Edmonton church window built out of shards from Europe's WWII battlefields
Reverend who served with Cameron Highlanders picked up shards of glass to commemorate the dead
They all brought the war home.
Those who made it home.
They carried it forever in their memories, relived it daily in their dreams, their nightmares.
Reverend T. Richard Davies brought the war home, one piece of glass at a time.
The fragments he collected in Europe more than 70 years ago were made into a commemorative window that now adorns one wall at Highlands United Church in Edmonton, a stained-glass memorial that will live on, long after the bugler blows the last post for the last veteran who served in the Second World War.
The church made a video many years ago, of Rev. Davies telling the story himself.
In the grainy footage, an elderly man with a white clerical collar and deep-set eyes cast his memory back more than 40 years, to that last summer of the war, to a town called St. Andre-sur-Orne, a few miles inland from the Normandy beaches.
The date was July 20, 1944.
Six weeks of hard fighting
Davies, who served as a padre with the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders of Winnipeg, had seen too much of war by then. In six weeks of hard fighting since the D-Day landings, he had ministered to the men, sat beside them in aid stations while they lay dying, helped bury more a than few friends, playing cribbage at night with others.
"Good work, padre," said one of them, a friend from cribbage games.
The two hopped into a scout car with other soldiers and drove off toward the next village. While Davies watched, an artillery shell fell out of the sky and hit the scout car. Seven men were blown to bits.
That evening, the padre wanted to be alone with his thoughts. He walked through the rubble to a nearby church. Only the walls remained standing. He read the French plaques and as dusk deepened, he turned to walk back to the aid station. The moon was out. He spotted something glinting on the ground.
"I don't know why I did it," he recalled, many years later. "But I stooped down and I picked up that piece of glass. And when I got back to the regimental aid post, I took a piece of adhesive tape and I marked on it the name of the place and the names of my friends who had been killed that day."
He said he didn't think much more about it, at the time. But as the days passed, as the Camerons moved from town to town and battle to battle, as the dead piled up, Davies picked up more glass fragments from more bombed-out churches. He wrote down more names.
He was later wounded himself and transported to hospital in England. The truck that carried his luggage, his priceless collection of glass, was blown up. He thought his treasures were gone for good.
But a soldier, a buddy, searched the debris and found the glass. When Davies returned to the regiment at Christmas, his precious package was waiting.
Hundreds of years of history
By the end of the war, Davies had collected fragments from the ruins of 24 churches in France, Holland and Germany. Some of those glass shards likely date back hundreds of years.
When he returned to Canada, the fragments came with him, and were soon fashioned into the memorial window by a Vancouver glass company.
The window at Highlands Church was dedicated by Alberta Lieut-Gov. J.C. Bowlen on Sunday, Nov. 7, 1948.
Davies recounted the story of the window dozens of times over the years. The video was made shortly before he died in 1987.
Rev. John Burill, the current minister at Highlands, most recently showed the video to the congregation last Sunday, as he does every other year.
He said he never fails to tell first-time visitors to the church that this is one story they absolutely have to hear.
"For our newcomers, I tell them, 'You've got to see this. You've got to know the history behind this window. You've got to understand, when Remembrance Sunday comes, why it's so special to us.' "
When he talks about the window, and the man who made it possible, Burill's face lights up.