My father, Thomas (Tom) Caney, was born on May 6, 1923 in Montreal, Quebec, son of James Caney and Helena O’Reilly, both of Montreal. The eldest and only son of 5 children, he left school in 7th grade in order to help support the family during the Depression, attending night courses to attain his 9th grade diploma. He had the normal boyhood dreams of valor and glory on the battleground, and ran away from home at age 16 in 1939 to join the army, lying about his age. My grandfather brought him home "by the scruff of my neck" three times before the recruitment officer and my grandfather agreed that my father would not give up, and it was best to let him sign up. He enlisted for the 3rd time effective December, 1942, joining the Royal Montreal Regiment, Infantry R C.A Seaforth of Canada, at age 19. His WWII assignments included service in France, Italy and Germany, for which he received the 1939-45 Star, Italy Star, France & Germany Star, CVSM & Clasp. His war file (obtained from the Archives of Canada) is scattered with mentions of his leadership qualities, etc. – he was constantly being given promotions to sergeant and being promptly bumped back down to private due to his love of pranks with his buddies and telling off his commanding officers.
I’ve heard my father recall that it only took one month after being shipped off to Europe on active duty to realize just what he’d gotten himself into, and the truth in his father’s warnings (his father had served in a cavalry unit in a previous war) …
The painful images he brought home from the War haunted him for many years. The only war stories he would tell us were laced with dark humor, and never in a serious vein. Nightmares were the most obvious sign of his trauma. My mother spoke of being woken in the middle of the night with my father’s hands wrapped around her neck, choking her. Years after his discharge, if startled while asleep, he would assume he was still in a foxhole in France, Italy or Germany and under attack by the enemy. My father never complained, but made it clear that war was hell. For the next 35 years, he would venture from home only once (one year before his death in 1978), saying he’d seen enough of the world during the war.
He was a loving and thoughtful husband and father, provided 35+ years of good and faithful service to the Canadian National Railways, and died far too young at age 56. The only health problems he ever suffered were complications from pleurisy contracted during the last months of the war. Upon discharge, he was immediately admitted to a Sanitarium to recuperate for the next 18 months. As soon as he was given a clean bill of health, he married my mother, his childhood sweetheart. They had met when they were both 5 years old, and both died within 14 months of each other.
My father was a quiet, hardworking, intelligent and thoughtful man with a dry sense of humor. He was slight of form, but far stronger than many men larger than he. He had a quiet self-assurance and authority which earned the respect of both co-workers and loved ones. Like many men of his era, he had great difficulty voicing his deepest emotions. He was practical and unassuming - people immediately liked him for his sincerity, humor, and unpretentious ways. I remember only once seeing him cry, when he spoke of my mother (who was seriously ill at the time) and the possibility of her death.
Upon his death (November 19, 1979) not only family, but men who counted themselves as friends for over 30-40 years mourned his loss with us. I will remember my father as a quiet, hardworking, well-liked and respected man of uncompromising decency and loving husband and father.
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