Local legacy preserved in London carving|
Saturday, October 13, 2012
By Jeff Corcino Staff Writer
A find by a British army officer in a forest outside of London, England, brings joy to a Grampian family.
Recently Capt. Wayne E. Lee, regimental Welfare Officer, The King's Royal Hussars, Aliwal Barracks, in Tidworth, England, was walking along a wooded road outside of London, when he came across a tree with the name "Peck Shaffer PA" carved on it.
According to an e-mail from Lee, the tree is located in an area known as the Salisbury Plain, an area rich in British military history. The tree is located on the lower slopes of Sidbury Hill where an Iron Age fort once stood. And Salisbury Plain has been used extensively for military training since the late 19th century, including by U.S. soldiers during World War II.
Lee said soldiers in World War I and II would sometimes carve their names in the trees in the area.
Lee, himself being a 27-year veteran of the British Army, said he has a "keen sense of nostalgia toward all those who went before me," and decided to do some research on who Peck Shaffer was.
At first he ran into a few dead ends believing the name on the tree to be "Peck Shafter." Stumped, he looked at his pictures and returned to the tree to look at it in person again. Suddenly, it dawned on him that the name was actually Shaffer.
He returned home and did an Internet search on the name.
He found an obituary for a Droz "Peck" Shaffer of Grampian on the website FindaGrave.com along with an e-mail address.
Don Shaffer of Grampian said he registered his parents' obituaries while visiting an old cemetery in New Orleans in the summer 2011.
And when he registered them, he was required to include an e-mail address.
Nothing came of it until two months ago when, out of the blue, he received an e-mail from Lee asking if he was a family member of Peck Shaffer.
At first, he thought it might be a scam, but Shaffer replied to the e-mail and informed Lee that Peck Shaffer was his father and he had served in London during World War II.
Lee then e-mailed pictures of the tree along with a detailed description of where it was found and the history of the area.
Shaffer then told his sister Darlene Shaffer Duttry and the whole family is now ecstatic over the find, for they had lost their father to leukemia in 1978 when he died at the age of 66.
Duttry wrote back to Lee: "I can't tell you how incredibly excited we all were. Our entire family. My brother and I each have two grown children and we each have two grandchildren, elementary school age, and all were absolutely shocked but thrilled to learn that someone discovered a tree with our father/grandfather/great-grandfather's name carved in it. And we all appreciate that you took the time to find my brother and give us this wonderful ‘gift.' And a gift it is."
And Lee responded, "I am delighted that the pictures and the knowledge that your late father is immortalized here in England has pleased you both and your family so much. It is intensely gratifying for me to know that such a small effort on my part can lead to a quite disproportionate effect to a family over there in the U.S."
Shaffer said it is amazing that the tree and the carved name had survived all these years in almost pristine condition.
Lee said the area where the tree was found is largely unchanged since their father left and said he carved his name in a beech tree, which are notorious for their slow growth.
Coincidentally, Shaffer's son Michael had already scheduled a trip to England. Despite his busy schedule with troops returning home from Afghanistan, Shaffer said Lee offered to rearrange his schedule so he can show them the tree himself.
Duttry and Shaffer said their families are now planning a trip to visit England themselves next spring to visit the tree and thank Lee in person for all he has done for them.
Duttry and Shaffer said their father didn't talk about the war very often and only spoke about it when he was asked.
At 31, Peck Shaffer was an older recruit, and Don Shaffer said his father enlisted in the service when World War II broke out because he said "it was the right thing to do."
He served in the Army Infantry from 1942 until 1945 and left with the rank of sergeant, Duttry said.
After being sent to London, he was assigned to the post office. Although he didn't see any frontline combat, London was a very dangerous place at the time, for it was under heavy bombardment by the Germans.
Duttry said their father was a gregarious man who made friends easily wherever he went. She said he made friends with many of the local shopkeepers, bakers, etc. in London and kept in touch with them for years after returning home from the war.
His girlfriend at the time, Cora, who he would later marry after returning home, had cousins living in London and he got in contact with them.
Duttry said her aunt would tell them stories of how their father would bring them items from the Army PX store that they couldn't get themselves because British civilians were under severe rationing.
She said her aunt told her that whenever the air-raid sirens would go off they would have to hide underneath their kitchen table and that is when they would get out the "American chocolates" that Peck Shaffer had given them.
After returning home from the war, Peck Shaffer went back to work for Harbison Walker working as a heavy equipment operator in the clay mines.
He also joined the Curwensville Hook and Ladder Fire Co. where he served terms as president and vice president as well as other offices.
He and two other men also formed the Curwensville ambulance company, where he served as a volunteer ambulance driver.
Duttry said her father was always helping people in need and didn't look for any recognition for it.
For example, she said one Thanksgiving Day he ran into a man downtown who was down on his luck, had no money and had nowhere to go for Thanksgiving dinner so he invited him over to their house for dinner.
She said he was a very happy-go-lucky man and the maddest she ever saw him get is when he caught some boys throwing rocks at a mentally handicapped man by the football field.
She said after "he gave the boys hell," he gave the man a ride back to his home.
Shaffer and Duttry said their father had many friends and when he died, hundreds showed up for his funeral.
But they said their father's main focus was his family and said they are eternally grateful to Lee for bringing them a memento from their father's past.
Shown is the beech tree bearing the name of Peck Shaffer of Grampian, who carved it during his service in World War II. (Photo by Capt. Wayne Shaffer)