Welcome everyone to my blog, The Eason Clan. For those of you who are reading my blog for the first time, I am glad you are here. For those who have followed and read my blog from day one, thank you.
This is part one of a three part series. Each post I will be writing about a man who has influenced my life. Everyone has a different skill but yet all equal in my eyes for their unique abilities.
First we start with my grandfather, Francis “Frank” Marshall, the man who inspired and sowed within me my passion for military history and my love for building World War Two models. We will look at his wood working creations, a snapshot of his experience as a soldier, and how these two blend together.
This one is for you, my hero.
Growing up I would usually spend a few weeks of summer holidays in Corner Brook with my family. I remember playing in the yard at my Grandfather Marshall’s house off Valley Road, just up the road from the Pulp and Paper Mill where my grandfather worked until he retired. With my plastic army men and action figures, I would have epic battles on the lawn and any other surface that I imagined could be a battlefield. My favourite place in particular though was playing by Pop’s wooden lighthouses.
I would set my soldiers along the railings of the largest lighthouse (towering at 5ft high compared to my 4ft) as I flew in air support with my green mini jets. Somehow they’d carry army men (the size of the jets themselves) onto the platform. Yup, those were the good ol days.
Not only did Pop make lighthouses but he also made furniture like a coffee table, outdoor chairs and I’m sure items I’ve never seen. However his custom birdhouses were one of my favourites.
Different shapes and sizes, some traditional looking houses and others uniquely crafted, with bright colour, very cheerful looking. The best one (from my opinion) was the Bird House Hotel. A massive combination of birdhouses, attached onto a long platform, stretching about five feet long and a few feet high. I thought it was the ultimate army man base!
It’s funny though, as a child I never fully appreciated the work that my grandfather put into his wooden creations. Maybe because as a child life is seen through simpler lenses, and I couldn’t imagine the hours it took to create what he did. That all changed when I started building scale models as a young adult.
My own crafting passion
I enjoy making tanks, ships, planes and sceneries (dioramas). As I sit at my workbench, my imagination begins to take off as I cut away, sand and glue model parts together. It’s very relaxing and I feel a sense of accomplishment after each model.
I’ve created land and ocean dioramas, fastening my warships to sea, depicted as I see them. For my British Battleship HMS Warspite model, she sails on a deep and foreboding blue ocean, like the unforgiving Atlantic. While my German “Pocket” Battleship, the Admiral Graf Spee, glides across the waves of the South Atlantic ocean leaving a clear blue trail behind her.
Pop Marshall inspired my love for creating things. But who/what inspired his passion for wood working? I have my own personal theory, so let’s explore it by looking at only a fraction of his experience, as a soldier, in the Second World War.
The Soldier of the “Fighting 59th”
I am not a soldier. I’ve never been one and I am so thankful for those who have served and are serving our country. So my short depiction of a few events during my grandfathers time as a Gunner in World War Two is based on his own account that I have recorded and it is collaborated with the excellent book, “More of the Fighting Newfoundlanders” by G.W. L Nicholson. This next section is neither fiction nor exaggerated. It is a collection of these two excellent sources.
July 6, 1944
The British 59th Newfoundland Heavy Regiment, Royal Artillery land ashore in Normandy and make their way inland with the British Second Army. One month after D-Day (the largest amphibious landing in history) the young men from Newfoundland begin to engage the German armies of the Third Reich. Within a few weeks they are fighting intense and bitter battles as the Allied armies push further into France against strong German resistance.
A typical deployment for battle:
The 59th Newfoundland Heavy Regiment prepare for action, they manhandle their 155mm Long Tom artillery guns and 7.2 howitzers into position. This was no small feat mind you as the Long Tom weighed 36,000 pounds with a length of 36 feet and standing erect at 8 feet 2 inches. As the gunners of the 20th battery (comprised of four Long Tom artillery guns) would position their guns, they would stockpile ninety-five pound shells, dig down into the earth for the gun to sit in, and receive firing coordinates from observation posts close to the front lines.
Very laborious and very strenuous work.
Then with the sounds like thunder claps, the Long Toms of the 20th and 23rd batteries roar into action, lobbing high explosive shells up to 23 km’s away.
*The same distance that Conception Bay South is from St. John’s.*
I can’t imagine the feeling those young men must have felt. As each shell fired, the concussion from the gunpowder would make your insides shake and teeth rattle. Truly amazing and frightening at the same time.
“Say your prayers…”
My grandfather told me a story how the German Luftwaffe (airforce) targeted them specifically. One night in the later months of 1944, German fighter and bomber planes flew over the tree tops, dropping flares on the regiment, lighting up their position. With the area illuminated, the Germans rained down bombs from the sky, slamming into the earth and flinging plumes of dirt, rock and debris into the air.
On the ground my grandfather was huddled in a slit trench alongside another Newfoundlander, Bill Fitzgerald, for protection from the explosions. During the bombardment a bomb from a German plane overhead raced down towards their trench. Bill Fitzgerald or “Bill Fit” (as my grandfather called him) turned to Pop and said “This is it, say your prayers.” The bomb missed their position, detonating a short distance away.
If it hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t be here writing this blog.
Inspiring future generations
Now picture a man, battle hardened after five years of military service, with the latter year full active combat-July 1944 till May 1945- hunched over a piece of wood years later, creating miniature railings with the greatest of care.
A couple of years ago as I was hunched over a model ship that I was building in my basement, I glanced over at Pop’s lighthouse (my mother received it after Pop died in 2008). It brought me back to the days as a child playing in Pop’s yard. This time however I stared at it’s form and admired it in a different way.
I was amazed at the precision and quality of his workmanship.
Each piece of wood was cut to perfection. On the platform there is a ring of miniature posts for the railing, each cut exactly at the right height, with two tiny holes through each one, with two metal wires going around the platform in a circle. I pictured Pop slowly drilling into the dowels so as to not spilt it, repeating the same steps over and over again.
It was then realized something. Pop was very a precise and particular person. It showed in his work. He also must have found it relaxing. Who on earth would go into such detail with something, on their own free time, if they never took pleasure in their hobby?
Maybe it was an escape from the pressures of being a father and sole provider for his family? Or possibly it was his way of forgetting the scenes from the war in which he had fought.
Regardless, he has influenced me. If he ever thought that would happen, I do not know.
However his legacy of crafting lives on. Not just in the things he made, but now as I sit on my bench I am joined by another future craftsman. My oldest son, Benaiah.
For that, I am thankful for my hero, Francis “Frank” Marshall. 1918-2008