Tag Archives: Veterans Day

Miraculous acknowledgment of WWI ancestor on 11/11

A commemorative coin I picked up in Saltcoats, Scotland, 2019

It’s 11/11, Veterans Day in the United States. For many New Agers, seeing all ones on the calendar or clock has an angelic meaning, especially at 11:11 on 11/11. In fact, I just happened to be awake at 1:11 this morning and took a screen shot on my phone. Today, however, I’m reminded of something that happened over a hundred years ago — the celebration of Armistice Day and the end of WWI — and I’ve got a marvelous story to tell about synchronicity and an honored ancestor.

My mom’s paternal ancestry is wholly Scottish and her grandmother Helen’s little brother, Buchan Littlejohn, was my second great uncle. Helen raised Buchan and her four younger siblings after their mother died when Helen was fourteen and Buchan was four.

Kilmarnock Standard, November 4, 1916

Buchan joined the Royal Scots Fusiliers shortly after WWI was declared. He was sent as a Private to France and was almost immediately wounded, and sent home in July 1915. He spent eight months convalescing before being sent back to France in March 1916 as a Lance Corporal. He was killed in an attack on Bayonet Trench, during the Battle of Le Transloy at the Somme, October 12, 1916 and eventually buried at the A.I.F. Burial Ground in France.

As both parents had died by that time, Helen was listed as his next of kin on his military records. The military dispersed Buchan’s belongings to her and their other siblings.

WWI Monument, Dreghorn Scotland

When my husband, brother and I visited Scotland last summer, we made a special point of digging up as much information on Buchan as we could find. As there was no local grave to visit, we climbed a steep hill in Dreghorn to find this monument with Buchan’s name on it. He’s listed here with other young men from the area who were killed in the “Great War”. He was only 22.

Short of taking a trip to France to visit his grave, I thought that was the end of the information I could find about my great-grandma’s baby brother. I was wrong.

A few months ago, I found a message in my Ancestry.com inbox from someone named Rita, asking if anyone in my family had ever lived in Tacoma, Washington. She and her husband Roger had found something on their property there, when building their house fifty years ago, and had always wondered how it got there. With the advancements in technology since then, she was finally able to make a real effort to track it down.

What they had found was a Next of Kin Memorial Plaque (also known as a Dead Man’s Penny) with Buchan’s name on it. While this made me tingle with excitement, I had no idea how it could have gotten all the way to the far west coast of the United States.

Helen and her family emigrated to Utah in the early 1920s. She would have received the plaque, as next of kin, in 1919 when they were awarded by King George. She would have brought it with her to Utah, where they settled in the coal mining town of Castle Gate, Carbon County, where three of her older brothers lived and had risen in rank to be foremen and supervisors at various mines in Carbon County.

Helen died shortly after arriving in the States, at the tragically young age of 39. Her husband died six months later, leaving their kids orphaned. Their children all eventually ended up in Michigan. None ever lived in Washington state.

Rita and I corresponded for months, trying to solve the mystery. I chased down all sorts of loose threads on Ancestry.com. Some brought me to Washington state, as a few descendants of Helen’s brothers went west, but no one ended up in Tacoma.

Finally, a breakthrough happened when Ancestry popped up one of their famous “green leaf” hints. I discovered that Helen’s oldest brother’s daughter eventually settled in Tacoma, just a couple miles from Rita’s house. This brother, as head of the family in the US, must have assumed ownership of the plaque after the deaths of Helen and her husband. Helen’s niece, I assume, took possession of the plaque after her father died.

That’s as far as my search took me … just a few short miles away from Rita’s property. Further digging, though, showed me that the niece divorced and remarried. Her new husband just happened to own the property adjacent to Rita and Roger’s new land but because the niece took on her husband’s name, and no longer lived there, there was no way to connect the last name “Littlejohn” to anyone there.

As the niece had no children, the ancestral lineage stopped there. Rita, who has become a good friend, kindly and generously sent the plaque to me, and it hangs in a place of honor in my home.

