On Saturday morning, two days before Remembrance Day, a note sat waiting for me in my e-mail inbox. It was written by Stephen Young, the nephew of a soldier who died on a cold March night in 1944 outside of Anzio, Italy. The soldier’s name was James Donald Schofield, or just Donald to his sister, Vera.
The story of Donald Schofield’s death first touched me two years ago when I read it in newsletter at the Village of Humber Heights, a long-term care and retirement home where Douglas Martin lives. As a storyteller I work with Humber Heights and 11 other homes owned and operated by Schelgel Villages, and I’m always on the lookout for stories to share.
This newsletter related Doug’s recollection of the night J.D. Schofield was fatally wounded, as dictated to one of his daughters years before. His hope in sharing the story was that someone, somewhere, would read it and know that the 19-year-old Schofield didn’t die alone, for Doug harboured the regret throughout his life that he never tracked down Schofield’s family to tell them what happened that fateful night in Italy.
"I have always regretted not contacting his next of kin," explained Doug in the first dictated story. "The only thing I could have said to them was that I was with your son on the night he was fatally wounded."
Doug’s memory was cloudy and blindness was darkening his days by the time I came across the story, but when I spoke to his wife, Elsie, she said his memories of the war remained vivid and he held out hope that one day someone who knew and loved J.D. Schofield would hear about his death.
"Nobody's come forward yet, I guess the people are all gone now" said Elsie at the time, but she was thankful to know the story was still circulating.
"You never know," she told me, and I could hear in her voice that she hoped upon hope that her husband’s burden of regret could be laid down.
The story was the kind that starts to burrow into your skin and I soon found myself sifting through online records at the Canadian Department of National Defence looking for anything related to J.D. Schofield. It turns out he was from a small village in Nova Scotia called Cambridge Station. I started calling area legions and people in the phone book who shared the name Schofield. I eventually found Pam Schofield, the daughter of a University of British Columbia professor named Wilf – Donald’s brother who died a few years ago – and I shared the story with her.
I later told Elsie that her husband’s story had found the fallen soldier’s kin nearly 70 years later. When Stephen contacted me on Saturday, it opened the story up all over for me. I called Humber Heights and was pleased to hear that Mr. Martin still makes his home there. They patched me through to his room where Elsie and his daughter, Susan, were visiting, and I had the pleasure of speaking with Elsie again and Susan for the first time.
I passed along Stephen’s words: “I know very little about the circumstances surrounding my uncle's death and just came across the ‘Remembrance at Humber Heights’ article. I would like Mr. Martin (if he is still alive) and/or his family to know that his story has indeed made it to, and touched very deeply, one of Donald's next of kin.”
And the story continues to touch me deeply. There were thousands of J.D. Schofields – young, brave warriors who gave their lives to preserve ours, yet whose full story may never be told and sadly, there are fewer and fewer Doug Martins left to tell them.
I’m honoured to have found myself in the middle of this real-life fable, and I’ll be certain to live my life with no regrets, ever thankful of the lessons imparted by Mr. Martin and the fallen J.D. Schofield.
If anyone reads this would like help sharing the stories of a veteran in their life, I’d love to help. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to view the original article and a second reviews how the story found its way to the Donald Schofield's sister, Vera.