Farewell Sergeant Himphen
I have been searching for any information about my dad Sergeant Richard Charles Himphen since I was a very little girl. My mother has now passed away and did not ever want to share information about him and I suppose always found it to be such a sad time in her life.”
My mother wrote these words in an email on June 9, 2005.
Similar words are read frequently by librarians, archivists and others who hold sacred information about our ancestors.
My grandfather was among 45,000 Canadian soldiers who died during World War II. In addition to his wife and daughter, he was grieved by parents Charles and Violet, brother Robert and two sisters, Rita and Margarite.
Other women grieved too, including Miss M.E. Cull from Kent, who thought she was his fiancée.
Our family found out about her because of a single page in his service file report that says she made a claim as his fiancé.
She wasn’t his only special someone either. Another page in that same file says: “destroyed letters from girlfriends.”
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Those same records detail Richard’s military career, which began on a part-time basis at the age of 17. He’d already worked for two years as a baker’s helper at the Canada Bread Company by the time he joined the Active Militia of Canada in October 1937. He was assigned to the 30th Battery of the RCA, where he served until June 1939.
A year later, he left his job to enlist full-time as a private. He signed up with an infantry battalion called the Irish Regiment of Canada, which trained at Camp Borden. His enthusiasm for his chosen path seems clear from a statement on a form he filled out in April 1941. His answer to “state any employment or ambition you may have,” was “soldiering.”
He married Evelyn Doris Johnson in June at the Silverthorne Avenue Baptist Church and shipped overseas in August 1942.
His daughter Marilyn Violet, my mother, was born the following April. He got notice of her birth by telegram in Britain.
His regiment was sent to Italy before he could get home to see her. They arrived in Naples in November.
On May 4, 1944 Richard stuck his left thigh on a bayonet while taking cover in a slit trench during shelling in Cassino. He couldn’t walk for 13 days, but recovered fully.
He fought in Italy for four more months. On September 13, during an action taking Coriano from the enemy, he was mortally wounded.
Major Gordon Brown, who took part, described the day afterwards in a history pamphlet:
in the early hours of the morning, before dawn, the Irish swept down from Besanigo Ridge into the valley which separated it from Coriano Ridge, and began to work their way up towards the town…“B” Company, under Captain Bill Elder, completed the job by finishing the clearing, and covering the Castella feature.”
Richard was pierced under the spine and suffered a “sucking wound to the chest” on his right side. He was brought to the 93 BG Hospital, where he died October 12.
His will was a single signed page in his pay book:
It was signed, but neither dated nor witnessed.
About the Author
Tracey Arial helps Canadians grow with notable nonfiction and urban agriculture.