It may have been my imagination, but the first time I held the plaque in my hands, knowing that it belonged to my great-grandmother — the only one of my great-grandparents I have no picture of — I swear I felt a ripple in time as I ran my fingers over Buchan’s engraved name. I’m quite sure Grandma Helen did the exact same thing, at least once.

Thank you, Rita and Roger, for helping to close the circle and bring Buchan’s memorial plaque back into the family, where he is still remembered and honored.

In loving memory of Buchan Littlejohn, 1894-1916, Lance Corporal – Machine Gun Squadron, Royal Scots Fusiliers

Lisa Bonnice is an award-winning, best-selling author. Her current passion-project is a series of metaphysical comedy novels. The first is entitled The Poppet Master (previously published as Be Careful What You Witch For!, now revamped and with a new ending). The Poppet Master is a modern-day fairy tale about Lola Garnett, a bored housewife and office drone who wakes up with unexpected psychic abilities, and no instruction manual, and Twink, the reluctant, sarcastic faery assigned to assist and educate her. The Poppet Master is available wherever books are sold. Its sequel is in the works.

Lisa is also writing The Maxwell Curse, a fictionalized version of a story she found in her own ancestral lineage about a witch trial, a generational curse, and massive mine explosion, all of which left ripples of destruction in their wake, devastating one family’s tree.


Zen and the Art of Veteran’s Day

This morning I wrote this in my diary:

I’m still pondering the ‘Who am I, really?’ question, but I’m having a hard time allowing myself to relax into the exploration because it feels so self-indulgent: ‘Well, tra la la! Look who gets to just sit around contemplating her navel when people are dying from hunger or being tortured by evil government regimes!’

However, as long as I have the luxury to do so, I will contemplate my navel without guilt. In the meantime, I intend that I pray for those who are suffering. I grok that this is the truest sense of putting on my oxygen mask first, before helping fellow passengers.

At the same time my daughter Kristina, who served in the Air Force and is married to an Air Force retiree, was posting this on her Facebook page:

I AM A VETERAN. I’m going to share something on behalf of SOME of them.

Please, instead of posting a status that thanks veterans, post something positive in your life. Please focus on your blessings that the freedom we fought for afforded you. You are free to be and do pretty much whatever, so please don’t use that freedom to complain about what isn’t good. I assure you, somewhere in the world what isn’t good to you is AMAZING to someone else.

That is what a lot of veterans KNOW. They have been to third world countries and seen the truth. They know that the poor in America have it better than the rich in other countries. It’s hard to see what freedom is allowing people to become when you’ve given your time and effort and sometimes mental health all for the benefit of those who won’t take one weekend to volunteer to read to children at an underprivileged school; to volunteer to raise money for elderly who are on fixed incomes; to volunteer to spend time with the elderly who are lonely; to volunteer to clean up local parks so kids can play without picking up the used condoms or syringes in the sand; to volunteer to be kind to someone else in traffic and let them in front of you.

So if you could take the time to thank a veteran, please post what you are thanking them for. Then please volunteer at least ONCE to make their sacrifice worth it. Seeing that the freedom we fought for goes toward bragging about the money you make and your “status” in the form of displaying your Louis Vuitton bags and other name brand items isn’t exactly what most of us had in mind.

I think most of us gave (or still give) for this country for your freedom to be yourself and to accomplish your dreams not to accomplish a nightmare. Please don’t thank a veteran if you are accomplishing/perpetuating a nightmare. I assure you, that isn’t what they did it for.

Not only do I think she makes an excellent point, I love how it ties in directly with what I was writing at the exact same time. While I abhor the fact that most war is a futile waste of life, caused by people who will never suffer like those who fight for them, I do appreciate that there are so many people who are willing to fight and die for my ability to feel safe enough to contemplate my navel.

It is my hope that my daughter’s words are shared all over the internet this weekend, in honor of Veteran’s Day. And just to make this a little more Facebook friendly, I’m adding a picture of a cat:

Here's you a cat.

Here’s you a cat.


Click here to donate to the Wounded Warrior Project.