Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Today, I will remember ...

Today, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month as we mark the 90th Anniversary of the Armistice that saw the Guns of August fall silent after four long years of muddy, bloody, horrid battlefield engagements that left hundreds of thousands dead and tens of thousands forever changed ... I will remember ...

My Grandfather who spent six years serving in the Royal Canadian Navy aboard tiny corvettes playing the vast icy grey waters of the North Atlantic ... tales that once left me giggling with delight now leave me wondrously bewildered as I consider what it was that he did, and realize that his maritime adventures were not mere tales from a story book, but were return visits to a time and place where death lurked beneath the waves ...

Poet and Solider Frank who served on the battle fields of Europe only to return home and find the spirit of war that had settled in on the domestic front to be repugnant and offensive. Turning his aggravation and revulsion into poetry that recalled the horrors, condemned the stupidity and yearned for peace he whispered an urgent message to a human family who wasn't able to listen ...

Vimy Ridge veteran Herb who entered my life at 105 as a friend who seemed 50 years younger and more interested in politics and current events than people EIGHT decades younger than himself ... with a tiny yellowed piece of paper signed by the King of England thanking him for his service at a place called Vimy, he told me HIS story and shared with me the horror of a battled field that stands a mythic place where Canada became a nation thanks to young men like Herb who stood, fought and died in the mud ... "It was more horrible than anyone could imagine ..." was how he would end each retelling ...

Landing Craft Pilot Frank, who quietly told me the story of having watched "too many good men die before my eyes ..." while we sat in the lobby of our apartment building. I was an idealistic student, and he a quiet retired gentleman who said the words - "thank you" when he saw the poppy on my coat collar.

"Thank me?" I asked, "did you serve?"

He nodded.

"Then I should thank YOU," I said, offering my hand, "and I REALLY MEAN IT."

In the coming days as Remembrance Day drew near he told me his story in bits and pieces, a story he admitted he had told NO ONE since returning home ... he has trained and served as a Landing Craft Pilot and navigated the lumbering green-grey vessel through the surf to beaches with names like Juno, Sicily, and Dieppe ... names etched in my memory as a student of history familiar with the times and places that Canadian Soldier served with valour.

But it was his story of Dieppe that is forever etched in my mind ... "I brought in a vessel with 52 men on board and I watched as 51 of them died ... only one (his thumb pointed to his chest) came home from that landing ... the rest fell as they stepped off the ship ..." His voice fell to a whisper, "even my co-pilot died, I didn't know it until I turned to him and screamed, "let's get out of here," and found him slumped over the controls with half his head blown away ..." He then told me of pulling up along side the support vessel in the Channel off Dieppe and being pushed back into the pilots' seat while a boat hook pulled his co-pilot's lifeless body out of the bridge, a bucket of water was tossed in to wash away the gore, and 50 MORE soldiers clamoured into the landing craft for their futile trip to the beach ... "most of them died too ..." he observed as he fell silent ...

Today I will observe the minute of silence and remember ...

I will remember those men and women I have met along the way who told me their story ... and I WILL REMEMBER those like the soldiers on Dieppe who fell in far away places far from home ... alone ...

They fell as heroes, and I WILL REMEMBER THEM !!


urgent matters of life and death



1 comment:

mrinz said...

Here too, many miles away, we will remember them.
One of them my Grandmothers brother, buried in France among the poppies.