The granddaughter of a Canadian war hero is back home after the experience of a lifetime in Scotland that began after reading an online article.
In advance of the 100th anniversary Passchendaele, the BBC put out a call looking for family members of Robert Shankland, a First World War hero who fought in the Battle of Passchendaele.
Shankland’s granddaughter, Janet Shankland-Huggins, answered the call and was invited to attend a commemorative unveiling in Shankland’s birthplace in Scotland.
Shankland, who emigrated to the Vancouver area in 1911, was already a war hero long before Passchendaele. He’d won the Distinguished Conduct Medal at the Battle of the Somme for leading a party of stretcher bearers under very heavy fire.
WATCH: Remembering the Canadian heroes of Passchendaele
A year later, after having lost three-quarters of his troops, he assembled who was left and stormed what he accurately predicted was a weak point in the German front near Passchendaele.
“He managed to take remnants of other battalions and bring them together and use that as an offensive on this portion that was unprotected by the Germans and was able to take the pillboxes on Bellevue Spur,” Shankland-Huggins said.
Shankland was shot three separate times. One of the bullets hit a metal box of fudge he carried.
A second time a bullet struck a cigarette case he was carrying.
“It was just luck,” she said.
WATCH: Canadians set to mark 100 years since victory at Passchendaele
Shankland was awarded the prestigious Victoria Cross.
In the 90s, the family heard one of Canada’s famed Group of Seven artists had painted a portrait of Shankland. They found it in storage in Ottawa and were allowed one print of it, the only one in existence.
“It’s important to me because there are photos of my grandfather around, but this portrait captures what I remember,” grandson Mark Shankland said.
Following the BBC invite, Shankland-Huggins travelled to her grandfather’s birthplace of Ayr, Scotland for a commemorative ceremony.
“I heard the pipes, and every time I hear them I get emotional and it was like he was there,” she said through tears.
She believes that remembering veterans like her grandfather has never been more important than it is now.
“It’s more important than ever that we do respect… what these men and women sacrificed with their lives, for us to be able to do what we want.”
– With files from Ted Cherneck