at the cemetery in Hautot-sur-mer, France,
on the 50th anniversary in 1992.
When James Chaney Palms showed up at the Essex Scottish Regiment's recruiting office to volunteer for the Second World War, they say he was wearing riding boots.
It might have been expected from an irrepressible young man who was the offspring of a prominent and wealthy family, likeable, well-educated and, as they say, well set-up. He was eager to enlist, although as an infantryman, he wouldn't spend any time on horseback.
The Windsor-based regiment, with a military tradition dating to the 18th century, had secretly started mobilizing Sept. 1, 1939, nine days before Canada declared war on Germany and its allies. Within 24 hours, Col. Art Pearson had 164 volunteers. In less than three weeks, enlistments totalled 27 officers and 812 other ranks, a full battalion for the Second Canadian Infantry Division.
Palms, called Jimmy by his friends, was deemed officer material, and he was duly commissioned as a lieutenant. It troubled absolutely no one that he wasn't from Windsor, nor even the outlying areas of Essex and Kent counties.
In fact, he wasn't even Canadian: He was from across the Detroit River, just one of many Americans who would train and serve with the Essex Scottish long before the U.S. entered the war.
Then there was Thomas H. Nichols, who lied about his age to enlist in Company A of the 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry on May 5, 1864, in Chesterfield, Mass.
One of the first of the Northern regiments raised during the Civil War, the 2nd Massachusetts became renowned for its discipline and reliability in every command in which it served, as part of Slocum's 12th Corps in the Army of the Potomac and under Sherman during the March to the Sea.
Nichols, who apparently never rose above the rank of private soldier, would be with the regiment in the campaign through Georgia, and was therefore with the first Union soldiers to enter Atlanta, Sept. 2, 1864. He likely saw action in places like Bentonville and Peach Tree Creek and Kenesaw Mountain. The battles were terrible, the carnage endless on both sides.
Nichols wasn't an American, and doubtless that troubled no one either. He was a farm boy from Pictou County, Nova Scotia, and just one of many from what would soon become Canada who fought in the Civil War.
* * *
The grave of James Chaney Palms isn't visited very often on Memorial Day, but it is frequently decorated with flowers, as are all those cemeteries maintained so immaculately around the world by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
He lies in a place called Hautot-sur-mer, France, where the dead rest head-to-head, German army fashion, since it was the Wehrmacht that buried the nearly 1,000 who were killed in the Dieppe Raid on Aug. 19, 1942; it is, to my knowledge, the only such arrangement in any cemetery where Canada's war dead are buried. His gravestone bears the traditional maple leaf of the Canadian Army, and under his name the inscription "OF U.S.A" appears above the name of his regiment.
Palms is with his comrades in the Essex Scottish, more than 100 of whom were killed that day in a frontal sea assault on a fortified coastal city. He died leading his men, a survivor told me, with scarcely a mark on his body, possibly from concussion, or possibly from a small shell fragment.
Nearby is Lieut. Percy Owen Lee -- a Canadian, and like Palms, a volunteer, as were all the rest. Lee was my cousin, killed by a mortar blast when trying to find a way to get his platoon over the seawall, through the barbed wire and into the city. Two soldiers of the king, forever young, amid so many others.
Thomas H. Nichols, on the other hand, long outlived the horrors of the Civil War. He died in 1937, in a fishing village called Wheatley on the Ontario shore of Lake Erie, far from his Nova Scotia farm home, far from the southern battlefields he somehow survived, far from his brothers in arms.
He was proud of his service to the cause, however, and his grave marker bears a depiction of his veteran's medal, a five-pointed star with "GAR" -- Grand Army of the Republic -- in the centre. Under his dates of birth and death is "Co. A 2nd MASS. VOL. INF".
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission doesn't maintain that cemetery, but it is well-tended nonetheless. Next to his grave is a white cross, erected by the local branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, which so honours every known area veteran of whatever conflict.
James Chaney Palms and Thomas H. Nichols stand for the tens of thousands of their countrymen over the last 175 years who fought in each other's armed forces, whether officially, as in the Devil's Brigade in the Second World War, or unofficially in regiments like the Essex Scottish or the Marines or the Air Cavalry or the 18th Battalion or ... the list is endless.
Our countries owe each other so much in so many ways. On this Memorial Day, at least one Canadian will be remembering Jimmy Palms and his riding boots, and all those other fine boys who came north over the years to answer the call.
And I think I'll pick some wildflowers -- the Fleurs of the Forest -- and spend a few moments with Thomas Nichols, who's buried a couple of miles away from where I write this, to honour all those fine boys who heard the same call ... and went south in answer.
Gravestone of Lieut. J.C. Palms at Hautot-sur-mer, France.
Grave marker of Thomas H. Nichols in Wheatley, Ontario.