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Pearson Remembers POWS With Quilt

By Gisele McKnight

Kings County Record - Nov 04

 

Sussex –Some men never come home from war. And while Bliss Cole did return to his family he was forced to leave his father, Elmer, behind. The Royal Rifles of Canada member died in a prisoner of war camp in Hong Kong 18 months before the war ended there.

This week, Elmer Cole sacrifice, and the sacrifice of many others who served with him, is being remembered in unique form.

Elmer’s daughter, Verna Pearson of Sussex, has created a memory quilt of photos of Hong Kong POWs, including her father and her brother, Bliss, who now lives in Saint John. The men on the quilt were member of the Royal Rifles and the Winnipeg Grenadiers Local POWs featured on the quilt, now deceased, include Murray Brown of Norton, and Maurice McCarron and Murray Carr of Sussex.

Pearson gathered the photos from the Kings County Record, family members and even Royal Canadian Legions. Some are of the men when they joined the war effort, others were taken when they were released from the prison camps, and at least a dozen are recent photos of the veterans during their September 2003 reunion held in Florenceville. She had each photo made into a print, transformed into an iron-on transfer and finally converted into quilt blocks.

"It’s been a labour of love," she said. "As far as I’m concerned, this is for Dad. I couldn’t do anything for him when he was over there."

This is the third commemorative quilt Pearson has stitched for her group. She began in 2002.

"When I took over the membership (of the Atlantic chapter) I wanted to do something to raise money, so that’s when I came up with the idea of a quilt."

The first one had likenesses of crests, flags and torch pins of the Hong Kong POWs. After raising $ 1,100, she decided to do another the next year. The second one featured photos of the veterans with their families, and it raised over $ 1,200 for the association.

Both quilts have been won by relatives of POW’s.

This year, ticket sales have already surpassed $ 1,200, so the group will have the funds to purchase cenotaph wreathes, books on the POW experience to donate to high schools and flowers for veterans and their spouses who pass away.

Pearson was only a girl of 11 when her father, a First World War veteran, joined the Second World War. Her brother, Bliss wanted to join but, "Dad said no and Mom said no."

It was later, before her father was shipped overseas, that Elmer got a phone call, which Pearson recounts here.

"Do you have a son named Bliss?" the caller asked.

"What’s he trying to do, join up?" was Elmer’s reply.

Elmer Left the decision with his wife and she made Bliss then 17, make two promises. 

"She told him he had to promise not to drink and to come home," said Pearson. "He kept those promises."

Both father and son were captured in 1941 after they landed in the Pacific. Their equipment and supplies left Canada three days after they had, and the soldiers were virtually defenceless against the waiting Japanese.

It was pneumonia that took Elmer’s life in the spring of 1944.

"Bliss was with Dad when he died," said Verna. "It was terrible."

If not for a rare act of human kindness, Bliss might have joined his father.

"Bliss said after Dad died, he didn’t care. He sort of gave up," said Pearson. "But a Japanese officer took him to his office and talked to him."

It was there that Bliss was reminded of the impact his won death might have on his family.

"The man said, ‘Look, you have a mother at home and brothers and sisters. It will be hard enough for her to lose her husband. How can she take losing a son too?"’

It is the tie to her father’s experiences that keeps her working to preserve the memory of Elmer and other soldiers who endured such hardship during the war.

Working within the association and making a few quilts are the least she can do. This time around, two friends came to help and the actual quilting was completed in less than a week. Her husband, Ken, plays a role during the projects, setting up the quilt frames, threading needles and getting the meals.

Person found the iron-on transfers particularly difficult to work with, due to their thickness, and by the end of the quilting, she had poked holes in her fingernails. Nevertheless she realizes the historical significance of what she has created.

"It’s hard to part with, but it’s not a quilt that would be put on a bed," said Pearson. "If a member of our family wins it, they will donate it to a military museum in New Richmond, Que."

Pearson believes this is her last quilt project of this magnitude but she doesn’t discount the possibility of an historical wall hanging in the future.