Going to Battle: The Story of Delmar and Isabel Kelly

In November 2020 I did something for the very first time. I dropped by the cenotaph in Waverly to pay my respects to the people in my area who paid the ultimate sacrifice. This was something I had fully intended on doing for many years. But never did. I would even drive past it several times a year and barely even notice it was there. In the 45 years I’ve been driving I’ve likely driven past it several hundred times.

The cenotaph at Waverly is at a key location, as it is at the crossroads of four townships, Flos (now part of Springwater), Tiny, Tay and Medonte (now part of Oro-Medonte). The main monument lists the names of the lives lost during World War 1 (each side represents a township). There are 4 separate corner monuments. Each corner monument for a separate township of the lives lost in World War 2.

Amidst the constant background traffic noise of busy Highway 93, I lingered and audibly spoke each name engraved on this hard, solid rock. It took me awhile to go through the names from people from the area who died in World War 1, and World War 2 and the Korean War. There was a lot of names. It was extremely moving. It haunted me to think what their final thoughts of these brave men and women were before they took their last breath. These were real people who lived up and down these country sideroads, concession roads and small villages in these 4 townships. They were the ages my sons and daughters are now when they left this peaceful countryside (many were also much younger) They went off to war in distant lands in the belief that the values and beliefs enjoyed by Canadians were being threatened. Fathers, sons, daughters, sweethearts were killed in action. Others were wounded, and thousands who returned were forced to live the rest of their lives with the physical and mental scars of war. The people who stayed in Canada also served. Such as in factories or in voluntary service organizations. Wherever they were needed. My dad as a young teen took a train to the prairies to help the farmers whose own sons and daughters were overseas fighting. He was kept so busy; he never did get any high school education.

For those like myself who was born during peacetime, wars happening elsewhere seem far removed from our daily lives. I’ll read on the internet a journalist’s account of fighting in distant parts of the world. But I can’t fully comprehend what is happening. Fortunately, I have had opportunities to speak to people who have had connections with past wars. One of those people was Isabel Kelly, who faithfully attended the church I pastored in Hillsdale. Isabel passed away in 2018 at 93 years old. I had the honour of speaking at her funeral. Before that, I had so many wonderful visits in her kitchen over a period of 7 years. Through Isabel, I learned a very beautiful love story between her and her sweetheart Delmar.

She was 17 and he was 20.  They met in her hometown of Guelph where he was training for a flying officer.  With World War 2 underway there was this urgency to get more pilots trained and out into the skies. Delmar and Isabel made plans to get married in Guelph and had everything planned when Delmar received his orders to ship out to Vancouver.  Isabel followed him out and the two of them were married there.  Three weeks later Delmar was sent overseas to fight for our freedom. While the war raged on Isabel worked for a doctor in her hometown of Guelph.  The doctor was a medical officer for the Dutch army which sent men over to Canada at the facility in Guelph (currently the University of Guelph) to train for the war.

They were apart for three and a half years.  Isabel faithfully wrote letters to her new husband throughout the entire period.  Letters that would have kept him going through numerous dangerous missions with the RAF over three war fronts he flew in: North Africa, Burma and India.  These letters were so precious that none were ever thrown out right up to his death.  Delmar was shot down three times during World War 2. One was while taking off on a runaway in Ceylon. Another time he was shot down over the Sahara Desert near Cairo. Delmar was also shot down while   flying over the Indian Ocean out from Ceylon. He was shot down by the Japanese. There was no sign of him at all, and Isabel received that dreaded cable that her husband was missing in action.  Delmar had a new bride back in Canada, and he had that determination to survive.  For nine days he floated on a raft at the mercy of ocean storms and living with the fear that he would not be found.  Worse yet, the fear of being discovered by the Japanese and taken as a prisoner of war. Nine days after being shot down, Delmar was discovered on that raft by friendly forces. As well as his co-pilot, an Australian who was on a second raft.  For the remainder of their lives these two war heroes kept contact with each other. Shortly after Isabel received another cable that her husband had been found.  Delmar recovered in hospital before being sent home in early 1945.  He spent the last remaining months of the war as a liaison officer.

Delmar was one of over a million Canadians who bravely fought during World War 2. He passed away 27 years ago after around 53 years of marriage. Veteran Affairs Canada mentions that during times of war, individual acts of heroism (such as the heroism of Delmar Kelly) occurred quite frequently. But only a few of these stories are ever officially recorded and receive official recognition. For those who lost their lives fighting to protect our freedom (66,944 World War 1, 45,300 World War 2, 516 Korean War and 159 Afghanistan), their stories will never be heard. Having these acts of heroism written down as spoken from veterans or their loved ones is so important. So they will not be forgotten. Veteran Affairs Canada states as of March 2021. the average age of World War 2 veterans was 96. The window of opportunity to personally talk to a war veteran is getting slimmer by the day.

It brings me back to another battlefield where Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us all on the battlefield of Calvary. The Gospel writer John wrote in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lays down his life for his friends”. This is a verse that often appears on cenotaphs. Jesus gave His life not only for His friends, but also for His enemies, As God, Jesus had no need to experience human suffering, but He did it for our sakes. Mans’ evil, what we call sin has separated us from God. Jesus through dying on the cross reconciled man to God. This is a gift that we can receive simply by asking Christ to come into our lives. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God. Even to those who believe on His name”. John 1:12

This Remembrance Day we acknowledge with profound gratitude to the many men and women of our armed services, both past and present.  Their service and sacrifice have preserved the freedom we are privileged to enjoy both here in Canada and the many free countries throughout the world. Lest we forget!

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