Mystery of Canadian soldier’s burial solved almost 70 years later
A couple strokes of luck has ended with a reunion 69 years in the making for a Manitoban war vet.
Morley Roney, 91, served four and a half years in the Second World War. He spent some of his service in Italy.
At a recent family reunion, Roney met by chance a distant cousin, Corrin Fraser, who currently lives in the same part of Italy.
Fraser offered to take photos of the area and of the graves of fallen soldiers, including the final resting place of friend of Fraser’s.
“You generally forget a lot of stuff,” said Roney. “This brings it all back again.”
It was by another stroke of luck that Fraser found the grave she was asked to look for. She got lost on her way to the Moro River Canadian Cemetery and ended up in Coriano Ridge War Cemetery instead. That’s where she found Jimmie Griffiths’ gravestone.
Roney and his fellow soldiers kept an eye on Griffiths during the war.
“He was a big, strong kid,” Roney said. “We kind of took little Jimmie, or big Jimmie, under our wing there because he was just 17-years-old.”
Weeks after Griffiths’ 18th birthday, Roney was standing next to him when Griffiths took a fatal hit.
For decades, Roney did not know if his friend was properly buried. Now, he has some peace of mind.
Roney will not be making the trip back to Italy to visit his friend’s resting place, but his cousins have laid gifts on Griffiths’ military gravesite.
For Roney’s daughter, just knowing where the grave is located is enough.
“It has really brought a lot of comfort to my dad. And peace to know that he found his friend he lost 69 years ago,” said daughter Janice McDonald.
Roney’s connection to the fallen solider went further. A picture of the headstone was posted to an ancestry site online by a friend of Roney’s. Members of Griffiths’ family spotted it and got in touch.
“They had no idea where he was buried,” Roney said. “They had no idea idea he was even in the army until he was dead.”
Roney had no idea making a friend in the army in the Second World War would make such a difference to a family 69 years later. The Griffiths’ had very little information about their relative, not even a photo, until Roney shared his memories with them, including his last moments alive.
“I just told them that he didn’t suffer,” said Roney.
The Griffiths’ said their newfound friendship with Roney has brought them peace.
Now, Fraser is bringing comfort to other war veterans.
Coriano Ridge War Cemetery is the final resting place for 427 Canadian soldiers. Fraser wants to honour them all.
She was unable to find Canadian flags for their graves in Italy, so the former Manitoban asked friends and family to send some from home. Within days, she had hundreds and promises for more. She said she has, on average, sixty e-mails a day are arriving.
Roney’s daughter and other family members will personally deliver dozens of flags on Nov. 11 for the cemetery’s first Remembrance Day ceremony.The family alrady has enough flags for the Coriano cemetery but are still collecting for three other cemeteries in Italy.
Families are also sending personal memories to be placed on loved one’s graves they never had the chance to visit.
“It’s very touching,” said McDonald, Roney’s daughter. “It’s just touched so many people.”
Roney, at 91-years-old, said his traveling days are over but he is glad his family will be there to pay respect to his fallen comrades who never made it home.
“Brings a tear to my eye.”