Paris family embarks on trip of a lifetime
by Karon Sinning (from the Paris Star of 6th May 1998)
Jean Stevenson is making a trip to remember May 1.
Along with her son, Wayne Robbins and grandsons, Reggie and Tim, Jean will at long last be visiting the memorial grave site of Wayne’s father who lost his life during the second world war.
It will also be the first visit to his father’s gravesite for Wayne who’s son Reggie was named after the grandfather he never knew.
Paris resident, Reg Robbins left for his tour of duty in the second world war in June of 1944. He lost his life in Udem, Germany, February 22, 1945, two days before the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary, and never got to see the son that he and Jean shared.
Reg left Canada from Camp Borden as part of the Queen’s Own Rifles from Toronto, but after the North Nova Scotia Highlanders suffered serious personnel losses during a difficult battle, Reg signed up with them to go into battle.
“Reg was wounded in France and spent some time in a hospital there, recovering, ” said Jean.
During their separation Jean and Reg had vowed to write to each other every day. Jean had previously suffered a miscarriage and Reg was very concerned about her pregnancy.
After Wayne’s birth, Jean did manage to get a letter to Reg letting him know he had a son and that everything was ok. However, the photographs that Jean had taken of Wayne didn’t reach Reg in time and he died without ever seeing his son.
Both Reg and Jean kept up their promise to write daily, although getting letters delivered to servicemen during World War II was sometimes a hit and miss operation.
“What I had to do was mail everything through the military. They then sent it on to Reg. When he was wounded and in hospital, I was getting letters from him asking why I hadn’t written. I had, but they weren’t getting through to him. It was very frustrating,” said Jean.
Near the end of Reg’s stay in hospital a large package arrived containing 17 of Jean’s letters.
That wasn’t the largest packet though. During another move, where Reg was billeted with a Dutch farming family the mail bogged down again and Reg received a package containing 34 letters from Jean.
“He wrote to me that he had to arrange them by post marks to try to get them in the right order, ” smiled Jean.
These kinds of hold ups were part of life for servicemen overseas during the war. Even larger items would get bogged down such as cigarettes and other care-package items like chocolate and cookies. There would be nothing for weeks, then mounds of stuff would arrive.
“I remember when he was staying with the farming family. It was very hard times over there, Reg sent me a letter asking me to send a package with just soap in it. The wife of the house had to take all her laundry to a nearby creek and wash it on a scrub board, but was not able to get any soap. Reg wrote she was very grateful when it arrived, ” said Jean.
Jean also recalled one of Reg’s letters telling her about finding a pair of little legs sticking out from under his bed after a package containing chocolate bars had arrived and been stored their.
“Reg said he pulled these little feet out from under his bed and all he could understand was “chocolate ” “said Jean. Reg then gave the boy all the candy bars.
In one of Reg’s last letters to Jean he spoke about the big drive into Germany, where he was to lose his life.
In 1996 Jean began correspondence with a fellow in Holland named Jaap Been.
Been is Head Engineer for Phillips in Nijmegen, Holland, where a large war memorial and grave site for Canadian soldiers is situated.
The final resting place of the soldiers buried in Holland is an immaculately manicured vista, kept up partially by school children, even today.
“The Dutch people are extremely respectful of the Canadian soldiers that died to liberate Holland. Jaap has just been wonderful. He sends all kinds of stuff through email,” said Jean.
Been has helped to set an itinerary of events for Stevenson and her family starting with the Remembrance Day ceremony and the Walk of Silence, a mile and a half march from the Town Hall in Groesbeek to the cemetery.
The walk, as stated in the name, is done in silence in respect of those who gave their lives. Jean will be placing a wreath on the war monument in memory of Reg.
Been also has a trip planned to the famous tulip fields of Holland and an interview set up with the local Gelderlander newspaper.
Jean, Wayne, Tim and Reggie will also be attending a separate ceremony at the Liberation Museum, where the head of the Canadian Military will present the Princess of Holland with a plaque honoring the Dutch people for the dedication in keeping up the cemeteries of those soldiers that fought and died for freedom.
