Louise Marten and her sister, Patricia Morris, changed my life. Bold statement. True, though. More on those two in a minute.
I’m named after a Second World War pilot. J. Grant Fleming, my father’s first cousin, was a squadron leader for the R.A.F. In September 1944, a Messerschmitt chased his Mosquito and gunned it down, killing Grant and his navigator, Harold Clark (whose story I recounted to readers late last year).
By many measures, in the minds of many, Grant was a hero. His deeds and exploits were harrowing and extraordinary. He earned a Distinguished Flying Cross. I don’t have room in this space to dive deep. (Google a book called “Grounded in Eire,” by Ralph Keefer.)
A year ago around this time, I got serious about looking into the life and death of Grant. I unearthed good stuff (archive materials, online chat groups, the Keefer book, etc.). But the big break came a few months later. Enter Patricia and her sister, Louise.
A document I’d dug up led me to the Morris family. At first, my efforts to figure out a connection was like cracking a wartime code. I kept at it. I found a phone number for a “Patricia Morris.” She’s a Montreal-based artist. (Stratford content alert: she’s a big fan of a musician friend of mine who lives just outside my city.) My cold call to her was, well, incredible. (“We had no idea Grant had relatives!”) She told me that her uncle, Douglas, was Grant’s best friend. The young Albertans crossed the ocean by ship and signed up together. Doug was shot down in May 1940, during the Blitzkrieg. He was 23. He, too, was a true hero.
Then Pat said, “Call my sister Louise. She’s the family historian. She has loads of stuff on Grant. She lives in Henley-on-Thames.” I did. Oh, my.
Last October, Louise and her partner, Stephen, hosted me at their lovely home in Henley. She shared photos, showed me Grant’s wartime wristwatch, and much else. The three of us hiked and drove around Oxfordshire. I loved every second.
A month later, I met up with the Morris sisters in Montreal. Louise had flown in to visit their mother. (Pat and I attended a Loreena McKennitt concert together, at Place des Arts.) A few weeks later, Pat and her family visited us in Stratford. We reminisced at Revel Caffe before they headed out to see a musical.
Jacques and I were supposed to go to Henley last month. On the agenda: more talks about Grant and Doug, more walks, probably a pint of beer (or glass of bog gin) to toast Louise’s upcoming 60th. Best laid plans, eh? (Speaking of which, Henley and Stratford are both hurting these days. Covid closed our world-famous theatre festival, and did the same to Henley’s famed rowing regatta.)
Today marks the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Tomorrow is Louise’s 60th. These days, Steve and she have their son, Benjamin, sheltered at home. Benjamin the Tarantino Aspirant and I joined forces for this very special “From a Distance” session.