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Eugene Arthur Forward 1920-2008

Drawn by the promise of adventure, he became a paratrooper who took part in the invasion of Italy


 

Eugene Arthur Forward

Eugene Arthur Forward was born on Nov. 23, 1920, in Montreal, the ninth of 10 children to factory labourer Hugh Forward and his homemaker wife, Helen. The family lived a modest existence in south Montreal until Eugene was nine years old. That year, his father died and the family fell on hard times. In the midst of the Great Depression, Eugene quit school in the sixth grade, and began delivering groceries for two dollars a week, at age 11. Later, he worked as a carpenter’s assistant and finally, as an apprentice tool-and-die maker with the Marconi Co.

When Canada entered the Second World War, Eugene, like thousands of young Canadian men, was drawn by the promise of adventure and a bigger paycheque. He signed up with the Victoria Rifles of Canada in August 1940. In 1942, his life would change forever when he volunteered to join an elite, joint Canada-U.S. force of paratroopers. In Helena, Mont., the unit became known as the First Special Service Force, and trained in parachuting, mountain warfare and sabotage.

In 1943, the FSSF was sent to Italy, where the Allied invasion had bogged down in the mountains south of Rome. The Nazis were dug into fortified positions atop the mountains and were shredding Allied forces trying to advance up the valley below. The FSSF’s job was to climb the mountains and defeat the Germans dug in on top. The first such mission came on the night of Dec. 3, 1943, on the towering ridge of Monte La Defensa. The troops climbed the sheer cliffs silently, in darkness and a cold drizzle. At daybreak, they attacked and won the summit, but 82 men were killed, and hundreds were wounded. In the weeks ahead, the FSSF helped drive German infantry from one hill after another through the winter of 1943-44.

In January, Eugene was one of five men sent ahead to “locate the enemy” on Monte Majo. “When somebody started shooting at you, you knew you’d located the enemy,” Eugene explained to friends earlier this year. Near the top, Eugene suddenly found himself in a storm of machine gun fire. Three rounds slammed into his helmet, puncturing the steel. Metal shrapnel cut his forehead badly, but none of the bullets penetrated. Over the coming months, Eugene would survive being shot twice more—once in the back and once in the throat. But dozens of his close friends were not so lucky.

He was discharged from the army in May 1945, but life after the war was difficult. Back on the shop floor at Marconi, Eugene found the monotony and the pounding din of the machines impossible to take. He quit his job, and sank deeper into despair and drink. It was Margaret Hogg who pulled him out of it. “I had known her since school days and always liked her very, very much,” Eugene once recalled. They married in 1946. Eugene was working as a construction worker and there wasn’t much money. The two lived in a tiny cottage that hadn’t been winterized. Eugene carried scrap wood home each night for heat. At one point, he became so desperate he hatched a plan to rob banks. Margaret put a stop to the idea, telling him she wouldn’t sharea home with a thief. Eugene never mentioned it again.

Within a year of the wedding they welcomed their first child, Bruce. Their daughter Maureen was born the following year. She was severely mentally handicapped, but they were determined to make her a full part of the family. Bruce still remembers the joy in his parents’ eyes when Maureen took a few steps at the age of five. Eugene was a loving but tough father. He had finally built a home and a career, becoming a skilled builder and handyman, but he was haunted. He could never discuss the war. “For years I couldn’t even look at a war movie without crying like a baby,” he told friends.

In 1979, Eugene and Margaret, both heavy smokers, agreed to quit together. A month after smoking her last, Margaret was diagnosed with lung cancer and died within the year. Maureen had passed away a few years earlier, and Eugene found himself alone and depressed. He drank more, but only found real solace when he reached out to old friends from the FSSF, and began travelling to reunions and memorials. Slowly, Eugene found the ability to talk about those years, and the friends he lost.

In May, a group of 35 children and grandchildren of FSSF vets returned to the hills south of Rome to pay their respects to those who didn’t return, and Eugene was the lone veteran to make the trip. He returned to the foot of Defensa, and Majo and Sammucro—the places where he’d nearly been killed and lost so many friends—and told stories of the war. He confessed that he wasn’t feeling well, but he was glad he’d gone, to see what peace had done for the hell he left behind. Soon after returning home, he was diagnosed with liver cancer and kidney failure. “I’m not afraid to die,” he told the doctors. On Nov. 8, 2008, Eugene Forward passed away in hospital, two weeks shy of his 88th birthday.


 
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Eugene Arthur Forward 1920-2008

  1. Reading about the grit and determination Eugene Arthur Forward showed throughout his life quickens the spirit. In this endearing tribute, the historical and anecdotal accounts of his exploits portray an earnest man who was devoted to his family and his country. My only acquaintance with him came through stories related to me by his granddaughter Karen Forward. Her recollections depicted a steely yet tender, caring grandfather, whose rare character and personality would leave you with a smile on your face. I’m sure he will be sorely missed.

