Belgian street naming offers closure for Oak Bay man

Harry Williams Lane named for Victoria major killed in the Second World War

Ross and Norma Williams with memorabilia including flags hand-crafted by young Guides and Scouts and media clippings from the May 3 event where a street was named after Ross’s father.

Ross and Norma Williams will adorn their jackets with hand-made felt poppies for the Oak Bay cenotaph ceremony this Remembrance Day.

They were gifted to them by young Scouts and Guides in Europe.

“I’ll keep it forever. It’s just darling,” said Norma.

The hand-made poppies were handed out during the May 3 naming of a Belgian street after Ross’s father, a man he never met.

Horace (Harry) Palmer Williams was raised in Victoria and married Gwendolyn Addison in 1937. He enlisted in the Canadian Scottish Regiment July 30, 1940 and served until May 12, 1941 before joining the South Saskatchewan Regiment, Sept. 18, 1942.

He became second lieutenant in April 1942, captain in October 1943 and major by August 1944.

Williams got leave to travel home and meet his son, Ross, born July 3, 1942. He saw the newborn only through the nursery window before returning to training in Calgary the next day.

Later that month he arrived in the UK and with his cohorts travelled north.

Ross’s mother, Gwendolyn, learned of her husband’s death on her birthday, Oct. 17, 1944. He’d been gunned down by a tank in a street in Brecht, Belgium.

Brecht resident Wally Schoof’s grandparents told him many stories of that battle just outside their home and they tended the roadside grave of Ross’s father. Schoof, a Second World War historian who collects memorabilia for his basement museum, worked tirelessly to have a memorial that now marks the land near the battle site.

Ross and Norma were on hand for the spring ceremony to rename the street Harry Williams Lane, on the former battlefield of the Battle of Lochtenberg – a stone’s throw from where Ross’s father lay buried for years.

The ceremony featured flags – hand-created by the same children – adorning the dais in the church where the ceremony took place out of the rain.

Afterward they traipsed across the adjacent park to unveil the street sign on the far side. There they slid a Saskatchewan flag from the sign bearing his name amid gardens planted in red and white and flags flying to represent Canada and Britain.

“It was an amazing trip,” Ross said. “After the ceremony we did a tour of the battle fields. That was interesting.”

The avid historian Schoof filled a bus with those willing to spend these 90 minutes picking his brain about local battlefields.

Ross even rode in a restored Second World War Canadian tank brought in for the ceremony.

“They asked if I was interested in going for a ride in it. I said you don’t have to ask me twice,” Ross said. “It was cool.”

The Oak Bay couple stayed a few days, long enough to learn tales from residents; stories handed down by their grandparents of the soldiers slinging a pint up the street, or the difficult times residents endured during the war.

“(Schoof) thought of everything. Just an amazing man,” Norma said. “It was everything we expected and more.”

“It was closure,” Ross said.

 

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