Friday, March 2, 2012

For Real Toads: a man in uniform

Harry, we hardly knew o' ye
(Note: this poem is modeled on the old song, Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye, so it reads best if the name 'Harry' is pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable, as in the word hoorah.)

With the guns and drums, and drums and guns, Harry, Harry,
Where are your eyes that looked so mild, Harry, Harry?
You died in your plane north of Paree
Ninety miles inland from the sea
Harry, I never knew o' ye.
Five brave Frenchmen, they found your plane, Harry, Harry,
When you’d been buried sixty years, Harry, Harry,
When you’d been buried sixty years,
They found your plane and cried real tears,
Though, Harry, they never knew ye.
Those brave Frenchmen, they did not rest, Harry, Harry,
’Til with your plane they’d done their best, Harry, Harry,
They polished the engine ’til it shone
In that small town of Sacy-le-Grand,
As if, Harry, they knew ye.
Posted in response to Fireblossom's Friday Challenge "a poem about people in uniform" for the writers' group, Imaginary Garden with Real Toads, this poem tells part of the story of my mother's cousin, Henry Hector MacKenzie, Jr., who died in World War II.
Harry was the son of my Great-Uncle Henry. Uncle Henry was the doctor who delivered me and, later, my brother Clint. Two years before I was born, Uncle Henry's son Henry Jr. (Harry), a pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force 198th Squadron, died when his plane, a Hawker Typhoon, was shot down near Sacy-le-Grand, France. He was 24.
In 2009, five men in France, who had made it their aim to search for remains of the men and women who liberated France, no matter how long it took, found what was left of Harry's plane in a marshy area. They took the parts they found, including the engine, home with them and cleaned them up. In the process, they found the plane's serial number and were able to connect it, through war records, with Henry Hector MacKenzie, Jr., and eventually get in touch with his family in British Columbia, Canada.
Harry had been buried during the war in the military cemetery in Beauvais, west of Sacy-le-Grand. When my husband and I visited France last spring, I took a train to Beauvais from Paris's Gare du Nord, but couldn't find the military cemetery due to a communication breakdown with my taxi driver, who insisted on taking me to a different cemetery. Fortunately, I had asked him to wait while I checked it out. When I asked him for "une autre cimetiƩre" he told me it was the only cemetery he knew.
I had to return to Paris without visiting Harry's grave. I'm sorry I missed it, but am not sorry I made the pilgrimage.
About seven weeks after we got home, several of my mother's MacKenzie cousins went to France (I was unable to go back so soon) to participate in the naming of a street in Sacy-le-Grand "Rue MacKenzie" after Harry. 
The motto of the RCAF 198th Squadron was "Born Again From Fire" and its insignia a phoenix.
Thanks to Eric Fardel, Gerard Lequin, Dominique Lecomte, Anthony Pitois, and Sylvain Chedeville, cousin Harry became something of a phoenix, "the poster boy for the 198th" as cousin Ian MacKenzie called him (Uncle Alec's Ian, who was known as Little Ian, not Uncle Henry's Ian, who was known as Big Ian, if any MacKenzie cousins are reading this).


Fireblossom said...

A salute to Harry. Thanks for being part of my prompt, Kay. I have not been up to doing much this evening, but i wanted to come and read yours before going to bed. And thank you for your nice message at Toads. :-)

WinterWrites said...

Here's to Harry, and here's to your poem. Awesome

Kerry O'Connor said...

And here, on the other side of the world, another tear or two has dropped for Harry. Everything about war makes me terribly sad.

Rinkly Rimes said...

Your salute to your brave relation was written in an old-fashioned manner, as befitted it. It had the ring of a folk-song in praise of a hero.

Mary Ann Potter said...

A beautiful tribute to Harry and the others who were lost in similar matter. A sad response to the prompt - so appropriate.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Only 23. So young and brave. Very touching tribute, Kay. My uncle flew with the RAF and was with those who landed in Sicily. He survived and made it home though. Loved this post.

Anonymous said...

thank you for sharing your family history!