“Jaap has found us the most wonderful place to stay, ” said Jean, “it’s a resort situated between Groesbeek and the cemetery. He is even going to do some shopping for us, so we will have something in when we arrive.”
For Jean, Been has become part of the family, helping her to say her good-byes at her late husband’s resting place after all these years.
Been has communicated with Jean and Wayne for about two years, after initially communicating with her English cousin Peter Barleycorn. Barleycorn wrote a letter to Been, asking if he could help find out if Reg’s grave was adopted by local Dutch people.
Since that time Been has sent photographs of Reg’s grave, a video of a Canadian War ceremony and translations of the Gelderlander newspaper.
Next to the photo: Jean Stevenson, her son Wayne Robbins and grandsons Reggie and Tim (absent from photo) left Friday for a trip to Holland to visit Jean’s late husband’s grave for the first time since he was killed in World War II.
The Mission to a Little White Headstone
The Canadian soldier, Reg Robbins, left for Europe in 1944. He would never return to his hometown Paris, Ontario. Reg died in February 1945, at the age of 31, and left behind a Wife and a baby Son. After more then 53 years, his widow, Son and Grandchildren visited the grave of the soldier R.A. Robbins for the first time. It was finally a mission to try to come to terms with a shattered life.
By Marc Hijink (from the Gelderlander newspaper of 6th May 1998)
GROESBEEK – ‘Life is bitter’, according to an advertising slogan. ‘Life is a disaster’, says Jean Stevenson. The 75 years old Canadian woman became, within one month at the age of 23, a Mother and a Widow. Her beloved husband Reg went as a volunteer to Europe and died in Uedem, Germany. She was informed about his death in three official letters. Jean relates the poignant facts: Firstly, he was Missing in action”; later, “Missing and presumed wounded”. Finally, it was “Killed in action, on 22nd February 1945”. Momentarily, she touches the silver cross, the military distinction that she carries on her breast during her visit to The Netherlands. “Reg left behind a big gap. I loved him very much, and my Mother loved him like she loved her own Son. No, I was not angry when he volunteered to join the Army, and went off to the war. He wanted to fight for freedom. Whilst Reg was at the front, he wrote me letters every day. I had sent to him packages with soap, which he subsequently gave to people in the area”. She caught her breath, as her visit to The Netherlands after 53 years revived old memories. Although Jean remarried after the Second World War, Reg remained in her memories. Her second husband became seriously ill, and she resoundingly asks herself why she had to be struck by such adversities. “One of the most tragic things was that Reg never saw his Son.”
Wayne Robbins cries as his Mother fights back her tears. It took him a long time to find words, as also his youth was damaged. “Like my Mother I have always had the wish to visit the grave of my Father. The opportunity never came.” Jean nods and tells how, on the 50th anniversary, in 1995, a visit was not possible, as she did not have the money for the journey. It was very painful for the elderly woman and her Son decided to take action. The little white headstone in the Canadian War Cemetery, one of thousands, became the target of a mission. A mission to try to come to terms with a shattered life. Wayne came in contact with Jaap Been, from Malden, whose family was a host family for Veterans in the past. As a result of his mediation, the Family was able to come for a week to The Netherlands, in a bungalow in Groesbeek. It became a journey to a far country and at the same time a journey through time. “This is the area where my father also walked”, Wayne adds, and casts down his eyes. “Of course, it hurts, but at the same time it feels good.” Behind him his eldest son Tim clutches his handkerchief. Also Reggie, Wayne’s youngest Son, looks away. Although he is only 8 years old, in his name the pain of the war resounds. “Reggie is named after his Grandfather, says Jean. In the silence that follows the memories are more palpable than ever. Also Jaap Been cannot keep his eyes dry. “Yesterday, for the first time we went to the grave, and the emotion there was too much. I left them on their own for a while, after all, it was their Family.”
