5 And A Beagle

"Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans." John Lennon

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Time to Remember... 

A re-posting of one from a few years ago......

A few years ago, one of #3's schoolmates, Jack, was fortunate to be chosen to represent the province of BC as a delegate of youth traveling with WWII veterans on a pilgrimage to Ortona Italy. Prior to the journey, Jack was to research the life of a Canadian soldier that would have fought in the infamous Battle of Ortona.

Below is an excerpt from Jack's report . . . .

ORTONA, Italy - We stand here together at the grave of John Harper MacLeod. We are students, teachers, writers, leaders, soldiers and historians and we are on a pilgrimage of remembrance. But there are many graves here at the Moro River War Cemetery and each one as worthy as another. So why are we standing at this grave, the grave of John Harper MacLeod?

The answer to this question lies, in part, with me because I chose Private MacLeod with a single idea in mind -- that I would find the youngest soldier I could and write about him.

You see, I could never imagine what it would be like to be in a war but, being 17, I could almost imagine what it would be like to be 19. And, before arriving here, I found the name in the Canadian Virtual War Memorial of a teenager who was killed in action on Dec. 26th during his 19th and last year of life.

His name was John Harper MacLeod and he was from Cobble Hill, Vancouver Island, the son of Alexander and Alexandra MacLeod. He was a private with the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, service number M101975. So with these three leads in hand -- his home town, his parentage and his regiment, I began to look for the details that would bring his story to life. I naively thought, in this age of information, that the hunt would be easy -- type in MacLeod and out comes A, B, and C. Well, I was wrong. Hours on the Internet revealed little. I realized I would have to do things the old-fashioned way - - in person.

So I went to the 72nd Seaforth Highlanders of Canada Regimental Headquarters in Vancouver where I spoke with Corporal Chris Thompson and archivist Lloyd Hunter but they could only confirm what I already knew -- that Private MacLeod did indeed serve with their regiment from Oct. 10 until Dec. 26, 1943 when he was killed somewhere on the streets of Ortona.

Dismayed but not deterred, I began to contact Seaforth veterans who might have known him, but nobody did. They told me, instead, what they knew about Ortona and where they had been in the days between Christmas and the New Year in 1943.

"Was he at the dinner?" I was asked by one but I didn't know.

My vice-principal, Chris Campbell, suggested I contact Mark Zuehlke, author of the book Ortona, who theorized that MacLeod might have been killed at Dead Horse Square in Ortona where the Seaforths were engaged on Boxing Day. He suggested I talk to another MacLeod - - Ken Macleod, no relation to my MacLeod but a teacher and historian who knew a great deal about Ortona and the Seaforths.

So armed with Zuehlke's introduction, I contacted Ken MacLeod who gave me a new list of veterans to call -- Sergeant Bill Worton, Lieutenant-Colonel Syd Thomson, Ozzie Rivers, Laurie Cross and Bill Hughes.

But no one remembered John Harper MacLeod. It was Worton, however, who told me that a soldier with the number M101975 would most likely have been a reinforcement sent in by another regiment. This was confirmed by Thomson. It seemed that I had the wrong regiment.

Meanwhile I was following leads at the community level. I discovered that Cobble Hill was a tiny hamlet in the Cowichan Valley, midway between Nanaimo and Victoria. And with a name like MacLeod I knew John Harper was Scottish so I began calling all the Presbyterian Churches in Cobble Hill and the surrounding areas.

I was looking for church records on the MacLeod family -- the baptisms, marriages and deaths in a pre-Internet world. Everyone I called was interested in the story and willing to help but still, there was nothing. So I expanded my search, calling all the churches in the Cowichan Valley regardless of their denomination or distance, speaking with more archivists and church secretaries. But still, nothing.

I called Priscilla Lowe, curator of the Cowichan Valley Museum in Duncan, and she called many old families and veterans from the Cobble Hill area in hopes that something might turn up. But still, nothing.

I spoke with Virginia Bonner, a long-time resident of Cobble Hill and author of two books on local history, and she, enthused, began to help me look for leads and clues on John Harper MacLeod.

"Maybe he changed his name," she said. When I asked why he would do that she informed me that there had been a lot of German families in the Cowichan Valley at that time and many of them had changed their names, apparently preferring Scottish names to English ones.

"Could he have been from one of those families?" she speculated. "Was he really a MacLeod?"

But I didn't know. Was it possible that I had both the wrong regiment and the wrong name? I began to worry.

My mother and I finally went to Cobble Hill where we attended a Cowichan Valley Historical Society meeting at the invitation of Lowe. I explained my quest to the 30 some people there but while several intriguing theories were put forward, nobody actually remembered the MacLeod family.

I called two legion halls the next day and spoke with two local veterans, Roy Bobolo, an Italian-Canadian who fought in the Netherlands, and Peter Owen, a retired Cobble Hill school principal who had served with the British. But still I had nothing.

I went to the local newspaper office on the advice of Duncan publisher Tom Paterson, and persuaded the editor of The Cowichan Valley Citizen, Brian Wilford, to run an article on the story but still, there was nothing.

I read through four months of microfiche of the 1943-44 Victoria Daily Colonist with the help of several librarians, and still I found nothing.

I went to the oldest graveyard in Cobble Hill and looked at every tombstone, hoping I would find the names of Alexander and Alexandra MacLeod among them but there was nothing.

But what seemed most disturbing was that the name John Harper MacLeod was not written on the small cenotaph in Cobble Hill nor on the larger one in nearby Duncan. There was simply a void of information about a young private who died 61 years ago this Boxing Day.

There was, it seemed, nothing.

But somehow he had become important to me. He was the almost unknown soldier -- the one whose name is known but little else; the one who slips through the annals of history and is forgotten by all those he fought for.

And I realized I wouldn't forget him and if I lived 1,000 years I wouldn't forget what he did. He gave his youth, he gave his innocence, and eventually he gave his life so that I could enjoy mine. You see, there was a point when I could have stopped and chosen another soldier on which to write and fulfilled the assignment far more easily but I couldn't because John Harper MacLeod had gained a deep foothold in my heart and he would not leave.

It was almost as if he said to me, "Don't forget about me too."

Did he have brothers and sisters? Were his parents strict or easy? Was there enough money or none? Did he want to be a lawyer or a farmer? Did he have a lot of friends or just one or two? Was he good in school? Did he have a girlfriend?

Maybe he wasn't from Cobble Hill at all, I concluded. Maybe he lied about his age and where he came from because he wanted to get into the army without his parents stopping him.

But this I did know and this I do know. I know that he died, a 72nd Seaforth Highlander of Canada on Dec. 26, 1943 and I know he lies in this grave in front of me now.

And I'm glad he died on Boxing Day for it means his last meal, if he got to have it, would have been Christmas dinner with his company in a half-demolished Italian church but at least it is likely he would have had a good last meal.

I know also that he was just a kid, two years older than I am today, if he really was 19. So while I don't really know who he was, at the same time I sense I do, as clearly as I know my own friends and family.

That's because John Harper MacLeod has become all the young men that I know, my friends and both of my brothers. Young men, who are not unlike who our veterans were some 60 years ago. He is an amalgam of all our personalities put together. He has my friend Mike's stoicism, my friend Patrick's charm, my friend Derek's creativity and my friend Jeremy's loyalty. He has my brother Charlie's will to win, my brother Thomas's optimism and he might even have some of me in him too. That is why I could not choose another to write about or talk about here today because to abandon him would be to abandon my friends, my brothers and myself.

Then something happened, something remarkable. Two days before my departure from North Vancouver to Ortona, someone called me from Cobble Hill. It was Peter Owen, the British veteran and retired school principal. He had asked around and two people had come forward, an elderly woman and a retired farmer -- both of them long time Cobble Hill residents and they had the same story.

There had, they said, been a farm on Aros Road in the 1930s, just off Telegraph Road, where a family named MacLeod had lived. The owners of this farm were German but they had changed their name to MacLeod -- just as local historian Virginia Bonner had speculated.

According to the story, the farmer had died before the war but he was survived by his wife and two sons. And one son, they told Owen, joined the Canadian army and the other joined the German army and during the course of the war, both of them were killed. The property was sold and later subdivided and their mother moved away.

"God knows where," said Owen. "She could have gone anywhere."

John Harper MacLeod, I can tell you this. I went to Cobble Hill and I spent time there. Barry's Garage is still the centre of town. There's still a corner store next to Barry's Garage and there's a cold beer and wine store and a barber shop across the street. There's a coffee shop too, but it's closed on Saturdays because the owner teaches piano.

And there's a place up the road that sells pottery with Cobble Hill stamped on the back of everything they make. So I bought this little pot there, John, and before I left Cobble Hill, I took some earth from the ground next to the cenotaph and this I have brought with me here from Cobble Hill.

I missed a bit of school trying to track you down and you eluded me. But you missed a lot of life for me, Private MacLeod and I thank you.

And so I promise you, that if the family from Cobble Hill was indeed yours, that if it was your brother who died for Germany and you for Canada, then I am sorry for what you went through and I cannot imagine what it would have been like for you and your brother.

But if it is true and you are John Harper MacLeod of Cobble Hill, then your name belongs on the cenotaph at Cobble Hill and there are many there who will want it written and I am one of them and so too, I suspect, is everyone here today.

Take time on this Remembrance Day to think about the sacrifices that have been made by so many men and women.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Who's Training Who? 

Day 5 of life with Puppy, and this morning we had double success with the housebreaking process. The first pee and poop of the day OUTSIDE.....yeah! Is it because Charlie has clued in to what he has to do (and where)? Nooooo, it's because I've learned just because he looks like he doesn't have to go . . . . . . . . . . patience, Grasshopper!

Who's the smarter one now? Hah - I'll take the small victories where I can but I'm still stocking up on a jumbo supply of paper towels and spray cleaner AND the kitchen tile floor is still his only free roaming room in the house.


Sunday, May 15, 2011

New Beginnings 

It's been over 7 months since Miles left us and on any given day, as I walk up the front steps I will think "better hurry up and open the door because Miles will be anxious to get out for some play time in the backyard." When the dishwasher door is opened, I still expect to hear the clickety-clack of his paws on the kitchen floor as he comes in to scope out possible snacks (some bad habits were hard to break - he saw the dishwasher as his personal smorgasbord). Miles will always be missed!

Today we bring home a puppy, another beagle, that won't take Miles' place in our hearts, but will wiggle his way in to find his own little spot in our hearts.

This is a picture taken about 6 weeks ago. His father is a beagle originally from Sweden and his momma, a local Fraser Valley beagle. In keeping with his Swedish lineage, we've decided to name him Markus, Lars, Bjorn, Benny . . . . maybe, I'm not sure - it's still up for vote between the girls.

One this is for certain . . . life with a puppy in the house should be very interesting!


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

All Dogs Go To Heaven 

Almost 6 years to the day, this big guy came to live with us. He was a reluctant addition to the family and his first impression on most of us was not the best. I went alone to pick him up and his first greeting for me that day was a snarl and snap at my hand as I tried to pet him. His owners at the time helped to load him and all his worldly possessions into my van and as they sadly waved, we drove away. With Miles probably wondering what was going on as two familiar faces faded into the distance and me beginning to wonder if I'd survive the drive home should Miles decide he didn't like me.

When we arrived in the driveway of his new home, Miles greeted #4 with what became his signature "first meeting - hello". A snarl and a snap. But #4 persevered. She grabbed his leash and took him on a walk around the block - or rather, he took her for a walk. I'll never forget how #4 looked like she was being pulled by a locomotive while Miles took off to explore (at breakneck speed) his new neighbourhood.

It didn't take long for Miles to realize we were his new family and instead of the snarl/snap, we were greeted with a wildly wagging tail and yelps of excitement. Unless of course, one of us happened to change our appearance and he didn't recognize us. #3 came home one afternoon with a drastically new haircut and Miles tore after him as if he were attacking an intruder. Poor #3 had to leap up on the sundeck rail to escape the wild beagle.

