Lest we forget.
Tomorrow is Remembrance Day here in Canada and it’s a time to reflect and thank our veterans and those who lost their lives in all the wars over the years.
Both of my grandfathers were soldiers for Canada in WW2, I don’t know the story of my dad’s dad, but I know the story of my mom’s dad’s time. All of this information I know about his time overseas is second hand, from my uncles and grandmere, as he never talked about it when he was alive, I can understand why, it wasn’t a pretty time, full of sunshine and rainbows. I have a “letter” that was written by one of my uncles but it was written from my grandpere’s point of view (from what my uncle was told by his dad), this is where I’ve gotten this story.
My grandpere didn’t join the Canadian Royal Air Force until 1942 and was sent over to Gloucester, England in 1943 where he completed his training. The squadron he joined, #415, was based in Leeds, and most of the missions that they flew were done at night, from 8 or 9 p.m. – 2 or 3 a.m. He was a co-pilot and flight engineer on one of the Lancaster bomber planes. The last flight they were on, they were being shot at from the ground by anti-aircraft fire and were hit on the wing, and the with the fuel tanks being on the wings, it would be a short time before the plane itself would be completely on fire so they were told to evacuate.
My grandpere grabbed a flashlight and attached it to the top of one of his boots and jumped out of the burning aircraft. As he pulled the rip cord of the parachute, it would not open, he started to panic and tried to open the small parachute from his chest. It eventually opened and he landed on the ground, separated from his squad. He had lost one of his boots, the one with the flashlight attached to it and buried his parachute, which he had been instructed to do. He later regretted burying the parachute though, as it would have kept him warm during the night. So he wandered around aimlessly, not knowing where he was, with one boot, both socks on the other foot and hoping to find a place to hide before daylight.
He came up to a bridge and hid under that the whole next day, making himself as small as he could, but he was miserable and cold.Once it got dark again, he thought it was safe to leave his hiding place and he tried to get his bearings, hoping he was walking in the right direction, towards Switzerland and freedom. He walked all night, but didn’t meet anyone.
As daylight returned, he saw a sign on the side of the road and quickly read the name and located it on the map that he had in his survival kit.He laid there, crouched on the ground, nervous, scared, cold and hungry, and a young boy came by on a bicycle. Short while later, the German police came and he was taken prisoner.
Along with other prisoners, they were taken on long forced walks, and whenever possible, they would steal potatoes from farmers fields or whatever they could because they were starving. They were spat at, kicked and yelled at. “Kanada shiiwne” was shouted whenever Canadian prisoners were seen by civilians who were also suffering. (not sure of the translation of the word “shiiwne” from German to English. But I think it might mean “shit”. “Kanada” means “Canada”). An American prisoner had a mouth organ and he would play songs during their marches. His favourite song was “The Yellow Rose of Texas” which was able to help the gloom a bit. That song remained in my grandpere’s memory, likely until the day he died.
They finally arrived at a Stalag in Mooseburg, Germany, and the compound held about 15,000 prisoners. Food had been rationed all over Europe and so whatever was available, was very meager. They ate thin soup at dusk so they couldn’t see the grubs in it, they slept on the bare ground of the camp. He was held prisoner for a few months, but it felt like an eternity.
The Stalag was liberated on April 29th and they were free. My grandpere eventually made his way back to Canada and back to St. Claude, Manitoba where he returned to his family, friends and his bride to be (my grandmere).
My brother and I had asked my grandmere at her birthday if her and my grandpere were together when he left to go to war, she told us that she was, but she didn’t want to marry him before he left, just in case he didn’t come home. But he survived, came home, had a beautiful family, 6 kids, many grand kids and grand kids (who never got to meet him, but I’m sure he would be proud of them).
This year, I work with refugee kids, many of them Syrian, some of them, victims of war. I can’t imagine what they’ve seen, what they’ve gone through. We had our Remembrance Day assembly yesterday at school and some of the students sang this song. Very fitting.
So tomorrow, think of those who have risked their lives for our freedom, those who lost their lives and those who have lost loved ones because of wars.