Ottawa

Silver Cross Mother opens up about losing her son to war

Reine Samson Dawe’s son Matthew was killed in Kandahar in July 2007. She has been named this year's national Silver Cross Mother by the Royal Canadian Legion.

'Your head knows that he's gone, but your heart doesn't want to know'

2019 Silver Cross Mother Reine Samson Dawe speaks to Rosemary Barton about raising four sons in the military and the death of her youngest son Capt. Matthew Dawe while serving in Afghanistan. 7:54

For Reine Samson Dawe, there are two smells that remind her of her son Matt.

Lasagna because he loved it, and wet wool because of the Friday nights she'd pick him up during his years at the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont.

"He would be half-standing in the rain sometimes, wearing his navy blue uniform," Samson Dawe told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning ahead of today's Remembrance Day ceremonies.

"And of course, he would get in the car and he smelled like a wet cat." 

Capt. Matthew Dawe was one of six Canadian soldiers killed in Kandahar in July 2007, along with an Afghan interpreter, when their armoured vehicle was struck by a powerful roadside bomb. He was with the Edmonton-based 3rd Battalion Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, and was at the time one of the highest-ranking Canadian soldiers to die in Afghanistan.

This year, Samson Dawe was named the nation's Silver Cross Mother, an honour bestowed each year by the Royal Canadian Legion upon the mother of a child killed while serving Canada.

She laid a wreath at the National War Memorial this morning on behalf of all such mothers who've lost loved ones.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks with Reine Samson Dawe as they participate in today's Remembrance Day ceremony at the National War Memorial in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

'Come back, please'

"I still remember having the thought on occasion: 'Matthew, I've have been very good. I did everything I needed to do. Now you come back, please," Samson Dawe told Ottawa Morning.

"Your head knows that he's gone, but your heart doesn't want to know."

Samson Dawe, who is from the Township of South Frontenac north of Kingston, is the matriarch of a prominent military family that saw her husband and all four sons serve in uniform at various times.  Matthew was the youngest.

Samson Dawe said she doesn't talk publicly about the moment she learned of her son's death. 

"It brings me right back, and I don't want to go there obviously because it was the worst day of my life," she said.

"It's too private," she added. "There are some things that I want to keep private."  

Retired Lt.-Colonel Peter Dawe and his wife Reine walk away from the podium after speaking about their son, Capt. Matthew Dawe, on Saturday, July 14, 2007 during funeral services in Kingston, Ont. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Duty-bound to accept honour

When she was first approached to be this year's Silver Cross Mother, Samson Dawe said she felt apprehensive.

"I didn't really know what it meant," she said. "And I wasn't sure that I wanted to have all my family be read like an open book."

Eventually, she realized she had to accept the role.

"I almost felt I had a duty, because I know what Matt would have said. He would have said, 'Mom you've got to do that,'" Samson Dawe said.

Reine Samson Dawe was chosen to be this year's Silver Cross Mother. She will lay the wreath on beahalf of all others at the National War Memorial today. 11:30

With so many of her family members in the military, Samson Dawe said she's learned she can't dwell on their safety — otherwise, she would be in a constant state of fear.

Not long ago, her son Philip was asked to go back to an area of conflict. Her first reaction was a feeling like someone had jabbed her, and she had to walk out of the room to compose herself.  

 Her son explained that he had signed up to serve, and if he was asked to go somewhere, he would go.

'You're not the only one'

"My apprehension was mine," Samson Dawe said. "If the people to whom he is responsible have [been] asked to go somewhere, he's not going to say, 'I'm sorry I can't go because my brother was killed in Afghanistan.' It doesn't work that way."

She said that as she lays the wreath at the war memorial, her thoughts would be with all of the mothers who have lost someone.

"And that's something that I want to tell the mothers. You think you're going to die [from grief], that you don't really want to carry on — and of course you do. Because you have families and you have responsibilities," she said. 

"I think there's a certain comfort knowing that you're not the only one."

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