St. Stephen – Sitting on the steps of the Cenotaph on Milltown Blvd. on Wednesday morning, Jack Kennedy has a casual, yet pensive way about him. “The first time I came up here was with my family in 1962,” Kennedy reminisces. “And so at that point, we came here to St. Stephen, to visit Margaret Shaughnessy. Margaret and my mother were cousins.” In speaking of Margaret, Kennedy is speaking of Harold’s sister, who lived in St. Stephen, and worked at the Ganong Chocolate Factory.
Kennedy, a retired (for about a week) history teacher, who lives in Massachusetts, is in the area not only as a celebration of 41 years of teaching, but because he is the closest relative found by Canada’s Veterans Affairs office, to St. Stephen WWI soldier, Harold Shaughnessy, whose remains were recently discovered in France.
“They let me know that they had found his remains over in France, which baffled me, because the family story was that he was MIA in France. One of my aunts had tried to find out about him in the 50s, and had spoken to the Imperial War Graves Commission, and they said they really didn’t know where his remains were.
“All I could imagine is that somebody in France was digging a foundation and came across the battlefield.
“They (Canadian Veterans Affairs) did some research – I have to say it was some pretty dogged efforts on their part – and tracked down that I was a relative of Harold Shaughnessy. And so they reached out to me this spring, and that’s what started this whole experience, if you will.”
Kennedy assumes the identification was made via personal effects and dog tags.
“Harold Shaughessy was my grandmother’s brother,” explained Kennedy. “So, we came up here in ’62 because my mother wanted to see the relatives, if you will.
“In 1989, my aunt passed away, and she still had the family home, and it fell to me to clean up the home. In cleaning out the house, I came upon this particular letter. It’s a letter from Harold to my grandmother, from 1916. It tells the story of him shipping out from Montreal, and landing in England.”
Kennedy is holding a copy of the letter, still carefully, which has been typed, and recounts Harold’s journey from Canada to the U.K., and is not only descriptive, but clearly written from a brother to a sister, aimed at setting Margaret’s mind at ease.
“He describes leaving Montreal, with people cheering, and waving flags. And one of the things that strikes me about the letter is that Canadians are still very much gung-ho about this war. Their patriotism and nationalism comes through loud and clear.”
How do Kennedy, and the family, feel about the remains staying in France? “I think, with what I’ve done online, and educating myself about it – he’ll be buried at Vimy, and Vimy to me, as an American, sounds a little like Arlington National Cemetery, only it’s not in Canada, it’s over in France. But it’s not as though he will be the only Canadian there. Isn’t it the largest overseas Canadian memorial? That’s quite a privilege in and of itself.”
“It seems to me they are honouring Harold in so doing, being in a very prestigious spot like Vimy – it’s pretty neat.”