On November 11th we mark Remembrance Day in Canada. Originally Armistice Day, it’s expanded from just recognizing the Armistice and the millions who died in World War I to commemorating officially the Canadians who died in World Wars I and II and the Korean War. Unofficially, Canadians who gave their lives in all armed conflicts and peace keeping efforts seem to be recognized and remembered. We wear poppies, or at least plastic stylized ones, and we take a moment to remember.
We remember them for the sacrifices that they made – for their families, their countries, and total strangers. It’s easy for us today to see and recognize that last one, but country? Family? We ‘youngsters’ don’t understand, don’t feel it deep inside, that in World War II the threat even here in North America was real. If Hitler was not stopped, we were next. The young people who went overseas to fight were certain in many cases that they were preventing harm to their own loved ones. So yes, sacrifice for ones family.
Here at home, families avoided moving to the coasts I am told. That’s where the first hit would be. Weddings happened routinely weeks or months after meeting, and not just because a boyfriend might never return from over seas. My Nana explained that things were different back then, you never knew what was coming next, the world might change overnight. You might lose the chance, the freedom.
None of my grandparents went over seas for the war. My father’s father was a pharmacist and a medical sales person. He took a job in the Maritimes but left his family in Toronto … just in case, he wanted them safe. My Nana escaped a despised teaching position by joining the air force (Mom and Betty, please do correct me if I have any details incorrect). The government had just declared that you could break a contract to join, and she jumped at the chance – the words “Hell, yeah!” were written on the back of a photograph in answer to the question, should I? It was through here posting that she met my Grandad. They were married within weeks. Grandad became one of the most knowledgeable people in Canada about the mechanics of aircraft, and traveled all over North America, and much later Europe.
I don’t know much about Dad’s side, if any relatives fought. Or for that matter my Grandad’s side. I do know that two of Nana’s brothers went over seas. One came back a very much changed man – who would think otherwise? – and never talked about this experience to the best of my knowledge. The other was very young, so young that he had to lie about his age. Or rather, he didn’t lie. He wrote the minimum age on the bottom of his shoe, so that when he was asked he could honestly say he was “over eighteen.”Oddly, I thought for years that he never came home, but I’ve been informed this isn’t the case. Both did either return, or became shortly therafter, alcoholics.
For many years I spent Remembrance Day with my Nana and Grandad. Rarely, except on that one time of the year, did either of them mention the war. On that weekend, though, they would give me snippets here and there. A few times we went to the Senataph (an event which brought back memories for me of going to the one in Ottawa as a child), but usually we went to the Senior’s Community Centre for their luncheon. What a treasured experience! The men especially, and some women, would wear their badges and medals of service and honour, and some would easily chat about what earned them each one. Others … wore them but did not choose to talk. After lunch, each veteran, each person who had served, stood and proudly introduced themselves, and was recognized with applause. And each you could see was remembering someone loved and lost. World War II was real to them, not just a chapter in their high school history books. Lastly, we sang the songs everyone knew during war time. Almost everyone joined in – some with eyes shining with memories of good times, others with tears.
Today, even with the war in the middle east, even after 9-11, I don’t think that we can really grasp what it was like back then. Not to belittle anyone or any events, please don’t think that. The current war, the current threat, are all very real and horrendous as well. Take a moment today, and consider what life was like for your parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents; the effect that the war had on them, and in turn how it affects your life now.