Source: Per record of promotion of Corporal Richard Neath to Sergeant. See service record of same, reg. no. 409316.
The secret to family health and harmony is sharing history
Thursday, April 4, 2013
My grandfather had a dark, Dickensian childhood, and a life pockmarked by tragedy and heartbreak.
Henry (Harry) William Juniper was born on Aug. 28, 1892, in Little Sampford, Essex, U.K.
His mother died soon after (cause unknown) and his father, Willie Beniah, a journeyman bricklayer, was eventually forced by life-circumstances to send Harry’s sister Louisa to live with relatives and then he took his sons — Arthur and Harry — and entered the Saffron Waldon Workhouse.
Details are sketchy. In that era, ‘workhouse’ was a term used to describe a poorhouse or a correctional house for people found guilty of minor law violations.
Regardless, four days after bringing his sons into the workhouse, Willie died at age 33 (again, cause unknown), orphaning nine-year-old Arthur and seven-year-old Harry.
You know, I’ve always believed it is important that my kids know Harry’s story — so they are aware of their roots, and because it’s impossible as a parent to refrain from reminding our offspring (typically at inappropriate moments) of just how good they have it.
Alas, it turns out, there are even more reasons to give kids lessons in family lore.
A recent article in a New York newspaper asserted, “the most important thing you can do for your family is develop a strong family narrative.”
Or, as author Bruce Feiler summarized his research: “If you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.”
So, buckle up kids, here goes: Six months after the death of their father, the young Juniper brothers were sent to live at Kingham Hill School, Oxford, where Harry remained until he turned 15, at which point he was sent to London to work at the London and Paris Optic and Clock Company.
From there, still under the direction of Kingham Hill, the 20-year-old emigrated to Canada to a farm north of Woodstock, Ont., to be trained in Canadian farming methods.
His training was truncated by the call of duty and years spent in uniform. When the First World War ended, he was awarded a medal for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in (the) front of Passchendaele on Nov. 9, 1917 (for displaying) great courage and initiative in the leadership of his section.
“Twice during the day his section of trench was destroyed by enemy shellfire and each time he reconsolidated the position and maintained his connection with his platoon commander. His personal example and fearlessness maintained the courage and spirit of the men around him.”
Like many war vets, Harry was reticent regarding the hell he had endured in the bloody deathtrap trenches. He returned to Woodstock, married and had two children. And then his wife died suddenly at age 29 of pneumonia and Harry was left alone to raise two young children, one of those being my father.
Harry’s life is an important part of our family narrative. I consider this narrative and how it enriched us all, and I realize that his life certainly gave us that essential thing that is so easily lost in the hubbub of day-to-day living — it’s called perspective.