Thursday 12 February 2009

An attempt to trace my Canadian father

my father
I am trying to trace my natural father. My mother believed his first name is Andrew (or perhaps Andre). I DO NOT HAVE HIS SURNAME. What I do possess is a photo (detail above) which I have placed on this page, followed by a picture of myself (below):

The photo of my father (top) is a close-up from a larger snap in which he is sitting with my mother (below). It was taken in 'The Canteen Club' in (I think) Fort Anne, or possibly Fort Chambly, near the towns of Soest or Werl in Germany. Here is the full photograph:
my father sitting with my mother in 'The Canteen Club', Fort Chambly, 1956

And here is a summary of what I have learned, including information sent to me by Canadian ex-service personnel:

He was/is Canadian and most likely French Canadian (this is what my mother believed anyway).

He was a Private with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (RCAMC) when he met my mother.

Judging from the photo, I am guessing he was born between 1915 and 1925 (my mother was born in 1918.)

His first name was (according to my mother) Andrew, though he might also be known by the French equivalent, Andre (NB: SURNAME UNKNOWN).

I have been told that his uniform identifies him (apart from being in the RCAMC) as wearing a "Group B Tradesman" patch (or a qualified Tradesman, Class II, if these are not the same thing).

We think he was, very possibly, with 1 Field Ambulance, stationed at Fort Anne in the Werl area. Fort Anne was one of a number of bases near the towns of Soest and Werl in North Germany in the 1950s. My mother met him there in 1956 while working for the WVS. Her name was then Sheila MacAllister

The photo below shows them sitting together in the canteen (presumably at Fort Anne, or possibly Fort Chambly, Fort St Louis, Fort York, Fort Henry or Fort Victoria: there were quite a few in the Soest/Werl localities).

I was born in London in 1957 and brought up in Dublin, Ireland, by my mother and grandparents. My name, Granier, is French, but (please note), my mother insisted that it IT IS NOT MY FATHER'S SURNAME. My mother chose it by Deed Poll after I was born. 

I had a happy and secure childhood, and never felt acutely conscious of my father's absence, though, as I grew older, I began to realise that my mother's evasive answers to my questions made less and less sense. My father had died in a war? Which one? My mother was very warm and loving, but her Catholic upbringing meant that she carried a huge burden of guilt. She eventually told me that my father was a Canadian soldier, someone she had never married, and that when she discovered she was pregnant she hadn't even told him. She was supportive in my efforts to find my father, and she did her best to recall any details that might be helpful, though she had, unfortunately forgotten my father's surname. Partly because, she said, she had had difficulty pronouncing it, so I assume it was French. 

As I grew older, my father's absence became more pronounced, a presence in its own right. The fact that I have one haunting photograph of him, and that he looks strikingly like me, makes my search seem still more imperative.  

I am a writer, photographer and teacher of poetry and creative writing based in Bray, Co Wicklow, Ireland. I have published five collections of poetry. Here's a selection of me reading from my latest collection, Ghostlight: New & Selected Poems (Salmon, 2017), recorded for an American online journal, Trasna. It includes a short poem about my father.

And here is a slightly longer poem I wrote about him, or about his absence (from my fourth, 2015 collection, Haunt):

Father’s Day

It seems, now, I will never find
your shoes, father, let alone fit in them,
though I still hope to follow the cold trail
of adventure in your smile, your spark
that landed me here, where
even though I am a father in my turn,
my footing is far from certain.

Rumours rustle in the visible
branches of my family tree. An uncle
traced you, found a married man. But no
he did not (or maybe it slipped his mind).
A cousin heard you might have lived in Medicine Hat ––
Medicine Hat! Such a marvellous name
I tried it on for size, for a while.

A French Canadian soldier, my mother said,
neglecting to mention which war
claimed you, so I grew up thinking
World War Two, realising eventually
it finished a decade too early.
Tentative questions raised that flicker of pain,
slaps from a self-interrogation.

Have I other half-brothers? Sisters?
How many of your whip-tailed seeds made it home?
I suppose you’re gone now, burned
or buried, dog-tagged in stone,
but until I can mark, encircle
wherever you hung your hat, you’ll remain
enchanted, undead, prone, your face

furiously shifting and running, fast-
forwarding weather, the everyday
sky convoys, sea’s military colours,
crowd-faces in the street, on TV, armies
of old men –– all and none
remind me of you. My known
unknown, how have you shrunk, grown?

All I want to do is learn something about my origins, those invisible branches on my family tree. ANY information or advice is welcome. If anyone has any ideas please don't hesitate to drop me a note at: