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Poppies, People and Potato Peels

Fulfilling my dreams of becoming an author has made me notice Remembrance Day so much more keenly than ever before. I still remember marching in my cadet uniform, lining up in rows of black and white costumed girls followed by our khaki male classmates as we filled the halls facing our cenataph in the front hall of our large school. We listened to the Last Post, heard John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields, stood still for the minister’s message, and listened as our principal, Mr. Ferguson, talked of his paper boy who never came back from the war.

While I stood in the deathly silent halls at Woodstock Collegiate I thought of my Uncle Frank, my mother’s brother, who joined the Perth regiment but never came home from the war. I knew he was buried in Italy where a German bomb had hit his foxhole.

Uncle Frank is beside the dog and my mother, Alice, is next to Frank. August, 1939.

I remember thinking of Uncle Frank–who died before I was born–and I still feel the tears that slipped down my cheeks as I moved inside my young mind and imagined his life with his wife and baby daughter–cut off right as it was beginning–and the utter waste of it all.

Two of my Dad’s brothers also served but they came back and, at that time, I thought they were none the worse for it. I didn’t associate them with the horrors of World War II. Now I recognize the signs that both of them suffered PTSD although it was not named then.

My Dad never went to war. He served his country by milking Holsteins, raising crops and feeding Canada. He even worked in a munitions machine shop for one winter but decided he could do more by growing food at home. I wonder today if he was ostracized by people because he was not serving overseas but he never spoke of it. Another of the questions I’d like to ask him if he were here.

The past few days I’ve been reminded often of the sacrifices made by everyone who went through the war. I finished reading Extraordinary Women, Extraordinary Times: Canadian Women of WWII and, though it was a bit of a slog, I persevered because the stories of those  women and their contributions to the War came alive for me. (I  wrote a review on Goodreads.) My husband and I watched The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society on Monday and got another taste of the effects of the War on so many. (The link is to the trailer.)

A talented friend of mine, musician and recording artist Jack London, was invited to go to Vimy Ridge in 2017 for the famous battle’s 100th anniversary. He performed a number of songs including his own composition Highway of Heroes at the celebrations in France. This song is inspired by the strip of highway 401 from CFB Trenton where planes brought in fallen soldiers from the war in Afghanistan and along which those fallen soldiers traveled to Toronto before being released to families for burial.

On November 11th I was once again pleased to see the ceremony in Ottawa, our nation’s capital. I was delighted that not only the men who served in 1939-1945 but also the women and the First Nations peoples and the black people and those of all colours, races and backgrounds–all who served were recognized and represented. Canada is working on righting those old wrongs.

And so I return to my writing life and how it has made me notice more. I watch people’s faces. I listen to their unspoken words and I search behind their smiles and their frowns for the underpainting of their lives. We are all the products of what has gone before. For this Remembrance Day and for always, I hope that our memories can help shape our present and our future.

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