I never had a lot of time with my grandfather — he died when I was very young.
But I did hear many of his stories over the years, particularly in relation to the Second World War, including how he and my grandmother came to be together.
The pair had met in the Edmonton area through church. She was in the choir and they had been making eyes for each other for some time. When the call to fight under the Red Ensign (the Maple Leaf flag we all are familiar with did not exist at the time,) he took the call but not before the pair were married.
Fuel was short and planes were not the standard way of crossing the Canadian wild yet, so he had to leave for England by boat from Halifax. So my grandmother travelled with him the entire way to Halifax, standing on the edge of the port and waving him off as his ship pulled out to port, not knowing if she would ever see him again.
She then made the lonely journey back to Edmonton, while he, one of four brothers to follow his country’s call, found himself in a tank on the main lines.
I’m told he used to have nightmares for years after he came back from the war and I can only begin to imagine why. Spending hours, possibly days, stuck in an oversized tin can with a crew of males while outside all you can hear is either the sound of your treads or shells going off in the distance can’t be the easiest thing to do.
One time, his tank got hit by one of those shells. He made it through, the tank did not. In fact, the salvage team actually thought he was dead, but he managed to twitch his foot enough for a paramedic to notice him and pull him out of the rubble. He likely would have bled to death, or worse, if not for that.
In the end, all four brothers managed to come back from what turned out to be the deadliest conflict in history. A war that changed the lives of everything it touched, from the psychology of men and women to the borders and allegiances of entire nations.
This is why we have Remembrance Day and why it is so important. War is hell and no one who has ever seen it wants their children or grandchildren to see it. But we can only achieve this if people understand -why- it is such a horror story.
Remembrance Day runs against the grain of our society which celebrates violence. Our video games, comics and movies are full of romantic tales of warrior-hood. It’s only by speaking with the survivors of war that we can push through the fantasies of those who have not seen war and get the grim realities from those who have.
If you have some veterans in your family, now is the time to sit down with them and actually learn about their experiences in the theatre. Lest We Forget requires dialogue between those who remember and those who need to learn. Otherwise, we run the risks of repeating the mistakes of our ancestors.