After a year or two of caring for Susan Anna’s grave, I became curious about her origins. I did what any 21st century researcher devoted to truth would do. I went to the Oracle of All Things Known and Registered in the Universe: Google. There, listed like the castings of the I-Ching, were thousands of links to the query, Who was Harry Crerar? I found it hard to believe – as I do when I ask the I-Ching to take responsibility for my life decisions – that the answer would be so simple.
Harry Crerar was a Canadian General. Henry Duncan Graham “Harry” Crerar served in the Canadian military and is remembered by critics and admirers alike as “mediocre,” “dour,” “colourless,” as well as “competent.” This finding was somewhat hard to reconcile with the little seemingly abandoned gravesite. On the other hand, soldiers were remarkably transient and even high-ranking military men, in wartime Canada, were not likely to remain in any one city for long. Searching further, I connected with a military history writer, Paul Dickson who had published a biography of Crerar. Impulsively, I wrote to Dickson asking if Susan Anna was a child of Harry and Verse Crerar and told him of my time spent caring for Susan Anna grave. I received a reply almost immediately. I’m guessing he doesn’t get many requests about Crerar as unique as mine.
Dickson confirmed that Susan Anna was indeed their child but that he had only referred to the “death of a newborn child” and “personal difficulties of 1933” in the book*. The family, it seems, was intensely insular and Harry particularly private. Harry married Verse (actually “Marion Verschoyle Cronyn” and considered a stunning beauty) in 1916 accompanied only by one friend who witnessed the ceremony. They went on to have three children, Margaret (Peg), Peter, and Susan Anna. Margaret was a bright spot in Crerar’s life as he struggled with the losses in the battles in the Somme, remained close to both parents, and acquired a PhD in Chemistry later in life. Peter was born in 1922, joined and left the military, had a strained relationship with his father, and lived the latter years his life in a veteran’s hospital in Toronto. There is little suggestion that anyone outside the immediate family even knew of Susan Anna.
After her death, Harry’s ambitions cushioned him and he pushed on for promotions which eventually lead him to become endeared to the Queen of the Netherlands for his role in the liberation of Holland (hence all our tulips!) and later aide-de-camp of then-Princess Elizabeth for her coronation. It was different for Verse. She and Peter left for England in 1933 where Peg was in boarding school. The only hint of the grief Verse endured was in Harry’s letter commenting that she “had not been feeling well” when they arrived but bounced back quickly as family life took hold. Eventually, the Fates gathered them all up to settle in Ottawa where things appeared happy and content with the usual dollop of military-influenced parenting. Harry died in 1965; Verse and Peg too now are deceased. Dickson couldn’t tell me where they were buried (perhaps in Southern Ontario or Toronto where Peg lived) and, in the absence of similar family names around her grave, I realized that Susan Anna was alone.
And then one day, in that strange way dots have of connecting, I realized that Crerar might be buried in the military part of the cemetery. Expecting a long and tedious search through the miles of uniform white headstones, I went determined to read each headstone.
It was the first grave. A few hundred yards from Susan Anna. He’d been there all this time.
*These quotes were not accessible in the book online when I first researched the Crerars and I only had Dickson’s comment via email.