Every year on the day of Remembrance I am reminded of the honourable man that my family never had the pleasure of meeting. My Great Grandfather Russell Claude Downey died at age 31, before getting the chance to meet his youngest daughter, my Grandmother, Margaret.
This makes it difficult to know anything more than his accomplishments in the Army. We never got to experience his personality and unique characteristics, however, we are grateful for what we do know.
On February 19, 1945, the Essex Scottish Regiment of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division of World War 2 were surrounded by German reinforcement and 140 lives were surrendered, including my Great Grandfather’s.
Russell was more than a soldier from Galt, Ontario. He was a loving husband and father. He was a joker. Some might even call him a troublemaker. The one thing I know for sure he passed down through each generation since, is his humour.
In a letter to his wife, Rose Hannah Downey, while he was “Somewhere in England” on December 22, 1941, he wrote “One of the fellows has just been transferred in another company and tonight we are kidding the day lights out of him.”
My Father and all of his siblings have the same sense of humour, and so do my sister and I. So for that, I thank Russell.
In the same letter he wrote “I was up to the M.O. this morning with a terrible headache and was too late to go on an all day march.”
This seems to be an example of one of his rebellions. The family has heard stories of him arriving late and pulling stunts forcing him to miss time in training camp.
Russell Downey is memorialized at the Galt Legion in Ontario, where he first joined the Army. My family and I continue to learn more about him and the family history as each day of Remembrance passes. We owe him our love and freedom.
Please read the follow-up educational pieces inspired by my family story: