Address by Johanna Flynn at the unveiling of a Blue Plaque to her great uncle, Edmund De Wind VC, in Comber, Co. Down, on 14 September 2007
Your Honour, Deputy Mayor Councilor Fletcher, Chairwoman Corcoran, Councilor McBriar, Members of the Ulster History Circle, honored guests, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. First of all I would like to thank you for having us here today. I would especially like to thank the Ulster History Circle, Chris Ryder, Pat Devlin, Ian McKeown, who knows how important our family is to us, the person who, thought to pass my name on when planning this event, and Dr. Barry and Dr. Mullan, who welcomed us with open arms when we visited last November. Finally I would like to thank Len Ball and Des Rainey, who have been so engrossed in Comber's history.
I have been thinking about how to contribute to this occasion about Edmund De Wind. Unless I am remarkably well preserved, it is obvious I never knew him. By the time I was born, Edmund was a part of family lore. But I did know his sister, Florence, who was my grandmother. They were both born and raised in Comber, so I thought that perhaps if I could describe some of her characteristics, I would also be able to describe something of Edmund DeWind.
My grandmother was kind and gentle. She was deeply religious. I remember her talking to me when I was six, about the Lord's Prayer in a way that I could understand. She believed that we should never go to bed angry. She had stories about the banshee. She once said of someone that he would "steal the cross off an ass' back" - it horrified my mother. What these remembrances tell me is that she was deeply rooted in her homeland and her community. I think Edmund would have been the same.
Her family loved music and the arts. My Nanna O played the organ like her father Arthur Hughes. Her sister, Alice, was an artist; some of her water colours are still around. They both loved to sail. Alice sang in the choir. So music would have been a big part of Edmund's life. Arthur Hughes was the choir master at St. Mary's and was good at math. He was a surveyor and chief engineer of the Belfast and County Down Railway. Music and math go together and both of these were a big part of the family. Edmund's brother Adrian was in business. The family story is that the two brothers went to Edmonton Alberta, Canada and went into banking. What would this tell us about Edmund? That he was no doubt well-rounded.
Edmund was the last of the children born in Comber. Five of his older siblings were born in Singapore and his father was probably Dutch - my Nanna O often talked about her large Dutch ears. As an adult, Edmund emigrated to Canada as did his sister, my grandmother and his brother Adrian. His other brother, Norman, went to the U.S. with his wife Ethel Andrews De Wind. Edmund would have had a larger world view. It is understandable then that he would have returned to Comber to serve his homeland and community. It would not only have been Comber, but the Netherlands that would have concerned him. His sister, Edith, served the country as a nurse.
My grandmother was brave. She braved the cold Alberta winters on the prairie in a granary converted to a homestead house. She talked about hearing wolves on the prairie, so this was not a family of shrinking violets. This family valued highly their duty to serve their country and defend it. Edmund's niece, my mother, Peggy, and his nephew, my uncle, Ted, served their country in WWII. Like Granny De Wind, my Nanna O' lost her Edmund.
So this brings me to what I can infer about Edmund De Wind. Len Ball and Des Rainey in their book, A Taste of Old Comber, ask "What sort of world had they given their lives for?" I believe they are referring to the Comber fallen in the war. My family recently visited the Somme Heritage Center. Not only there, but in so many communities, we have been struck by the rosters of so many people who gave their lives. Scores of thousands. And so many from Comber alone.
Edmund was deeply rooted in his community, he was brave; family and country were important enough to him. But a family is part of a larger community and it cannot thrive unless it shares and reflects that community's values. So while this man did an extraordinary act, it was an act that was rooted in his community of Comber. It is based on what we all share, that 120,000 or so shared at the Somme.
I wish that I could tell you more about Edmund De Wind. But in the end, I don't know that it matters. What matters is that this plaque along with the rosters and the Somme Heritage Centre reminds us of these individuals. So when I salute you as mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, it is in recognition that we are a world community and because of them we have this world that they gave their lives for.