PERTH ROAD, ONT. – The crunch of crisp autumn leaves is the only sound that punctuates the stillness of Reine Samson Dawe’s tranquil surroundings. The lakeside home she shares with her husband, retired Lt.-Col. Peter Dawe, sits on the shores of Buck Lake, near Kingston, Ont.

It’s where Capt. Matthew Dawe always dreamed his parents would retire. His then-fiancee’s grandparents had a home nearby.

“So she came regularly,” said Samson Dawe. “And Matt came with her. And he absolutely loved the place.”

But Dawe, who was the youngest of four boys, never saw the new family home.

The 27-year-old commander of 8 Platoon, C Company, 3 Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry Battalion, based in Edmonton, was killed in Afghanistan in 2007, just months after his parents moved in.

“For the first while I just swam and swam and swam, and I felt that I was close to him when I was under water for some reason,” his mother said.

Samson Dawe is the 2019 Silver Cross Mother, an annual distinction conferred by the Royal Canadian Legion. At the National Remembrance day Ceremony in Ottawa on Nov. 11, Samson Dawe will place a wreath at the base of the National War Memorial on behalf of all mothers who’ve lost children as a result of military service.

Killed in battle

Shortly before his deployment, Dawe ruptured his Achilles tendon – an injury severe enough it could have given him an “out.” But he was adamant about healing quickly and joining his team. The doctor said it would take a year to recover. It took Dawe just four months.

Described as a great leader and larger than life, Dawe was said to be devastated when he had to identify and recover three platoon members killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. Two weeks later, he was involved in what was described as “an operation to neutralize the local bomb maker believed to be behind that deadly IED.”

But while he was returning from that mission, his armoured vehicle was struck by a 500-pound bomb buried in the road. Dawe died instantly, along with five Canadian soldiers and an Afghan interpreter.

That was on July 4, 2007.

The same day, his son Lucas, turned two years old.

“We have a little bit of Matt here”

Ask Samson Dawe, and she’ll tell you they’re so similar, she often mistakenly calls her grandson by her son’s name.

“He stands like him. He walks like him. He has the same sense of humour.”

“I would watch his hockey game and say ‘go Matt!’ – I mean – ‘go Lucas go!’”

She even did it during our interview.

“Matt -- Lucas -- loves fishing.”

Describing one of those fishing trips on the lake, Peter Dawe’s voice starts to quiver when he talks about his grandson.

“He would be in the bow and I would be in the stern – and somehow, an hour later, we’d be on the same bench or his fishing line would surround my ear. It’s something like Matt would do.”

A military tradition

Peter Dawe insists his wife carried him through his darkest days.

“She saved me and perhaps I did the same. But she was the stronger of the two.”

The couple’s three surviving sons would say the same. Each of the boys, like their father, served in the military.

Peter Dawe Jr. is now head of the Canadian Special Operations Forces.

James is a retired captain after serving five years, including a tour in Bosnia.

And Phil, who also served overseas, including in Iraq, is a surgeon at Vancouver General Hospital, as well as the military’s medical director of trauma training.

“If I could save one military person’s life overseas, then my career would be worthwhile,” he told CTV News from an interview in trauma bay inside VGH.

A mother soldiering on to continue her son’s mission

Despite the multiple cross-country moves, and the constant anxiety of seeing her sons deployed overseas, Samson Dawe says she never once thought of stopping them.

“Freedom to me is the baseline to every success.”

Hers, she says, will be measured by how she can make a difference through her volunteer work with Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan, a not-for-profit organization trying to improve access to education for women and girls who were prevented from doing so under the Taliban.

“That’s how we can continue the mission of the guys who went there.”

“That’s what Matthew would have wanted.”