But here, in the small bungalow at Groesbeek, Jaap feels more involved than ever. Wayne puts his arm around his shoulders and says: “Jaap has become a good friend of ours.” Jean, thrilled, looks on . “After the silent march and the commemoration, we all went to Reg’s headstone. It was a difficult, but at the same time, also a beautiful moment. For us it was a relief to see how the Dutch people commemorate the victims of the Second World War. For, believe me, even after such long time, the wounds of the Second World War are not yet healed”.
Next to the photo: Jean Stevenson with her son Wayne and grandsons Tim and Reggie at the headstone of her fallen husband Reg.
Translated from the Gelderlander newspaper of 6th May 1998 by Jaap Been and Peter Barleycorn.
Trip to husband’s grave side was emotional one
By Karon Sinning (from the Paris Star of 20th May 1998)
Jean Stevenson, her son Wayne Robbins and grandsons Tim and Reggie are back from a trip that took them across the ocean and back to a time when thousands of brave men and women lost their lives.
Jean and her family travelled to Groesbeek, Holland to participate in the Dutch Remembrance Day ceremony and to visit the final resting place of the father Wayne never met.
Paris resident, Reg Robbins left for his tour of duty in the second world war in June of 1944. He lost his life in Udem, Germany, February 22, 1945, two days before the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary and never got to see the son that he and Jean shared.
Jean had not been able to make the trip to Holland until this year and accompanied by her family it was certainly a trip to remember.
The family was helped throughout their stay in Holland by a Dutch family.
Jaap Been and his family became involved with war veterans by hosting a British officer, a few years ago, who wanted to attend the War Memorial ceremony in Holland. After answering that ad in the newspaper, Been became more and more interested in the history of the war and those who gave their lives to help free Holland.
“Jaap was wonderful, he had everything arranged for us before we arrived at out cottage. He even brought in groceries,” said Jean.
The family attended the May 4, evening Memorial service at the Groesbeek War Cemetery, but prior to that, also joined in the “Walk of Silence”.
The Walk of Silence is approximately a mile and a half walk, that almost all of the residents take part in, from the town hall in Groesbeek to the cemetery.
“It was really spectacular to see, all the people marching along in complete silence. They end in the Cemetery, at their Cenotaph monument, for the ceremony, which was lovely. Near the end of the service, all the children are given small candles in glass holders that they place around the monument. It is nearly dusk then, so it is quite effective,” said Jean.
Wayne and his older son, Tim placed the memorial wreath on the Cenotaph as part of the official ceremony. “We waited for them to call out Reg’s name, but the wreath was so large there was no way I could have carried it up to the monument. I was really glad when Wayne asked if I wanted him and Tim to do it,” said Jean.
During the family’s visit to the cemetery where Reg Robbins was buried, Jean was asked to complete her name and address on the back of Reg’s registration card in the cemetery archives.
“I guess there was a woman whose life had been saved by a Canadian soldier. She found the man’s family through the filing system maintained in the cemetery to let them know what had happened and to thank them,” said Jean.
Jean’s family also participated in an event at the Canadian Netherlands Memorial forest.
A helicopter carried in the last Maple tree which was planted by Princes Margriet of Holland, the Mayor, and the Minister.
The family also visited many other Canadian war cemeteries in Holland.
“We also went to the Reichswald Forest, along the Rhine River. It borders Germany and Holland and is the site of a 13 day battle that saw thousands of soldiers from both sides lose their lives,” said Wayne.
In Cleve the family went to a German War cemetery, then to Udem to see the area where Reg died and finally to the War Cemetery in the German Reichswald.
This is the largest cemetery in the area, with over 7,000 soldiers buried there. The family finished the emotional day, with a little bit of familiarity, at the Mac Donald’s restaurant in Malden, where young Reggie wanted to go to.
Even though the trip was an emotional event, it was a relief for Jean to see the final resting place for Reg.
“I am so glad we know where he is. It is just a little overwhelming seeing the number of people buried there,” said Jean.
Wayne and his sons also enjoyed the trip and plans are already in the works for a return trip, perhaps next year.
“I would really like to take my wife Cathy next time and let her see it all,” said Wayne.