Two Drumheller area women were taken on a trip overseas, back into significant history and right into the footsteps of their father where he served during the Second World War.
77-year-old twins Joy McKee and Joan Snyder’s father Frederick Bermingham served in the Second World War. They were five months old when he went overseas and were five years old when he returned. While they knew their father served, they had the opportunity to see firsthand where he stood on the battlefield, thanks to the History Channel’s War Junk television show.
“I called it a reality adventure on a mysterious quest,” chuckles Joan.
In June Joan received a phone call from Wayne Abbott, the host of War Junk. They were skeptical, especially when they were told they were supposed to be in Amsterdam in two days.
“Why the big rush?” said Joan. “I was dragging my feet.”
He asked whether they were the daughters of Fred Bermingham, something that seemed very personal.
“He said ‘through our research department and information we have been given, we have discovered an artifact that we have traced back to your dad at the time of the Second World War, and we would like to fly you to Amsterdam,’” said Joan.
The sisters were told the show would pay the airfare for two people, preferably Joan and her sister Joy.
“David O’Keefe (historian) had dad’s war records that had been released from the Department of Defense,” said Joy, “so they had the actual printed history of our dad’s war years.”
Frederick Bermingham went into active service on May 8, 1940. He served all over the European theater; at the Beaches of Normandy and in Germany, Belgium and Holland. He was appointed second in command of the Canadian Anti-Tank Regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery. He was well versed with mapping and also an expert in military law.
“A military man he was almost born to be, but it wasn’t what he wanted as a final career. He wanted to do his service,” said Joan.
After a few more phone calls, some emails back and forth, as well as consulting with family, they felt comfortable enough to take the risk.
“We had about 36 hours to decide and they kept phoning. Finally the clincher, as far as I was concerned, was he said ‘you will walk in your dad’s footsteps and stand where your dad stood,’” said Joan. “We have to do this for our dad.’”
Joy was on board with the plans and on June 10 they were on a direct flight to Amsterdam.
They stayed in Nijmegen in the Netherlands. They were familiar with this community, as their father had billeted there during the war. They walked on the same streets as their father.
“He got to know some of the Dutch families very well, and even today still the Dutch are so grateful to the Canadians,” said Joan.
They also visited the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek.
Nijmegen was not their final destination however as they clamored into a Land Rover and headed towards the Reichswald Forest in Germany with the hosts and television crews in tow, as well as a young man.
The young man was named Joey Lahman, who was the one who unearthed the artifact that was eventually linked to Birmingham. An amateur historian, he spent many days exploring the battlefield, which have since been reclaimed by lush forests.
“If it hadn’t been for him this never would have happened,” said Joy. “He was just as thrilled and as overwhelmed as we were.”
They eventually arrived in a nondescript part of the forest where they followed the young man into the dense forest. While the years of growth had reclaimed the forest, the ground was still scarred from ordnance and rifle shells and other war junk was easily seen. They even climbed into a decaying German bunker still on the battlefield 70 years later. They eventually stopped and Joey produced an item from his backpack.
“We stood right in the place where our dad stood in that battle,” said Joan. “It was emotional but it wasn’t as painful as if we had lost him there.”
While the twins are not able to reveal the gift they received until the show airs, it was a powerful experience.
“The hugs and the tears as we exchanged the gifts, it was like we were part of his family and he was part of our family at this time,” said Joan.
Initially, they were told the artifact would be donated to a museum, but when it was clear how special it was to the family and that it was in good hands, they turned it over to the sisters.
The sisters have written down their experience of receiving the gift, as well as memories of their father. These will accompany the artifact they were given, keeping the memory alive in the family.
In 5 or 10 decades from now…this will still mean something to them as it does to us now,” said Joan. “Words get lost in time, but the printed word can travel with the item to whomever the family member is that takes care of it.”
For the two it is hard to sum up the experience in words.
“It was very emotional. Right from the beginning, just being where dad had been, never ever dreaming of going there or being there, and then just out of the blue we were there,” said Joy. “The emotion was paramount… it was an overwhelming adventure.”
“Overwhelming feeling of thankful gratitude for this young man Joey, was a good part of our feelings,” said Joan. “We shared together in the physical presence of our dad at this site. It was like he had not died, he was there with us.”
The episode featuring Joy and Joan will air tomorrow, November 10 on History Channel.