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CBS man proud of father’s merchant marine service

By Mark Squibb
November 10, 2023 Edition

When former Conception Bay South Mayor Woodrow ‘Woody’ French began looking into his late father Harold’s wartime service, he was surprised to learn his dad had been entitled to four war medals that he had never received. French’s father wasn’t a member of the uniformed services but did ply the dangerous waters of the Atlantic as a member of the merchant marine.

“There are very few World War II veterans left, and I think about the World War II medals and the people who served, who were forgotten,” said French. “I felt like, if he earned them, we should have them. And I have a funny feeling that there are a lot of veterans who went to their grave without their medals, and certainly merchant mariners, because they weren’t recognised until recently.”

Lieutenant Governor Judy Foote presented Woody and sister Ruby with the four medals, including The Atlantic Star, The 1939-1945 Star, a War Medal, and a Volunteer Service Medal, owed their father at a formal ceremony held at Government House this past September.

French had requested the Lieutenant Governor present the medals, as he thought it would be most fitting to have a representative of the British Monarch present them, given that Newfoundland was still a part of the British Empire during World War II.

“It was quite an honor,” said French, adding several other family members were able to attend the special occasion.

Harold French spoke little of his time working on boats during the war. And Woody, who served in the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1960 to 1970, never asked.

French did however know that his father served on the Queen of Bermuda, which operated between New York and Bermuda, and the HMCS Amherst.

Armed with that knowledge, French, in 2021, began the journey that culminated in the medal presentation ceremony this fall.

“I knew he was a client of Veterans Affairs, and so that’s where I started to do my tracking,” said French. “When I wrote to the Canadian Archives, that’s when they came back and said your father is entitled to four medals.”

Since the ceremony, French said he has had calls from other people wondering what they should do to find out if their relatives are entitled to medals that they never received.

“I tell people to try and get as much information as they can about his service,” said French. “If he has a service number, then you’re set. It’s easy then after that. You go to the Archives of Canada, give them that service number, and boom, they’re able to track him. But not having that, I had to go a different route which made it more difficult.”

Without a service number, folks can still track down the information, although it does become more difficult. The less information you have, said French, the more difficult it becomes to track down the records.

“But if you’re able to get the name of a ship, the name of an armoured unit, the name of an air force squadron that he served in, or something like that, then that could lead you down the right path,” said French.

Woody himself was entitled to a medal that he knew nothing about until someone at the Legion told him one day. As for his father’s medals, French said he has no way of knowing if his father even knew that he was entitled to them.

But medals are important reminders of the service rendered by veterans, French allowed.

“War is never a good thing, even in this day and age, with what’s going on in the Ukraine and what’s going on in Gaza and in Israel,” said French. “Young men and young women are going to die as a result of their service. They’re going to die for their country, they’re going to die trying to keep free, or in some instances, keep them under control. So, this is still ongoing. And something like these medals play an important part in keeping their service alive. Like in the Act of Remembrance, ‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.’ And so, it’s all part and parcel of that.”

French said Remembrance Day is a time to honour the lives of those who served and to remember their sacrifices, and the freedoms that those sacrifices have brought.

“We have coffee at the Legion every Wednesday, and a bunch of kids from Frank Roberts (Junior High) came recently and dropped off cards,” said French. “And that means so much to us that served.”

Woody French believes this photograph of his father Harold, which shows Harold standing in the foreground with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background, was taken in New York in 1940, a year after World War II had broken out.

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