Thursday, November 10, 2011

The torch be yours... [106/140]

Remembrance Day

Taken in 1914, this picture is of the first group of soldiers from Fort William to be sent off to to fight in the First World War, sitting in front of the City Hall.
The text in the left hand corner reads "Fryer, Fort William" and to the bottom right of the picture is the date: "August 19th, 1914"
City of Thunder Bay Archives Series Number: 128
Accession Number: 1991-1#94
Words cannot express the admiration I have for our veterans.  Even that sentence caused me to pause and re-write, especially the 'our'.  Should we say 'the' veterans?  I say our as if you've ever talked to any one of them, they'll say they did what they did for not themselves, but for their country.

Obviously we can go over stories of people who were in WWII, and there are also those that won't say a word about what happened, but that they did what needed to be done.

There's a recounting of an 86 year old on the internet, who being surprisingly tech-savvy used a 'rage comic' to do so and he talks briefly about his stint in the war and touches on it later on about how it really affected his life.

I have an uncle who served in the Korean war and was wounded twice.  I have a friend who's served 3 tours in Afghanistan.  Equally they put themselves on the line and showed a bravery that, in all honesty, is lost on much of us today.

I don't know whether it's due to the fact that as a piper I've had the privilege to be nearer to these folks and hear these stories or what, but it pains me when others don't realize what this day really is all about.  I remember teaching trying to take one moment to impress on the class about the solemnity of the day and the ceremony we were going to watch and immediately several students groaned and complained that "my mom already tried to yak at me about this".  I had never felt like hitting a kid before.  I just couldn't fathom how the stories of the 'the boys' didn't penetrate into their consciousness for them to realize what it really meant.

As typical around this time, the discussion at band turned to the stories of those who served within our ranks.  I have an excellent video of Graham recounting the tales of "Big Don" and it got real emotional.  He's asked that that video never sees the light of day, but some day I will let it be seen.

Last night's discussion Don talked about how he had gone over in 2005 and in 2010 to Holland with a volunteer pipe band to play there.  In 2010 it was the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Holland.  Several things from his story need to be told.

First he recounted how they were walking past and an older gentleman had stopped them and asked "are you Canadian?"  When they answered they were, the man told his story:

I was 12 during the occupation of the Nazi, and soldiers would go through the town and strafe the houses with bullets [he showed Don still visible holes in some of the houses and cupboards].  The occupying forces would take all the fuel, food and clothing, leaving the townspeople with literally nothing.  Men were taken to the labour camps.  Women were taken to the soldier's camps.  Children were often shot on site, as they 'contributed nothing'.
Whole families were taking to the forest to hide.  They would dig big pits and huddle in them with boughs to cover and slowly freeze or starve to death while hiding from the occupying forces.
One day we saw soldiers running away.  They were leaving their machine guns and running fast.  Being young I decided to see what was going on.  I crept close to the city and saw more Nazi soldiers fleeing as fast as they could.  Eventually, as I got closer to the centre of town I started to hear the most god-awful sound you could imagine.  It was a lone man walking down the middle of the streets, playing an instrument so loud and horrible that it was that that I thought the Germans were running from.  He had a Canadian flag on him and I thought he was the bravest person in the world, scaring the Nazis all on his own.  I then saw the rest of the Canadian troops pushing through the village, going house to house riding us of the occupying forces.

That got me really thinking.  Wow.  We forget that often war stories are not told just by the soldiers, but by real people.  And young people.  We have that luxury of being a country that has never had to deal with that kind of hardships, so we will never know what it is like.  But all the same, when the time came, we knew we had to step up and serve our fellow man and do what was right, regardless of the cost.

Don also told about how in 2005 and in 2010 watching the veterans with their service over there [which they hold in May] and how there were over 15,000 Canadian graves there.  The Canadian cemetery is maintained immaculately, and get this, by the students of the village.  They know the value of who was buried there and to this day are still thankful for it.  He mentioned that it was sad to watch the 2000+ veterans that were there in '05 dwindle to just over 500 in '10.  However, Holland still paid its respect.  Each stone marker had a poppy and a wreath and at a point a helicopter would fly over and drop poppies on the site.

I can't tell you how much this imagery moves me.  We don't nearly honour our veterans as well as we should.

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