Miles had his own dog bed, updated through the years after each skunk encounter, but that was only for the occasional daytime nap. His true place of honour was on either one of the girls' beds. Who needs a hot water bottle in the winter when you've got a big ol' beagle to cuddle up with.

Miles was always ready for a game of catch although he'd slowed down in the past few years, and he was ALWAYS ready for a walk. If dogs could do a happy dance, he surely did one each time his leash was picked up off the front door table.

Sadly, I write of all these things in the past tense because Miles left us this afternoon. #5 and I came home to an unusually quite house this afternoon and I'm only glad that I was with #5 and she didn't have to happen upon him while she was alone.

I like to think he died a very painless, peaceful death while resting on one of his girls' beds. I'm sure somewhere he is still chasing squirrels and doing his happy dance at the prospect of a much loved walk. Just remember....stay away from the skunks, big guy!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Happy Friday.... 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


#4 was downtown the other day, spending her hard earned money on.......socks - Boston Terrier socks.

I wonder how Miles would feel if he only knew that she pines for another dog.

Knitting still goes on around here even though not much blogging goes on. And socks still take the top spot - probably because of their portability.

These are the Canada socks from Knitting on the Road.

Of course by the time I came to the conclusion that I should have switched the two contrast yarns around so as to better show the patterning, I was too far along to possibly want to rip out and start over.

Oh well, once worn, whose going to be peeping under my pant legs?

Although it took its time in arriving, summer seems to have settled in quite nicely here in Vancouver. I hope you're enjoying a relaxing summer wherever you are.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Checkin' in 

Hello......anyone still out there??

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Belugas in Vancouver 

It's official..... the belugas are loose on the streets of Vancouver!

Let the games begin!

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The countdown . . . 

Only 16 days left to go ........

....... and the mittens are multiplying around here.

I sure wish the snowflakes were too.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Beagle Mischief 

You just never know what you'll find in the garden around here.

These are a couple of stuffies that were spirited out of one of the girls' bedrooms by a certain crafty, slinking beagle. We always know Miles is up to no good when he calmly saunters out of one of the bedrooms with a "nothin' goin' on here" kind of demeanor until he comes to within five feet of the kitchen door. Then it's as if he's been rocket propelled, running out onto the deck and down into the yard. Usually he's nabbed before he gets too far, but sometimes we don't realize what he's done until a certain bunny or bear is dug up from its burial spot a few months later. These two were found in the garden in the fall and placed in the tree.....with the intention of bringing them in later that day. Obviously that never happened and they've spent a soggy winter on their perches.

Now that both the girls and Miles have grown a little older, not only are there not as many stuffies lying about but there's not as much mischief in the pooch.

I've been trying to use up bits of yarn stashed about the house
. Here's another Laire as well as a few Beagle dishcloths.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Felice Anno Nuovo! 

From all of us here at 5 and a Beagle......

Wishing you a New Year filled with love and laughter.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Christmas in Tallinn 

Moving right along in my bid to get Christmas knitting completed before midnight on December 24th, I can now tick 2 Christmas in Tallinn stockings off the list.

Both stockings were knit with a combination of Elann Peruvian Highland Sport (coloured) and Elann Peruvian Alpaca Fina (white). The deeper wine red was done as the pattern suggested with 3.25 mm needles, switching to 2.75mm needles for the 'foot' portion.

The other stocking was knit on 3.00 mm & 2.75 mm needles. Going down from 3.25 to 2.75 definitely makes for a nicer proportioned stocking.

Now I just need to buy a chocolate Santa and these are set to be gifted to the two Mrs. R's that spearheaded the trip this past summer for #5 and her choir-mates to Tallinn and beyond.

Still on the Christmas knitting list.....

Birds Nest Smoke Ring


Raspberry Stitch lap blanket

Better keep clicking those needles or midnight December 24th could still be a reality.


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