Every Day is Remembrance Day

Stained-glass window is a constant reminder of an uncle lost to war

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The stained-glass window in Judy Nasby’s home was first a public memorial to her uncle Stephen Goatley’s service during the Second World War and is now a personal memorial to a lost family member.  Photo by Dean Palmer

The stained-glass window in Judy Nasby’s home was first a public memorial to her uncle Stephen Goatley’s service during the Second World War and is now a personal memorial to a lost family member. Photo by Dean Palmer

Nearly every first-time visitor to Judy Nasby’s house asks about the window.

That’s not surprising. Encased in its custom wooden frame standing at one end of the living room, the piece fills the front window facing onto Suffolk Street downtown.

It’s her lost uncle’s stained-glass window rescued from a Hamilton church, restored by its original Toronto manufacturer and installed in its Guelph home about 15 years ago.

And it’s become Nasby’s token for remembering young lives lost to war – and one young life in particular.

The window’s story began in east Hamilton in spring 1942. One day, a telegram arrived for a house builder named John Goatley.

“A short time later, John Goatley shuffled along home, telegram in hand, his head hanging in sorrow of his good son lost.”

So wrote Judy Nasby’s cousin, Stephen Head, in 2003 in The Good Son Lost. His collection of letters, photos and memorabilia tells the wartime tale of their late uncle, pilot officer Stephen George Goatley.

Stephen Goatley was 23 when he disappeared with the rest of his Lockheed Hudson crew during the Second World War.

The youngest of nine children, he had cut short his studies at McMaster University to enlist in early 1941. He was the first in the family to attend university; he was studying arts and intended to enter the clergy.

Instead he headed to Quebec for flight training. By late 1941, he was bound for England. And by the following January, Stephen had become an observer in a four-man bomber crew flying anti-submarine sorties over the North Sea.

Conflicting stories related what happened April 22.

In one official version, Stephen’s plane failed to return from a bombing raid. Another account said the aircraft vanished in fog while searching for a missing plane. An unofficial third story said the craft had been hit by friendly fire and managed to crash-land on a beach in England, only to be blown up by landmines.

Stephen was officially presumed dead a year later.

Growing up a generation later in the same Hamilton neighbourhood, Judy Goatley never knew her lost airman uncle.

But she knew his story.

Stephen’s death devastated not just his parents but his eight siblings, including Judy’s father, John Jr. Her dad kept his brother’s photo on his office desk for the rest of his life.

Her father had taken on the family business and built hundreds of bungalows around Hamilton, including the house where Judy grew up.

“My mother told me that my father was so affected by this that he built houses for the soldiers when they came back,” she says. “He took very little profit, because he felt that was his duty. It was something he could do, because he had a punctured eardrum, and they wouldn’t pick him to go into the military — he was rejected.”

She attended the same schools as her father, Stephen, and her other aunts and uncles.

In the main foyer of the local high school, a brass plaque and a framed parchment list Stephen among the war dead. Judy shows up in a nearby photo montage as vice-president of the student association in 1962-63.

Stephen’s name also appears on a memorial tablet at McMaster University. That’s where Judy did her BA in art history.

In 1968, she married her high school sweetheart, David Nasby. Recalling their first meeting in Grade 9, she says, “I walked into English class, looked over the prospects in the room and thought David would be my boyfriend.”

They moved to Guelph, where Judy became curator of the University of Guelph art collection. She was founding director of the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre on campus, marking its 35th anniversary this year. She retired this fall.

David studied sociology at the University of Guelph. He was founding director of the Burlington Art Centre, also established 35 years ago; he retired a decade ago as head of the Seagram Museum in Waterloo.

More than 15 years ago, Judy learned that St. Andrew’s by the Lake Anglican Church on the Hamilton beach strip was up for sale. “I happened to call the day the realtor was going to show it to a potential buyer.”

Right away she thought of her lost uncle’s stained-glass window.

Before moving into east Hamilton, her dad’s family had lived on the beach and attended St. Andrew’s.

After Stephen’s death, his friends paid $110 for a memorial window installed in the church in 1943. The window was designed by Jack Ramsden and made by Robert McCausland Ltd. in Toronto.

Judy reclaimed the window and had it restored by its original manufacturer, including repair of a hole left by a BB pellet.

Installed in its custom frame before her front window in Guelph, it’s a permanent reminder for Judy. The piece, called Fight the Good Fight and adorned with a Cross of St. Andrew, depicts a stylized knight posed before trees and sky.

To Judy, the figure with its “perfect” haloed face resembles Sir Galahad from Arthurian legend. Or maybe, she adds, the Unknown Soldier. “Being a curator and art historian, I admire it.”

The window is her personal form of remembrance. “Every evening I sit beside it. As I walk into the living room, I look at it with the early evening light shining on it. I feel some sentiment and sadness that this young life was lost at age 23.”

Judy has never attended a Remembrance Day service. “I think I would find it all too sad.”

Her uncle’s window allows her to acknowledge her family history and mark a young life lost. “I feel that’s enough for me without having to attend a service. I think this is the service. I think there are ways of remembering things.”

WINDOW SIZED

Editor’s Note: Parts of this story appeared earlier this year in the Hamilton Spectator.