Local man visits father’s grave for first time

Struchan Gilson was just two years old when his father was killed in World War II.
He knew little about Capt. Eric Louis Rawlinson Gilson, a 28-year-old British officer with the Worcester Regiment who was killed in action Oct. 16, 1944.
But last month, Gilson travelled to the small Italian village of Coriano where his father is buried, standing in front of his grave for the first time.
“My first reaction was that I was not sure what we were getting into,” Gilson admitted last week.
Capt. Gilson had been buried with 2,000 Commonwealth soldiers in the Coriano Ridge War Cemetery.
Through the generosity of his children, Eric, Garfield, and Rylee, Gilson and his wife, Pat, included the visit during a bus tour of Europe they took last month.
The two separated from their tour in Venice, rented a car, and drove to Coriano, a small community 300 km south of Venice near San Marino.
Gilson said he could never have been prepared for what he found.
“It was so well cared for and so looked after it was almost unbelievable,” he remarked. “I was blown away with the place.”
Rows of immaculate marble tombstones lined the cemetery, each carefully groomed with individual plants and flowers. The 2,000 white marble headstones each had a cross and regimental crest engraved on them.
“The orderly rows were in an almost garden-like setting of flowers and freshly-trimmed grass that is breathtaking in its beauty and tranquility,” Gilson later wrote of his experience.
Gilson and his wife approached men in the cemetery to ask for directions to plot number XVII, Row E, Grave 11, where his father was buried.
The older gentleman instructed a younger worker to lead the couple to the grave.
“[The worker] said to me that the [older] man was his father. He was a prisoner of war in WWII and was sent to South Africa,” Gilson explained.
“I said that I was two when my Dad was killed and he said, ‘War no good.’”
Gilson was overwhelmed by the experience of finally seeing where his father was buried.
“I know very little about him,” he said. “People who live through the war don’t often talk about it.
“I stayed there 20 minutes. I didn’t want to leave.”
Other aspects of the cemetery left lasting memories. Gilson noticed one stone that had no name.
“It said a solider known only unto God. I knew they had to exist but I had never actually seen it,” he recalled.
His wife also was struck by the ages of those buried as they walked down the rows reading the names.
“In most cemeteries, the people are 87 or 75 years old. Most people we saw there were under 30,” Gilson said. “My wife said there was a whole generation here who would never see their kids grow up or be grandparents.”
Gilson, a retired teacher who now serves on town council, stopped cold when he noticed two Canadian regiments in the rows of stones.
They were soldiers from the Princess Patricia Canadian Light Infantry and the Loyal Edmonton Regiment—the same regiments to which his oldest son, Eric, and his son-in-law, Richard, presently belong.
“It really made me think about war,” he said.
After an all too brief visit, the couple headed back to Venice.
“We left knowing that our war dead are not forgotten, even if they lie in a small cemetery in a faraway land,” Gilson wrote.