Meet the military couple whose faces adorn the statues of the C.B.S. war memorial

·6 min read
Meet the military couple whose faces adorn the statues of the C.B.S. war memorial
Meet the military couple whose faces adorn the statues of the C.B.S. war memorial
Sherry Vivian/CBC
Sherry Vivian/CBC

When retired chief warrant officer Terry Hurley and his wife, Roxanne, got involved with a project to create bronze statues to immortalize Canadian soldiers at Conception Bay South's war memorial, it was only to provide uniforms for the sculpting process.

The Hurleys had long and illustrious careers in the military. Terry served nine tours, and left the military only because of mandatory retirement at the age of 65. Roxanne has strong family ties to the military, and was forced out of service after an injury in 1997. She was the first woman from Newfoundland and Labrador to see combat.

It's what brought them together, with the two meeting at the Canadian Forces base in Halifax in 1994.

"One day I was getting ready to leave for lunch, when I seen this beautiful lady — walking away from me, mind you — down the hallway. I called her back and we chatted a little bit," Terry told CBC News on Friday. "We set a dinner date that she said, 'I agree to, but only if I pay my own way.'"

"I was a very independent woman, and I always feel like I have to pay for my own way," Roxanne chimed in. "So if he didn't agree to that, I wouldn't have agreed to dinner."

Decades later, the couple are the faces of bronze statues at the war memorial in Conception Bay South, a project by Newfoundland artist Morgan McDonald. Terry embodies a soldier of the First World War, honouring his fallen brothers. The soldier is protected by a modern-day female soldier, embodied by Roxanne, as he stands in reflection.

I woke up and looked outside and seen like houses blown apart and people's belongings all over the place...it was really sad to see the country like that. - Roxanne Hurley

Over the course of their careers, war sent the Hurleys all over the world. Terry served in Sierra Leone at the age of 54, working as part of an international military training team with the British Forces.

"That was probably the biggest shock of my entire career," he said. "The remnants of what was left, what a human being could do to each other, young kids eight and 10 years old missing limbs, knees broken.… It was definitely an eye-opener."

"Hopefully this won't make me cry, but when I saw the movie Blood Diamonds, I had to leave. It just brought it all back."

Roxanne served as a peacekeeper in the Balkans, spending time in Yugoslavia in 1993 as war ripped the country apart. She was on the ground when a treaty was signed in the town of Medak, bringing an end to the deadly battle in the area known as Medak Pocket.

Submitted by Roxanne Hurley
Submitted by Roxanne Hurley

"It was really scary. It was a hard time for us over there," she said. "As my [commanding officer] and the boys went in to the town of Medak, they stopped a lot of the massacre that was going on there and a treaty was signed to stop and separate the two groups that were fighting, which most likely saved more lives.

"I remember when I was on the bus going from the airport in Sarajevo near Drvar," she continued. "I woke up and looked outside and seen, like, houses blown apart and people's belongings all over the place, and families just walking down the road with just minuscule possessions they had.… It was really sad to see the country like that."

Sherry Vivian/CBC
Sherry Vivian/CBC

Terry said they were surprised to be asked to be the models for the war memorial statues, which were unveiled in 2010.

"When Morgan and honorary lieutenant-colonel Wayne Miller first came up with this plan, I was only there to get them some uniforms. That's what it started out with," he said. "I told them how they were to be worn and all this, and he just came up and said, 'How would you like to be the model?' I was blown away.

"To represent somebody that went before me in World War I, I thought it was a great honour."

He also remembers the casting process of becoming a bronze statue, which he says worked out a bit better for Roxanne than it did himself.

Submitted by Terry Hurley
Submitted by Terry Hurley

"In my case, they forgot to leave me a breathing hole," Terry laughs. "It was quite heavy, and about 20 minutes in I started to panic."

"Roxanne was talking to Morgan … and I was waving my hands that I couldn't breathe yet. And eventually Morgan was able to give me a little air hole and things got good. So for me it was a bit of panic mode."

WATCH: Find out how two former soldiers worked with sculptor Morgan MacDonald for a memorial in Conception Bay South:

Roxanne said being able to model for a female soldier was especially an honour, as the role of women in the military has grown immeasurably since the First World War.

"I hope she shows the pride of women in the military," she said.

"I hope she shows that women do have strength and courage … to know that they can do anything that they want in life, no matter how hard it may be. Whether it's in the army or the police or firefighters, anything. Women are strong enough that they can do it."

'At first you just think it's a statue'

The couple said seeing their faces recreated on the sculptures brought tears to their eyes.

"It's amazing to see how Morgan actually captured how we look," Roxanne said. "To see how talented of an artist he is, especially when you look in the eyes how real it actually is."

It still brings tears to Terry's eyes years later, as he stands next to the soldier modelled in his likeness.

"It's emotional right now.… I think it's who we're representing. At first you just think it's a statue, but we both had family in the military, and now somebody has asked you to model a statue that represented a generation lost technically in the First World War. We're veterans, we've been through some of it.

"I don't know if I could come here by myself. I think I'd probably lose it. Which is not a bad thing, I guess. But thinking of my own friends since I've been in, and I've lost a lot, there's no greater honour to me to represent who has gone."

Sherry Vivian/CBC
Sherry Vivian/CBC

Apart from remembering those who were lost, the memorial also serves as a symbol of life for the Hurleys.

The couple's daughter, who lives in Calgary, gave birth to a girl on the day of the statue's reveal — with the delivery happening at almost exactly 11 a.m., the same hour of the signing of the armistice that ended the First World War.

"One day we're hoping she'll get here and see what Nanny and Poppy was all about."

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