The life and death of John Herbert Wall, WWII veteran

Herb Wall in Sicily, 1944

PHOTO: Herb Wall in Sicily, 1944

Canada loses about 50 World War II vets per day. Two weeks ago, Stittsville’s John “Herb” Wall was one of them.

Wall passed away of congestive heart failure on August 1 in Toronto, the conclusion of 95 years of adventure, service and dedication to community and family.  

StittsvilleCentral.ca spoke for nearly half an hour with his son Phillip Wall, a retired Canadian Navy Captain, to get his father’s life story.

Born July 9, 1921 to Sarah and John Wall, Herb grew up in a farmhouse on Hazeldean Road – the spot now occupied by the Sobeys at Terry Fox Drive.


LISTEN: Devyn Barrie’s audio report on the life of Herb Wall


For most of his young life he did farm work, dropping out of school in grade 10. In 1940, when he was 19, he left all he knew at the farm and enlisted with the Canadian Army Postal Corps – following his brother, Percy (who has since also died.)

“There wasn’t much else for the guys to do aside from work on the farm… so this was something else he decided to do, serve his country,” said Wall. “The call came, he went, it got him off the farm and took him overseas.”

The Postal Corps was an essential service during the war, delivering mail and parcels – a “lifeline” for troops, Wall says. The elder Wall did tours of duty in both Italy and the Netherlands. Although it wasn’t combat, lugging mail around the battlefield was still dangerous. He lost a few of his friends, but escaped with his life and a few good stories.

Canadian Postal Corps in Lingfield, England, 1943. Herb Wall is third from left. (Recorded by Joe Tobin, TheMemoryProject.com)
Canadian Postal Corps in Lingfield, England, 1943. Herb Wall is third from left. (Recorded by Joe Tobin, TheMemoryProject.com)

 

“I think the comeradery, the sharing, the community in the front lines was something he was used to, working back on the farm… He didn’t regret a moment of his life overseas.”

When the war was over, Herb returned to the Kanata-Stittsville area. He met his wife, Mary Hobbs, during a post-war reception dance at Orange Hall in Stittsville (now known as the Stittsville Legion.) They married several years later, and remained together for 62 years until death did them part.

In the 1950s, the newly-married Walls moved to Powell Avenue in the Glebe to raise their family. They had two sons, Phillip and Kevin, and daughter Joan.

“He was a great father,” Wall said. “… [he] wanted his kids to experience everything, not just his kids, but the kids we grew up with on the block.”

“He was well known and well respected and well loved in downtown Ottawa, back in the 50s and the 60s… He was known on the street as the father who would do anything for his kids.”

The elder Wall worked as postmaster at both CFB Uplands and in Stirling, Ont. He kept in touch with his wartime buddies, and even occasionally went overseas with Mary to meet friends and take part in the Netherlands’ Liberation Day – as well as catch up with some old Dutch girlfriends, under Mary’s watchful eye.

Herb Wall in the 1980s
Herb Wall in the 1980s

 

The years progressed. In the 2000s, Herb was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. It ravaged his brain, robbing him of all memory of family members. At the funeral service, nephew Peter Wall recalled a hospital visit from ten years ago.

“We went in, and he didn’t know us… I remember I said to him, ‘I’m Percy’s son, do you remember Percy, your brother Percy?'”

“He said ‘I knew a Percy once, he was a nice man.'”

The disease took its toll on the family, including Herb’s wife Mary. She died in 2014, of a severe stroke. Phillip Wall says the real cause was a broken heart.

“I think she had died before she had the stroke, she had basically lost all will to live.”

Herb’s funeral was held August 11 at St. Thomas Anglican Church in Stittsville. Friends and family came in from around the country, as did several strangers. None of Wall’s war buddies came – it is unknown whether any of them are still living.

His body is interred at Maple Grove Cemetery in Kanata.

Herb Wall's funeral. Photo by Devyn Barrie
Photo by Devyn Barrie
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