It was pouring rain here – a tropical storm passing through Nova Scotia and joining up with a low which had been crossing Canada to make a deluge and gale – and I was concerned for those who were in downtown Halifax for the memorial parade and service at the Cenotaph. Beryl and I watched the national Remembrance Day ceremonies in Ottawa, where it was cold, but dry, from the comfort of our chairs. One of the veterans, who was interviewed on the local Halifax TV station, on being asked about the pouring rain and wind, replied that those whom they were commemorating at the service served in rain, mud, wind, snow and desert heat, so the least he could do to honour their memories was to stand in the rotten weather for a brief hour or so.
Such a thought from a veteran made me wonder if this commemoration could continue for years to come, or would the tradition become stale as the memories and the veterans faded away and the past was dimmed. But then I saw another clip later in the day, which told the story of how our teachers in our schools are devoting as much as a week to the facts of the various wars and the whys of the wars, instead of the old, perhaps, one hour which used to be given to talking about Remembrance Day. And yet another clip said that over the past few years, the celebrations have been growing in numbers and that on Parliament Hill in Ottawa this year, the crowd was very likely a record with over fifteen thousand present.
I am glad that people are remembering, for, although I never saw combat, many people I have known have died in actual combat. And why did they die? For the most part to ensure that all of us in many countries have the freedom to speak out, to proselytise, to protest, to celebrate, to not fear secret police. I say, for the most part, for there are those of us who ponder over the reason we went into Iraq or Afghanistan. Yet, having gone there at our government’s behest and orders, our fighting services tried their best – and did well – at the task with which they were presented, upholding and distinguishing their and their countries’ honour.
My memories of World War II are childlike, for I was six years old when the war started in September 1939. I had a large map on the wall of my bedroom on which I stuck pins: “The RAF bombed Dresden last night and suffered minor losses of aircraft….” the BBC would report and I would stick a pin in Dresden. Or, later in the war: “The British 8th army has advanced toward Tobruk amidst heavy resistance…” and so I would stick a pin in Tobruk. [Just en passant, Wikipedia says: The siege of Tobruk was a confrontation that lasted 240 days between Axis and Allied forces in North Africa during the Western Desert Campaign of the Second World War. The siege started on 11 April 1941, when Tobruk was attacked by an Italian–German force under Lieutenant General Erwin Rommel, and continued for 240 days up to 27 November 1941, when it was relieved by the Allied 8th Army during Operation Crusader.]
My mother and I were evacuated from Southampton as the bombing of the docks worsened, simultaneously with my father, a teacher of a certain age, thereby excused military service, being evacuated with his entire school to a rural town. Dad was not that distant from Mum and me, being able to cycle home to us on some weekends. Mum and I were about thirty miles from Southampton, so on some really bad blitz nights, we could see the glare of fires. But, mostly, for me, the war was something happening far away. Sure, there were lots of convoys of army trucks and the train I had to take daily to Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Wimborne was frequently held up at a station while a troop train would go through, it being only single track outside of the stations, but even the rationing was not as severe in the rural areas – if you got to know and help a local farmer or two. And my best friend, David Pattle, and I would play “army” with our wooden rifles in the woods, or play with our toy army trucks, soldiers and airplanes in the sandy cliffs of the abandoned brickyard behind our house. In the summer, we would sail a lovely steel-hulled model sail boat my parents had given me for a birthday in one of the ponds in the brickyard. Or, at harvest, I was allowed to drive a horse pulling a rake and had to make rows of the cut grain, so it could be stooked. Yes, well before the days of combine harvesters in our part of England. Besides, there was no petrol for machines such as they.
So went the war with me. But every Remembrance Day since, I have remembered those who gave their lives in order that I could live a somewhat carefree life as a child and to be entitled to grow up and live in countries where my rights are protected.
We will remember them!