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Remembrance Day: Spirit of Vimy comes home

Nov 11 2012
Don Hatfield holds the war medals of Gordon Narwick. 

Don Hatfield holds the war medals of Gordon Narwick.

Photograph by: Lyle Stafford , Times Colonist

Retired military padre Don Hatfield stopped in the middle of a recent graveside service to recite from memory the poem In Flanders Fields.

The Oct. 18 service was for Victoria-born Gordon Hamilton Marwick, a First World War veteran who was present at the capture of Vimy Ridge. The box containing Marwick's ashes had lain forgotten for years in a Seattle storage locker before being delivered to Victoria for burial.

When Hatfield arrived at the Veterans Cemetery, God's Acre in Esquimalt, he knew nothing about the man for whom he was to read the Last Rites. He had been called by the Last Post Fund, a non-profit corporation that ensures a lack of money does not keep veterans from receiving a dignified funeral and burial.

Hatfield, 84, said he sat the box with Marwick's ashes into the ground, then placed a poppy on top, as per Canadian military custom.

"There it was in the black earth, just a simple box with a poppy sitting on it, and I looked up," Hatfield said. "And I looked up and I saw all these stones and it made me think of Dr. [John] McCrae's poem."

He recited the poem on the spot.

"It sort of overwhelmed me," he said. "It just fluttered over me. We would call that 'inspiration,' the movement of the spirit.

"And I'm a great believer in the movement of the spirit."

Hatfield turned to the younger Canadian Forces men in the colour party and told them they were lucky to be part of the service.

"I said, 'You are very privileged to be part of this, just as I am, because we are laying this man to rest where he had wanted to be,' " said Hatfield, an Anglican priest for 60 years.

Little is known about Marwick, save for some handwritten notes he left with his two war medals - the Victoria Medal and the British War Medal - and a few official U.S. forms.

He was born Aug. 30, 1896, in Victoria and died Feb. 14, 1997, in Seattle. He joined up in 1915 and was part of the 88th Battalion and was trained as a signaller. He was later assigned to the 21st Battalion, 2nd Canadian Division out of Kingston.

Marwick spent a winter on Vimy Ridge, was there for its final capture in April 1917. On Aug. 15, 1917, he was wounded near Lens, France.

He married Jean Fraser in Vancouver in 1921. The couple moved in 1924 to Seattle, where Marwick worked as a telegraphist for Western Union and was naturalized as an American in 1938. Records show Marwick as married in 1930 and divorced in 1940 and indicate no children.

In the last few years of his life, he became a regular at Seattle's Mecca Café and Bar. The owners, Richard and Darlene Smith, invited him to move into their home, where he lived from 1992 until his death five years later.

He left instructions with the Smiths to bury him in his hometown of Victoria, but tragedies soon overtook the couple. A son became ill with leukemia, and within a few years, both had died themselves.

Karon Hanke, who now owns the Mecca Café and Bar, said she and a friend came across Marwick's ashes, packaged up with some papers and his medals, while cleaning out a storage locker. It was Hanke who contacted the Last Post Fund.

She never met Marwick, but she knew the Smiths, who were her in-laws - loving, kind people with "hearts of gold." She knows the home where Marwick spent his last days, a house with a view of Puget Sound. He had a separate apartment, and nursing care was arranged for him at the end.

So Hanke was delighted to hear that Marwick's ashes had finally been laid to rest in a veteran's ceremony with a military colour party, in keeping with his wishes. She had grown attached to him, carrying his ashes in the trunk of her car before they were picked up.

"I would say hi every time I would see the ashes, like 'Hi, Gordie,' " she said on the phone from Seattle. "In a way, I feel like I really did know him."

In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie, In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields. - Dr. John McCrae

rwatt@timescolonist.com

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