    • I Lived beside Gene for many years and until Bruce and I reconnected just a few weeks ago I never know that Gene had been in the war, as I remember Gene he was a kind and friendly person, very hard worker and loving person.

      If it weren’t for people like Gene we would not be living in a free and happy Country I can’t feel more sadness for Bruce and his family for losing his father in 2008

      I am happy to say that it was really great getting in touch with Bruce again after some 30 years, for the many times I have gone back home to Hudson I never ran in to Bruce so thankfully to this thing called cyber space we were able to reconnect

  2. I feel so fortunate to have been able to join Eugene and the others on our trip in Italy. His stories brought an insight into the vulgarities of war and the perils that he and many others of the FSSF endured. Through Eugene’s stories I was better able to understand things that shaped the man who was my father. Things my father never was able to relate to our family. Thank you Eugene.

  3. I had the honor of being in the company of Eugene in Italy last May. At times our light may grow a little dim but once in awhile it is rekindled by a special person.
    Eugene will no doubt be recieved with open arms by his comrades that have passed on before him.
    Gone but never forgotten

  4. I have known Eugene’s son Bruce for many, many years. It seems Bruce inherited his Father’s reticence to talk about life because, for all the years that I have known Bruce, he never once talked about his Father’s illustrious life. Bruce also has shown the same determination and humbleness that his Father possessed. As am amateur war historian I would have loved to know and meet his Father. Bruce and I have been able to enjoy the successes of life, and the rewards that come with those successes, only because of the sacrifices his Father, and men like him, made for us.
    I fear that the younger generation has lost touch with the cost these men paid for our freedom, and in some ways I find that very sad! I also feel it was my loss that I never got to know such an incredible person as Eugene, for, in my books he was a true hero, in every sense of the word. I do have a great sense of appreciation that not having being able to know Eugene, I have at least known his son for all these years. I guess I will have to beat Bruce for not letting me know about his Dad. It would have been a great honour to have known a man like Eugene and to have had the chance to thank him personally for all he gave me and the following generations. It is very difficult to comprehend what a human being like Eugene can go through and then come out the other side and still move on with life. It seems Eugene succeeded on all fronts because his son Bruce has also succeeded, making Eugene a great and brave fighter as well as a great Father.

    • first let me introduce myself.my name is catherine forward.Eaugene was my dads uncle.I never new this until i told my parents i wanted to do a family tree,and my mother sent me eaugenes obituary and told me about him.I guess it seems i have alot of family members i didnt no about(like bruce)I was so moved by the articles ive red about this man.I realy would like to learn more about my family.Would you please forward my letter to you to bruce?I would realy apreciate it.It would be so helpfull in my search for all my family.And by the way your article was awsome.I shure wish i could have known eugene,and would love to get to know bruce.

      • Hello Catherine,

        My name is Karen Forward I am Eugene Forward's Grand Daughter, Bruce's Daughter. I would also be very happy to know more about our family!

        Thank you for your message.

        Take care,

        Karen

        klf27@hotmail.com

  5. It was a great story that this online obituary website has dished. I really feel glad that i could know a person who was this valiant and still so simple. He had braved the tides of time and not only was he successful as a patriot but he had a great family life too. I admire the people who have put together this online memorial website.

  6. I did not know him but knew of him from his grand-daughter. I would have liked to have met him but the the opportunity did not arise. My father is from his generation and fought in some of the same actions in Europe. I and all of us owe a great debt of gratitude to this man and the others like him who lived their lives the best they could, and served the world to make it secure for the later generations. He will be in my thoughts and prayers.

  7. Karen: It would be great to speak with you again…

  8. I had the great honour to meet Eugene at the Helena reunion in 2006, and again in Ottawa in 2007… he had some wonderful stories and he served with my father, John Barnett (2-3)

  9. I had the honor to meet Eugene at the 60th FSSF Reunion in Helena. Eugene was a very kind man. Knowing that my dad was admitted into the hospital a few days before the Reunion and my dad was unable to attend Eugene knew it had to be serious. Eugene was very concerned for my dad’s health. They were both in touch for many years, talked on the phone. Eugene and I stayed in touch by mail. I am glad I was able to share photos of Eugene with his son Bruce and granddaughter Karen.

  10. I want to thank Karen for sending me the link to this page. It’s a great writeup. What impresses me the most, and some of you have already seen me post it, is the way family members and their descendants keep in touch with each other. Some of you may remember that I was one of the people responsible for bringing Ralph Mayville of 4-2 to the Washington reunion from Windsor, Ontario. With all the preparations and fundraising etc that went into his trip, he started calling me his ‘long lost son’. That’s quite an honour from my point of view because, without Ralph, I wouldn’t have been exposed to such weird and wonderful people that are members of such an elite family group. I only hope I can live up to that honour of being considered his long lost son. – Jon Straw

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