Looking out to Buck Lake from the home of Reine Samson Dawe, the water ripples and trees sway in the strong winds of Friday afternoon. She points to the turtle islands and to Birch Island to which she swims in the summer and snowshoes around in the winter.
She and her husband made it their home in the fall of 2006 because their youngest son, Matthew, loved Buck Lake.
Capt. Matthew Dawe was killed while serving with the 3rd Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in Afghanistan on July 4, 2007. It happened on his son Lucas’s second birthday, just weeks before he was scheduled to return home to Lucas and his wife, Tara. Matthew was 27 years old.
On Friday, Reine was named this year’s National Silver Cross Mother. She’s representing all of the mothers who have lost a child as a result of their service in the Canadian Forces.
A military wife and a mother to those who are still serving, Reine is treating the assignment as her mission for her country.
“As a Silver Cross Mother, it is not about me,” Reine emphasized. “It is about all the other mothers — 157 other mothers. I have to keep that perspective.”
The first aspect of the mission has been media interviews — a lot of them. One of the first things she has told journalists is to not ask her about when she found out she’d lost her baby boy.
“Let’s say it was the worst day of my life,” Reine told the Whig-Standard, explaining that speaking about that pain is personal and she won’t run the risk of it being exploited.
Matthew was killed instantly when his vehicle drove over a 500-pound bomb buried in the road while on the way back to base from a mission. He died alongside his comrades: Cpl. Cole Daniel Bartsch, Capt. Jefferson Clifford Francis, Cpl. Jordan James Anderson, Pte. Lane William Thomas Watkins, Master Cpl. Colin Stuart Francis Bason and their Afghan interpreter.
The Memorial Cross, known more commonly as the Silver Cross, was created in December 1919 to honour the mothers and widows left behind.
“Mrs. Samson Dawe raised an amazing military family,” the Canadian Legion’s Dominion President Thomas Irvine said in a news release. “Her dedication as a military spouse and mother of four men who served or continue to serve our country reflects an admirable commitment to our country. We are proud that she will represent all military mothers during this Remembrance Period.”
As Reine sits to tell the story of her son, the doorbell rings and the shape of a person holding something bright and colourful appears on the other side of the decorative window. Reine hops up, goes to the door and a friend holding a large bouquet of vibrant flowers greets her.
Reine takes the flowers and they hug tightly.
“We’re so proud of you,” the friend tells her before rushing off.
While bringing up memories of Matthew can be difficult, there is one aspect Reine said she enjoys.
“It brings back a lot of good memories when I talk about him,” Reine said. “He was the youngest of four boys. He was a delightful child. He was smart, funny and an incredible actor — such a good mimic. He could imitate anybody, he would quote long dialogues from movies.
“One of his favourite movies was The Princess Bride. He would do the whole dialogue between the giant and the Sicilian climbing up the hill with the proper accents, obviously. He absolutely adored that movie.”
On Nov. 11, Reine will place a wreath at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on behalf of all Canadian mothers who have lost a son or daughter in action, or over the course of normal duty. Leading up the event, she’ll also be placing a wreath next Friday during the local school ceremonies at the Cross of Sacrifice Cenotaph. From there she and husband Peter will rush to Ottawa for multiple dinners and rehearsals.
Throughout the year, she’ll also have several commitments across the country and internationally. She said she’s determined to do a good job and to educate the general public on the sacrifices the women and men of the Canadian Forces have made for the country so that they’re supported when they return from action.
“The perception of the public to military people affects what the politicians do,” Reine said. “If the public is indifferent to soldiers coming back, it’s not going to go very far, not far enough in my humble opinion.
“Our soldiers don’t deserve pity; that’s the last thing they would want. They deserve recognition, appreciation, respect and they need to feel that they’re supported.”
Reine is also hoping to use her role at the Silver Cross mother to promote an organization near and dear to her heart: Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, though the Kingston chapter of the national organization is called Canadians for Women in Afghanistan. The non-profit provides educational opportunities for women, girls and their families and educates Canadians on human rights issues in Afghanistan.
“When Matt was killed, I needed to get involved,” Reine said. “It was part of the healing process for me. More and more I feel it is our role to finish the mission that the guys died for.”
As the wind dies down and the water calms, Dawe says her home was a perfect place to recover after Matthew’s death. She loves the days she doesn’t need to drive down to Kingston and can just stay in the solitude, do her exercises and read in peace. Swimming in Buck Lake, she feels Matthew with her.
Notwithstanding the pain in Matthew’s death, the Dawe home on Buck Lake will always be a place of love and happiness, Reine said.
“I have eight grandchildren,” Reine expressed. “They come to Grandmama’s house, they don’t want to see somebody moping about. I have a responsibility to my family and to the other boys and their family. Anger (about what happened to Matthew) can’t be part of that, it can not. You have to carry on.
“I’ll see him eventually, I will.”