the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.”
We will remember them.
Remembrance Day 2018 marks the 100th Anniversary of the Great War, the war to end all wars. and yet in 1939, Germany invaded Poland, plunging the world back into conflict. By this time, my grandfather had immigrated to Canada, a choice in family legend that meant living under the British flag.
When war broke out my Dad was working on a Dairy Farm near Edmonton. I like to imagine him as a strapping, handsome Canadian farm boy. I think he had ridden the rails near the end of the Great Depression but his experiences would have been limited. I imagine that these are considerations he had when he joined the Army. The picture accompanying this blog shows him in uniform with his family before he shipped out. This is the kind of remembrance, families all over Canada have tucked away in albums or maybe proudly displayed and framed.
Dad was one of the lucky ones; he came home six years later. That is not to say he came out of the experience unscathed. I know that it changed him and he could be morose and quiet. At times he drank a lot. I think it was a self-medication to dull the horrors he had seen and experienced.
Dad gave the handkerchief in the picture to his cousin, Nancy Trefiak, who is the second young woman from the left in the top photo. They were close and could use the same biting sarcasm in their humour. When Dad died, Boxing Day, 1976, she gave the handkerchief to me; she had kept it all those years.
I did not hear war stories from my father. He wouldn’t talk about what had happened. When my (then young husband asked), all he would do was recommend a book detailing the Battle of Monte Cassino.
“If you want to know what it was like, read this,” was the most he would say, other than a couple of memories that demonstrated his luck at surviving.
One of them he told, described how he had wandered across a field (perhaps in Italy) after a hard night of drinking. When he woke, the next day, a team of engineers was clearing the field of mines. His staggering steps had woven through them without incident. One other thing he related was a shell dropping right beside him as he slept in a haystack. It didn’t detonate.
Dad was through North Africa, into Italy, Belgium. On his leaves to Britain, he met my mother, the sister of a friend back home. My mother was a British war bride.
After the war, my father became a farmer. I don’t think he had any desire to travel or seek new adventures. He’d had more than a lifetime’s worth packed into six years overseas. What he focused on was keeping his family safe. In the fifties, he earned a private pilot’s license and although he loved flying, one of his motivations was to provide an avenue of escape if war ever threatened close to home.
The Second World War was a part of me growing up safe on the farm in Eastern Alberta. Mom remembered the Battle of Britain and hiding under a make-shift table-like protection when the bombs fell.
The war was never far away for my parents and now on November 11th, I do remember.