accomplish anything and it is that belief that makes those things happen.

The Lone Sailor said...

What a great story,I can't believe that I have never heard this before. It's movie material, reminds me of "Sargent York"