Saturday, May 16, 2015

Remembering Blodwen Morris Falconer

In a couple of weeks, the world will observe the 75th anniversary of the evacuation of Dunkirk during World War II. Code-named Operation Dynamo, the evacuation was carried out between May 27 and June 4, 1940.  A large number of British, French and Belgian troops had been cut off and stranded on the northern coast of France by a Nazi Panzer offensive.  A hastily-assembled fleet of privately owned boats of all sizes and purposes was successful in rescuing more than 338,000 troops from the beaches and ferrying them to larger naval vessels, or in some cases taking them all the way across the English Channel.  As they conducted the evacuation, these boats had to navigate heavily-mined waters and endure bombardment by German shore batteries.

The men who volunteered their services and their boats to evacuate Dunkirk were rightly hailed as heroes.  However, they were not the only heroes of Operation Dynamo. Though the evacuation was a huge success and dubbed a miracle, it was not without cost.  Over 200 ships were sunk during the operation and 126 merchant seamen were killed.  Many others were wounded or had been wounded during the fighting that led up to the evacuation.  These men were tended by the nurses who stayed with them throughout the treacherous journey across the English Channel -  through the mine-filled waters and under constant bombardment.

What does this have to do with Rochester?  In a quiet corner of Mount Avon Cemetery lies a hero of the Dunkirk evacuation.  Her name is Blodwen Morris Falconer, and she was a Canadian citizen and registered nurse who served with the English Civil Defense Corps during the war.  She was present at the Dunkirk evacuation to tend to the wounded and was decorated for her service.  After the war, she and her husband came to Michigan, and eventually to Rochester, where she died in 1953.  Her obituary in the Rochester Clarion said in part:

World War II Dunkirk Heroine is Dead; Received Bronze Medal
One of the highly honored veterans of World War II passed away last Wednesday afternoon when Blodwen Faulconer [sic], 3380 John R., died at Pontiac General Hospital shortly after admittance.
Mrs. Faulconer, born at Edmonton, Ontario [sic], was a member of the first contingent of nurses on hand to give aid to the wounded survivors of the Dunkirk evacuation in World War II. She was a graduate of Grey's Hospital, the oldest and largest hospital of its kind in the world.
Wearing the cap of a registered nurse, and as a member of the English Civil Defense during the Dunkirk evacuation, she was awarded a Bronze Medal for her heroic and outstanding services at that time.
Born on April 1, 1915, Mrs. Faulconer moved to Detroit from Toronto in June 1949. She came to Rochester in 1950.
This Memorial Day, when I visit Mount Avon Cemetery, I think I'll leave some flowers at the grave of Blodwen Morris Falconer, to remember her service. I invite you to do the same.

In the meantime, if you'd like to know more about the evacuation of Dunkirk, watch this British Pathé newsreel footage:

Friday, May 1, 2015

This Month in Rochester History

A half century ago this month, Rochester residents were talking about a new state law that would require photos to appear on driver's licenses beginning on July 1, 1965.  The law was a potential problem for the village of Rochester, which at the time issued driver's licenses at the police department.

My father remembers that when he applied for his first license in the early 1950s, his father took him to the police station in the old municipal building at Fourth & East Alley.  There was no written or road test. Sam Howlett, chief of police, pointed to my father and asked my grandfather, "Can he drive?"  My grandfather replied, "As well as I can, I guess."  That was good enough, and Chief Howlett issued the license.

With the new law requiring photos on licenses, the village had to decide whether to invest money in camera equipment and time in training to produce the new cards. Another option was to give up the license business altogether, which would require Rochester residents to travel to Pontiac to the Secretary of State branch office to conduct such business.  In May 1965, the village fathers decided to keep the license service, at least for a while.