As we get closer to Remembrance Day, our newspapers are filled with stories about young veterans who have returned to Canada with horrific injuries. The war in Afghanistan has been devastating in so many ways for so many people. We need to care for and remember those who have served and those who died in service for our country.
I have vivid childhood memories of standing, as my toes grew numb, at the cenotaph during Remembrance Day services. The November winds, sometimes with snow, whipped around us as the proud veterans and the local militia marched accompanied by their pipe band. Adult men with tears streaming down their faces was the norm. In retrospect, I realize that it was only a only decade since the end of the WW II. Those veterans had very fresh memories of war and lost comrades. At the time, I understood we were to remember and be thankful that we are free thanks to their efforts.
Time gives perspective
After I became an adult, I came to understand the sacrifices that so many people made for us. My own parents were an example. Now that they are both gone, it is on Remembrance Day that I especially think of them.
My parents met during their university days in Princeton, NJ. They married in November 1938 and had just started their life together when Canada declared war. My father was a clergyman and he and my mother were serving a rural parish in Quebec. He felt called to serve as a chaplain. As a result, he enlisted in the army in the fall of 1939. Following basic training in Toronto, he was posted in Gander, Newfoundland (under canvas) for the winter of 1939 and then shipped overseas, not to return until the end of the war. Five long years my American born mother waited in Canada, which to her was still a foreign country. Her country (USA) was not yet at war.
Five long years
During my father’s time overseas (in those days Newfoundland was considered overseas), and especially during the Battle of the Atlantic there were major disruptions in communications. This meant that countless letters were lost at sea. For a period of over a year, my mother heard nothing from him; she did not know where he was … no TV, only radio news, no email, no overseas phone calls, no Skype, no Facebook. Today we rely on these ways to keep in touch with family members who are far away. Our soldiers today serve shorter tours and do have ways to keep in touch with home. During those five years of WW II there was a period of a whole year when my mother heard nothing – no news of where her husband was – in a hospital, on the battlefield, in the POW camp?
Newsreels at the movies
One night she went to the movie theatre and the newsreel showed the aftermath of a battle scene and a chaplain, my dad, conducting a funeral service for several of his comrades. That was the first confirmation she had that he was alive and not a prisoner of war. Many years later, at a funeral where the casket was bronze lined and made of polished rosewood or mahogany, my father was heard to say, “I have buried many a good man wrapped in a grey blanket.”
My dad, rarely, if ever talked about his time overseas. He came home, re-kindled his marriage, raised a long-awaited family and served various parishes in eastern Canada. Many of his comrades came home to find different circumstances and challenges. More than 42,000 did not come home at all. When we remember, we need to remember those who died, and those who also served and continued to serve their communities after the war. Now, more than sixty years since the end of WWII many of those veterans who returned to Canada have now died after making significant contributions to our country.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
We will remember them.