Two great stories collide through one friendship
When Bob Stock and Rick Byce met via their pets at the Picton dog park a year and a half ago, neither of them knew how close a connection they were making. It wasn’t until further along in their friendship that they realized some amazing similarities about their fathers. They were both decorated war veterans and had earned their medals in similar fashions. Both served in WW2 and were decorated for leadership and bravery. Those are all striking similarities to have in a dad, but the amazing part of the connection had yet to be made. These two war heroes fought at the same battle, on the same field, within days of one another.
As new friendships go, you get to sharing a lot of information all at once. At the dog park one day, Rick mentioned that they were erecting a statue in honour of his father, Sgt. Charlie Byce in his hometown of Chapleau. Rick and his family are from the Fox Lake Reserve of the Chapleau Cree First Nation. This piqued Bob’s interest because his father grew up in Timmins, which is close to Chapleau. He was thinking of going back to see his own father’s medals, which were donated to the war museum there. If he did, he could go visit Sgt. Charlie Byce’s statue as well.
“I was very nervous in asking Rick if I could go see the memorial. It’s a very personal thing. But Rick was glad that I went.” Bob also wanted to see any transcripts or reports he had on his father, which Rick was happy to provide. It was combing over these documents where Bob realized that both his dad and Rick’s dad were decorated on the same field of battle within a week of one another. After the amazement ceased, he continued to read more about Rick’s father.
The official accounts as to how Sgt. Charlie Byce won the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) reads like script from a Hollywood movie. Sgt Byce takes control of his platoon after a brutal battle where three of their tanks are destroyed and all the officers are listed as casualties. Sgt. Byce takes the lead on every charge, defeating enemy strongholds and stopping a tank brigade. Then, when a retreat is needed for more ammunition, Byce takes up a sniper position and lays cover fire so that his platoon could retreat safely.
His actions saved more than a dozen of his company comrades.
His citation states, “The Magnificent courage and fighting spirit displayed by the NCO when faced with almost insuperable odds are beyond all praise. His Gallant stand, without adequate weapons and a bare handful of men against hopeless odds will remain, for all time, an outstanding example to all ranks of the regiment.”
Three days later at the same battle, Bob’s father, Major Robert Stock, won the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his part in an attack on a hill that hadn’t been taken yet. It was customary at the time for the enemies to break the dikes in the area, leaving the ground flooded and hard for tanks to manoeuvre. So, to ensure the success of the tanks on this mission, Major Stock tied a flashlight to his back and walked directly up the middle of the only road so the tanks could follow the narrow path. Once the hill was cleared, he was also able to provide valuable info for mortar and artillery fire from behind the lines. Major Stock was wounded in the battle, but refused to be evacuated until relief arrived.
Major Stock’s citation reads “The courage and initiative displayed by this officer undoubtedly enabled his battalion to seize the objective. His leadership and complete disregard for personal safety was an inspiration to all ranks under his command, and a steadying influence when enemy pressure was the heaviest.”
Amazing stories of bravery and leadership that happen at the same battle within days of each other. Two real war heroes. Then, decades later, their sons would randomly start a up a friendship in a dog park and make the connection. In another similarity, their dads never talked directly to them about their experiences in WW2. The information came from Bob and Rick doing research and checking facts.
“WW2 was a nasty business.” You won’t find many veterans who will talk openly about their experiences in combat,” says Rick, who has also served with the Royal Canadian Dragoons, the most senior cavalry regiment in Canada.
When asked how they celebrated Remembrance Day, the responses from these two friends were not the same.
“It’s a very personal day for me. I don’t attend any public memorials, but I watch the Ottawa service from home. It’s a day for reflection on many things, but it’s a private day for me,” says Rick.
Bob has a different way of looking at it, being heavily involved in both the Wellington and Picton Legions. “I’m right out there. It’s important to show your patriotism. I’m worried that the youth of today are not passionate enough about their history and what it was all about.”
Although they differ on how to spend Remembrance Day, Bob and Rick agree that it must have been fate that brought them together in the dog park that day. Rick recently donated a carving of his to the dog park, and it sits where the two friends met. When asked how often they meet at the park, they responded together.
“Well, weather depending,” jokes Bob.
RETURNING TO CHARLIE BYCE
Charlie Byce is the highest decorated aboriginal soldier in Canadian history, also earning the Médaille Militaire in the same year of battle. The DMC is the highest award under the Victoria Cross that a soldier can receive and there are arguments to be made that Byce may have been turned down for the distinguished award because of his native heritage. Charlie’s father, Harry Byce, was also a decorated WWI soldier, winning the same two awards as Charlie Byce, the DMC and the Médaille Militaire. They are the only father/son duo in the history of Canada to be awarded both medals.