June 1, 1944 – “A” Company of the North Shore Regiment Camp
“Company orders, we set sail for France tomorrow.” The major read from the telegram. “The mission—secure Juno Beach and drive back the enemy.”
Wes pulled his uniform jacket closer to his body to keep the sudden chill out. The room fell silent as the soldiers took it all in. This sounded big, really big.
“We suggest you get to your bunks early as you’re gonna need all the sleep you can get,” the major said. “But before you go, I would like us to gather around and pray.”
The major cleared his throat. “I have to be perfectly honest, this will be a gruelling fight to the death. Some of you will not return to tell his story. Let’s keep sharp and look after each other. Watch your back. Wes, will you lead us in a prayer?”
It took Wes a moment to realize what the major had asked. “Umm. Yes, sir. Let’s bow our heads.”
Wes waited for complete stillness. “Lord, we ask that you be with us as we sail for France. Keep us safe and help us to be able to accomplish our mission safely. I pray for every man. Give him strength. Amen.”
“Amen,” everyone said in agreement.
Later that night as Wes settled in his hammock, he thought of his mother and wondered how she was doing with most of her sons in the war. He knew it would be hard for her if one or more of them didn’t return.
“Wes?” the soldier in the hammock above him said.
Fred handed Wes a picture. “This is my mother. If anything happens to me, please get in touch with her. I’ve written her number on the back.”
Wes thought he heard a quiver in his voice.
“Certainly Fred. Will you do the same for me?” he said. “I know. Let’s make a pact that if something happens to either one of us, we will contact that person’s family.” Wes reached his hand up toward his bunk mate.
Fred leaned over and they shook on it. “I promise.”
“Me too,” Wes said.
I realize Remembrance Day has passed, but I wanted to take a break from my “What if…” series to pay tribute to a special man. A man who fought from the trenches in World War II and survived to tell his story. A man deeply loved by his family.
Co. Sgt. Major Wesley Chambers. My uncle.
Uncle Wesley passed away last week at the age of 88. He will be missed by everyone who knew him.
The above account is taken from “War Brothers,” a short story I wrote about my uncles who served in the war. Fred was killed at the Battle of Carpiquet. Years later, Uncle Wesley still had the picture Fred gave him that night. Also, the major was killed by a sniper.
Uncle Wesley loved to talk about the war. He served proudly and came back to tell others about his experience. There were gruelling accounts of him fighting from the trenches on the battlefields, arriving on the beach in Juno, and being only one of three who survived a hit on their vehicle near Filaise, France. Miraculously, Uncle Wesley arrived home without any wounds. His fellow soldiers joked with him saying they wanted to stand next to him because he was never hit!
He was a proud veteran.
There are many other things I remember about visiting Uncle Wesley and Aunt Verna. One was the drive to their home in Petticodiac, New Brunswick. The road took you past a cemetery and it always freaked me out. When I was young, my mom pointed out a building she said was for the bodies to be stored during winter so they could be buried later. Being naïve, I thought she meant they dug up all the bodies, put them in this building and then re-buried them in the spring! (Okay, you can stop laughing now!)
I also remember Uncle Wesley’s garden. He loved to plant seeds and watch them grow. He definitely had a green thumb because his garden was filled with delightful veggies!
As a family, we visited during different times of the year, but Christmas was a highlight. We enjoyed special times with our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Always lots of fun!
Uncle Wesley was a tender-hearted, soft spoken man who everyone loved. You couldn’t help but enjoy being in his presence.
We love you and miss you. You are a true hero.
Co. Sgt. Major Wesley Chambers with his brother, Murray Chambers
Uncle Wesley – we love you!