Raising funds for Miami cenotaph renovations

Pat Gibson holds a photo of her uncle, Flight Sergeant David Smith Urquhart, at a fundraiser for the Miami Veteran’s Cenotaph Park on Feb. 3. (LAUREN MACGILL, Morden Times)

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A local committee is raising funds to renovate and improve its war memorial and park.

The Miami Parks Board held the first of their fundraisers for the Veterans’ Cenotaph Park on Feb. 3.

Heather Imrie of the Parks Board said they want to put in a retaining wall, reinstall an iron fence around the park and add some trees. “The lawn has sunk over the years,” she said. “The trees have gotten old over the years and they’ve died, and we need to add some beauty to the park again.”

The Parks Board also wants to put up seven plaques to depict the other wars and conflicts that the Canadian Army has been involved in.

“There are residents of our municipality who have been in all of these armed conflicts, including the Korean War and Afghanistan after the Second World War,” Imrie said. “We’re hoping to educate the public.”

Imrie said the board wants to enlist Miami students to get some artwork for the plaques and in turn, educate them on the conflicts. “When we get the kids involved, they have a lot invested,” she said. “They’re proud of it too.”

The renovations are estimated to cost around $50,000. The Parks Board will also be holding a paint afternoon at Miami United Church on March 9 to raise more funds.

Some donations have already come in, and all proceeds from the events will go toward the park renovations.

“There’s a lot of support for something like this,” Imrie said. “It’s dear to a lot of people’s hearts.”

At the fundraiser, Morden resident Pat Gibson spoke about her trip to France in 2016 to honour her uncle Flight Sergeant David Smith Urquhart, who died in WWII.

Urquhart was born on his family farm just north of Roland, where he went to school and worked.

Urquhart, dog tag number R119R542, enlisted in the Canadian Army July 14, 1941 in Winnipeg. “He was offered the job of training recruits as a phys ed instructor but said, ‘I came here to fight. I want to fight for my country,’” Gibson said. “And so he did.”

Eventually Urquhart was posted to the No. 425 Alouette Bomber Squadron. On Dec. 6 1942 Urquhart and his squad were assigned to a bombing mission over Germany. Their last transmission came in just after midnight on Dec. 7, and the crew was never seen again.

“Instruments lost, low on fuel. Can you give us a ping or a heading to aim for?” their last message read.

Urquhart was 21 years old.

His family was left to wonder for many years what had happened to him, until Legion members from Langonnet France reached out to Gibson with news that Urquhart’s plane had been found.

The weather was so foul that night that the bombing mission was cancelled, but it is assumed that while turning over the English Channel the crew realized they wouldn’t make it back and ejected into the frigid water, thinking they were over land.

The plane crashed in the countryside and was lost to time until a farmer started clearing the field in 2014 and the plane was discovered. Gibson received an email from a man claiming to know her uncle.

“I did not answer him, as I thought it was one of those schemes,” she said. “You know, I’ll get a million if I send a thousand, so I didn’t answer it. They didn’t give up.”

The next email went to the Roland Historical Society, and after a correspondence Gibson and her family were invited to France.

“We were welcomed like royalty, and I do mean royalty,” she said.

Gibson and her family took part in an unveiling ceremony, and were able to visit the crash site of Urquhart’s plane. At the ceremony, Gibson thanked volunteers (in French) from the legion who helped find out what happened to her uncle.

“I simply said, ‘My grandma wondered all her life what had happened to her son, and you, the many volunteers who have worked tirelessly in your research, have made it possible to answer that question,’” she said. “‘Merci, merci, merci.’”

While in France, Gibson and her family also visited sites like Juno Beach, Dieppe and the Canadian war cemetery Beny-sur-Mer, where there are around 2,000 Canadian soldiers buried.

At the fundraiser, Brian and Glenn Duncan provided music from the Second World War era.
Donations to the park are also accepted through the R.M. of Thompson office in Miami where donors can receive receipts for income tax purposes.