By Maria Cassidy
Edward Cassidy, or Eddie as he was known, was born on November 9, 1922 in the family home at Fahan Street. He was the second of nine children to Thomas Cassidy and Margaret McSheffrey.
Eddie spent most of his childhood with his family in Redcastle, Co Donegal, because of his father’s health - Thomas had been gassed in the First World War. Living on a farm growing vegetables and keeping animals was the life that Eddie would return to during his later years. These were his fondest memories as he lived a simple and peaceful life. He often said he enjoyed living in the countryside without the need for material things.
In 1941, when he was 19, Eddie joined the British Army and trained as a rifleman.
Whilst battling through Anzio, Italy, he, along with other soldiers, went to a nearby barn to rest. While they were resting, the barn was hit by a mortar bomb. Fortunately for Eddie he wasn’t harmed and helped the injured soldiers to a first aid post.
However, when they returned to the barn to rescue more soldiers it was too late.
It began to get too dark to go back to the first aid post, so Eddie and a fellow Derry man, Paddy Burke, rested in a fox hole. It had started to snow, and when Eddie and Paddy woke up surrounded by Germans soldiers, one of them him, “For you, the war is over.”
When he was captured, he was taken to a prisoner-of-war camp near Lukenwalde, Germany. For the first six months, Eddie’s mother thought he was missing in action as she received a letter to this effect. It was then later verified by the Red Cross that he was in a prisoner-of-war camp.
His time at the POW camp was very harsh although he remained positive through many horrible experiences.
Due to the poor treatment in the POW camp, every day prisoners would die. The other prisoners were then expected to bury the bodies of those who had died. One day, the prisoners objected to this. So Eddie along with other prisoners were lined up.
A German soldier asked each prisoner a question in German and it came to Eddie’s turn. He put a revolver in Eddie’s mouth and asked him the question. At this point, Eddie didn’t speak German but if it weren’t for the man standing next to him telling him how to reply, he could have been shot dead.
By the time the war had ended, the Germans had abandoned the prisoners in the camp. They were eventually freed by allies and Eddie, along with other prisoners, started their journey back home.
He stayed in the Army two years after the war. He was sent to Brussels to guard teenage German prisoners. He walked in to the camp with a machine gun and the German boys laughed and said “Look at that little man with the gun” in German. Eddie walked over to them and said, “I may be a little man but I have a big gun.” in German.
He told the boys that he could understand German and from then on the boys showed him respect.
After leaving the army, Eddie came back home to Derry. During his time in the prisoner-of-war camp, his wages from the army were kept for him to collect when he was freed. Like the kind and thoughtful person he was, he used the money to buy his mother a new range cooker for her kitchen.
Eddie worked several jobs in his lifetime, from coalman to local bartender in the local City Hotel.
During his time with Gilbert Wright Contractor, whilst working on a raft in the quay, he fell in to the river twice. His friend, lucky enough not to fall in, screamed, “I can’t swim, I can’t swim!”
Eddie shouted back “It’s me in the water not you!”
He met his wife Mary Breslin at a local dance. They married a few days before Christmas in 1949. They had nine children, four boys and five girls – Sheila, Thomas, Margaret, Daniel, Gerard, Marie, Clare, Deirdre and Martin. He loved his children dearly and would often sing his favourite song ‘Scarlet Ribbons’ to them.
Along with the war, he suffered a lot of heartache in his family life. His first daughter, Sheila, passed away after suffering from cancer and she left behind her husband and four children. Three years later, Eddie's wife of nearly 50 years passed away. In 2013, his grandson David passed away and in 2015, his son Tommy and his grandson Ryan passed away.
In his later years, Eddie enjoyed his retirement by going back to his simple life of growing vegetables in his garden, reminding him of his childhood. He spent the last years of his life in Owen Mor Nursing Home, where the care was second to none.
Eddie Cassidy passed away on November 5, just four days before his 95th birthday, surrounded by his children, grandchildren and his great grandchild.
As he was being taken out of St Marys Chapel, the Pink Ladies sang a beautiful tribute of Scarlet Ribbons.
Eddie Cassidy was one in a million. He lived an extraordinary life and had experiences that were too horrible to imagine. But it didn’t change him as a person, he was still the kind and gentle wee Eddie that everyone knew and loved.
As his grandson Aaron said, “If any of us turn out half the man you were, we will have done well in life.”
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