Thursday, October 24, 2013

time. like a silent river (3)

Remembering a World at War

["Veterans stand together at London's cenotaph, 2010"]

A few Remembrance Days in past years have been memorable for a variety of reasons. About one I recall startling clear, blue skies and the rush of jet engines during a fast fly-over. About another I recall wavering old voices singing hymns of remembrance and shimmering silhouettes of aging veterans who were sitting quietly, lost in their thoughts, inside an idling bus from Parkwood Hospital. One year I spotted the familiar face of a man sitting alone in the Parkwood bus, so I knocked on the door and was waved and welcomed inside, first by the driver, then by my father. Though a few words were likely pleasantly shared between us, I can't recall them. I do remember, however, that November 11, 2002 was a good day for both of us.

["...shimmering silhouettes of aging veterans"]

My father passed away about three months later but I have no doubt Remembrance Day, November 11, 2013 will be a good day as well.

* * * * *

Today's quote - 

"By the end of the war in 1945, 40 out of every 100 Canadian men
had entered the armed forces for an approximate total of 735,000 males
between the ages of 18 and 45. That's an astounding figure in a country
with a population as small as ours was (12 million) at that time."
[Voices of a War Remembered, Bill McNeil]

Today's story -  

Signing Up Means Leaving Home

As I have come to understand the reasons why many men and some women signed up at recruiting stations for involvement in battles or work related to World War 2, reasons changed with the times. When Canada declared war on Germany (about a week after Britain did), recruiting offices couldn't keep up with the first wave of people coming through the doors, because along with the Depression in the 1930s had come a severe lack of decent jobs across Canada.

     "For the unemployed it seemed like the opportunity they had
     been waiting for - a job with three guaranteed meals, a dollar
     and thirty cents a day, a suit of khaki or blue-coloured clothing
     and all the glamour a poor boy could ask for."
     [pg. 1, Voices of a War Remembered]

That the first wave 'stampeded off to war' may be an apt description. But shortly thereafter a second wave followed, as the war began to look worse and worse for the Allies. Men and women then left their jobs to sign up "because they really did want to do something for their country and they wanted to get over there and "kick the hell out of Hitler."" [pg. 6, Ibid]  

I feel my father was part of that second wave because on March 1, 1941 (18 months after Canada's declaration of war) he left his job at the Norwich Co-op "and joined the navy as a probationary rating, at Hamilton, taking instructions each evening." He says little in his memoirs or other stories (e.g., for his hometown newspaper) about the signing up process or how he felt before leaving home, but I realize, before he arrived in Hamilton for his first round of training, he had to quit a job, pack a bag and say good-bye to his mother and brothers and sisters. The 'leaving home' would have been one of the first big challenges he had to face on his way to training camps and later to direct involvement in the war, as it was for many other men and women, whether they signed up and left home - and mothers, fathers, and in some cases, wives and children - for very practical or patriotic reasons.

About how his mother (and other mothers) may have felt at the time, my father writes the following:

     As time passed the boys, including myself, worked and paid board.
     It didn’t make the workload any easier for mother, but finances
     became less of a worry. She could smile and join in the banter at
     meal times, but she never let up on a high code of ethics.

     The war came and as some of us had enlisted, it was a sad time
     for all of us, and particularly mother. Life had improved for her,
     and hard work had paid off, and suddenly the wheels fell off, so to
     speak. Her life went ‘on hold’ and the worries once again came to
     the fore; what she cherished could be lost.

     While I was overseas she constantly wrote and sent parcels. I sent
     word home of her sister and brother, whom I visited in London,
     England, and whose faces had long been forgotten.
     [The Norwich Gazette, circa 1992]

[Father with his mother, Alice - Christmas leave, 1941:
Photo as it appeared in The Norwich Gazette, circa 1992]

That 'wheels fell off', life went on hold and families deeply missed their boys and girls, and boys and girls missed their families cannot be denied. More to follow.


Please click here to read time, like a silent river (2)

No comments: