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Diary of a granddaughter's pilgrimage

Post by Guest on Sun 06 Nov 2016, 18:36

Awakening at Vimy Ridge: Diary of a granddaughter's pilgrimage

Published November 6, 2016 - 2:06pm

Walter Seymour Allward’s iconic war memorial at Vimy Ridge represents Canada’s contribution to the First World War and names 11,285 soldiers who died in France but have no known graves. In all, 60,000 Canadians were killed in that war. Here, the figure of Canada Bereft, also known as Mother Canada to locals, looks down upon a giant stone sarcophagus that lies on the battlefield below. Barely visible on the sarcophagus is a tribute left by an unknown Nova Scotian the same day as the author’s visit. Photos RUTH EDGETT

“If you’re going to die you might as well die trying.”

This came to mind on a fine April morning in 2013 as I descended a steep foot path below Vimy Ridge and gazed back up the slope toward the colossal white monument that crowns it. I was thinking of my grandfather, George Millar, one of the Canadian soldiers who drove the German army off that ridge nearly a century before.

When he sprang from his sodden trench that Easter Monday in 1917 and began wading through the mud toward his enemy, Millar was nine days away from his 20th birthday. His baptism into infantry life had been the dying days of the bloody debacle at the Somme the previous fall.

Already wounded once, he would have witnessed more than enough sudden death on the battlefield, but here he was again in the thick of it. He and his brothers in battle had to have considered this day might be their last. I could well imagine him saying those words.

Having no mother or home to call his own, Millar had left Nova Scotia with his father around age 14 to try his luck in the wheat fields out west, where he eventually signed up with the 78th Battalion Winnipeg Grenadiers. Once overseas, the Grenadiers became part of the 12th Brigade within the 4th Canadian Division. On April 9, 1917, that brigade’s main objective was to capture the highest point on Vimy Ridge, Hill 145.

Nearly two decades later, when Walter Seymour Allward’s magnificent monument was ready for unveiling on that same hill, the Royal Canadian Legion organized a weeks-long “pilgrimage” to France, Flanders and England for 6,200 Canadian veterans. George and Ruth Millar were among them.

This simple but poignant, evocative plaque is placed in Vimy Ridge. A similar one is placed at Beaumont Hamel.

In her diary of that trip, which included lavish banquets, a gathering of 100,000 for the unveiling, tours of the battle sites and a garden party at Buckingham Palace, my grandmother wrote of the overwhelming numbers of crisp, white grave markers set in neat, green burial grounds throughout France and Belgium.

“At last one has seen so many cemeteries and memorials to such great numbers of our dead that the mind becomes, in a measure, numbed by it all and refuses to try to realize just how many were sacrificed in ‘The War to End War.’”

As I visited the same locale, it struck home that the terms battlefield and cemetery are synonymous there. By war’s end more than 60,000 Canadian soldiers had died, and all are buried where they fought. Nearly 3,600 died in the Battle of Vimy Ridge, most on the first day.

Grandpa never spoke of the war to his grandchildren and rarely to anyone else. Yet we were quietly told in his last years that he visited those old battlefields in his mind quite often. So I had to believe that underlying the legion’s triumphal pilgrimage was an undercurrent of deep sorrow, and that my grandfather and his fellow veterans must have felt it most keenly right there on that ridge where they had endured so much and lost so many.

It was this idea of a permanent, private mourning and a memory of unspeakable hell that had me doubting my place on the hill that day. What gave me the right, all these decades later, to arrive unasked and tramp like a tourist over this site that must have meant so much to him?

I was unprepared for my first encounter with the monument, blazing white and soaring toward an azure sky as it must have appeared that July day in 1936.

From the instant I saw it, I could not lower the camera from my eye, so perfect were the images and angles and carved figures there. By the time I was close enough to feel it looming above me, I had been squinting through the camera so long that I didn’t know if the tear on my cheek was due to that, or to the force of a country’s grief and gratitude so eloquently portrayed in all that stone.

By then I was on my knees, grateful the camera masked a need to bow down before this marker of my grandfather’s courage.

But, even after all this, I realized I had been approaching the sculpture from the rear.

As I rounded the other side, there stood Canada Bereft, known to the locals as Mother Canada, and seen in just about every picture representing Vimy Ridge. But looking at her photos is nothing like standing beside her and feeling the profound and palpable grief in the set of her face and the stoop of her giant shoulders.

I needed time to absorb it all, so I sat and looked out over the tree tops toward the plain below, then scanned the ridge, noting the entrance to that narrow dirt path I was about to take. And I marvelled at the peace that prevailed there, all the way to the horizon and beyond.

“Not bad, grandpa,” I thought.

Finally I wandered to the base of the monument and it was there I came upon the answer to my earlier doubt: propped against an out-sized stone sarcophagus that rests on the old battleground beneath Mother Canada’s gaze were three small Nova Scotia flags.

They were untouched by an early morning rain, so they must have been placed not long before I arrived. Beside them sat a small flat stone and on it had been painted two red maple leaves encircled by these words: A piece of home for those who didn’t return.

Seeing that bit of Nova Scotia so far from home — and feeling a connection with my grandfather that I’d never felt before — I knew that tribute held a message for me, too.

It has taken a few years, but I believe the message was this: for George Millar’s buddies who fell at Vimy and elsewhere, I was their piece of home.



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Mission veteran Albert Wells was among Canadian invasion force on D-Day

Post by Guest on Sun 06 Nov 2016, 18:48

Mission veteran Albert Wells was among Canadian invasion force on D-Day

by  Kevin Mills - Mission City Record
Mission, B.C. posted Nov 6, 2016 at 5:00 AM

Albert Wells, now 101, was 24 when he enlisted in 1942.

Sitting in his motorized chair, Albert Wells wheels his way through the lobby of Mission’s Chartwell Cedarbrooke retirement residence on his way to the bistro.

With Remembrance Day a week away, the 101-year-old veteran of the Second World War spoke to The Record about his experience.

Wells was in his mid-20s when he enlisted in 1942.

“What happened was three of my friends had joined the army and they sent them overseas to Hong Kong. Unfortunately, the Japanese took over and they were all killed,” he said.

“When they got killed, I got so upset about it that I went right out and signed up. That was my main reason for joining.”

Because of his experience in mining, Wells became a member of the 6th Field Company of Royal Canadian Engineers.

He said they wanted him to go to officers’ training, but he declined and remained a private.

“I knew the basics of war is based on people who go to the front line all the time. So I was afraid if I got to be an officer I might get put into headquarters or something like that and I wouldn’t be up there with my buddies.”

Wells was serving with the 6th when they landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day in 1944.

From there they moved through France, along the coast and made steady progress until they reached Holland.

He said they had to stay in Holland for some time before they managed to carry on – at a slow pace of fighting – until they reached Germany on May 8.

“We were immediately sent back to Holland,” he said, as the Germans had surrendered.

Because of the huge number of soldiers being sent home, Wells said he had to wait in Holland for six months before he could find transport.

“We fell in love with the Dutch people. For quite a while I corresponded with people there who were so nice and helpful. We had a nice connection there.”

Last year, Wells became a Knight of the National Order of the Legion of Honour. He received this title from the Government of the Republic of France for his service during the war.

During last year’s ceremony, held in Mission, Wells said he wasn’t sure why he was receiving this highly esteemed award. He joked that they may have “pulled his name from a hat.”

But the truth is, his service is still remembered.

Remembrance Day is Nov.11.



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Canadian war effort surprised all

Post by Guest on Mon 07 Nov 2016, 15:55

Canadian war effort surprised all


Published November 6, 2016 - 1:40pm
Last Updated November 6, 2016 - 2:53pm

J.L. Granatstein’s acclaimed biography of Canada’s senior commanders in the Second World War, The Generals (1993), was based on numerous interviews with Canadian veterans and their families. In his new book — call it a spin-off of The Generals — the author goes back to those interviews, showing us, in a sense, the raw material behind the original book.

When Canada entered the Second World War, Granatstein reminds us, the country had virtually no defence budget and no real idea how it would fight a war on a global scale. We were essentially putting an army together on the fly, training people and learning how to train them all at the same time. It was a massive undertaking and over the course of the war the government poured more than $5.5 billion into the war effort.

Rather than try to tell that big, sprawling story, the author tells us several smaller parts of it: a retired major-general talks about his service in Sicily as Commander of the Royal Artillery; another is still bitter about being scapegoated for the failure of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division, which he commanded, during the later stages of the Battle of Normandy (other people interviewed for the book suggest he might have been legitimately relieved of his command).

There are more than 60 interviewees: four major generals, a dozen officers who served under them, nearly 30 staff officers and an assortment of family members. Because the author didn’t use a tape recorder during the interviews, the book is rather light on direct quotes from the interviewees; Granatstein is mostly paraphrasing, which occasionally leads to a bit on confusion. Did, for example, an interviewee describe someone as having as much personality as a dead dog, or is that the author’s interpretation? On the other hand, there’s no confusion at all when Granatstein tells us that a former Adjutant General says the Battle of Dieppe was “stupid,” and was entirely the fault of poor planning by Admiral Mountbatten.

Because the Canadian military community during the Second World War, at least at the command level, was tightly knit, many of the interviewees knew and worked with the same people. Commanders like General Andrew McNaughton (who oversaw units in the UK and France) and Major-General Christopher Vokes (who commanded the Canadian forces at the Battle of Ortona — and about whom opinion is rather interestingly divided) — are important elements of the book, although they were never interviewed for it. Similarly, the interviewees’ recollections are sometimes augmented, sometimes contradicted, by the memories of other interviewees. It makes for an interesting patchwork-quilt effect: many small pieces of a story join together to create a larger picture.

Although the book might have been better if we had heard more from the interviewees themselves — the subtitle is Voices of Canada’s Second World War Generals and Those Who Knew Them, but the voice is mostly Granatstein’s — it most definitely succeeds at what it’s trying to do: show us what the Second World War was like for its commanders, as remembered by the people themselves.



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Beaconsfield pays tribute to soldiers, war veterans at Heroes Park

Post by Guest on Mon 07 Nov 2016, 16:08

Beaconsfield pays tribute to soldiers, war veterans at Heroes Park

Annual ceremony honours war veterans at Heroes' Park

CBC News Posted: Nov 06, 2016 11:29 PM ET Last Updated: Nov 06, 2016 11:29 PM ET

Many who fought and died in past conflicts were no older than the cadets present at the ceremony.

The City of Beaconsfield was one of many Montreal communities that came together this weekend to honour the service and sacrifice of soldiers and war veterans.

Veterans, cadets and civilians took part in a ceremony at Heroes' Park on Sunday afternoon ahead of Remembrance Day.

"It's amazing how we as a community can come together to remember for those who fought for something that they believed was right," said Cadet Kevin Broadley.

Many who fought and died in past conflicts were no older than the cadets present at the ceremony. Joe Maxwell joined the army at age 18 and went on to serve in Burma.

"War's a hell of a thing, that's all I can say," he said.

Montreal communities honour soldiers ahead of Remembrance Day

It's hard for him to talk about past battles and his experiences, but he takes the time to remember those who served alongside him.

"I think of comrades that's passed on and I give them a bit of thought. Lots of good lads," he said.

For many, the annual ceremony is important to ensure the memories and the sacrifices of war veterans continue to live on.

Kevin Broadley, left, and Guy Vallières, right, discuss the importance of honouring fallen soldiers. (CBC)

"I'm humbled by how many come out to these events," said Broadley.

Guy Vallières, the national vice chair of Royal Canadian Air Force Association, attends the ceremony every year. He hopes future generations will continue to honour the service of the men and women of Canada's military.

"We count on these guys to carry the torch for us," he said.

Beaconsfield wasn't the only city to hold a ceremony ahead of Remembrance Day. The communities of Notre-Dame-de-Grace and Westmount also came together to honour the sacrifices made by veterans and soldiers of today's armed forces.

More tributes will be held across Montreal this week.



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Remembering the wars still fought

Post by Guest on Mon 07 Nov 2016, 16:14

Remembering the wars still fought

By Andrew Glen McCutcheon, Pincher Creek Echo
Monday, November 7, 2016 1:00:28 MST PM

I’m an extremely lucky guy.

I mean, I’ve never won the lottery and I do terribly at the casino, but I know I can count myself among the luckiest people in the world.

I know where my next meal is coming from. I’m not in danger of falling shells. I can write and speak out with my opinions and not have to worry about being harmed.

However, being this close to Remembrance Day, it’s important to remember and keep mindful of those in our community who are less fortunate, especially when it comes to issues of mental health.

I’m not talking about the poor or the addicted, although they are equally as affected by mental health issues.

I’m talking about the people who have served to ensure that I am safe, I am fed, and I am free; Canadian veterans.

There is a stigma that surrounds this conversation that erroneously believes that those with mental health conditions are weak.

There’s nothing weak about being a veteran.

Ask Captain Don Delke, from Lethbridge. He’ll tell you.

Delke is a veteran of the Korean War and has been a tireless crusader for veteran’s rights following his service.

I had the pleasure to speak with him several years ago after he spoke about his wartime experiences at the University of Lethbridge.

He said something that day that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. It made me sick to my stomach.

“It appears our bureaucrats have a policy of rejection. You apply for help and the immediate answer is ‘we can’t do that’ … They hope that you will eventually get frustrated and give up, or blow your brains out.”

I was terrified to print that. I asked him a second and third time that I could quote him on what he said.

Delke didn’t seem afraid, and he definitely didn’t seem weak.

And he wasn’t wrong. The Globe and Mail recently reported that there have been at least 70 soldiers who have committed suicide following their service in Afghanistan.

They are not counted across the official toll, and they are not honoured in military memorials.

But when they came home, they did not stop fighting. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, is just one of several mental illnesses that veterans can face as they return home from battle.

For context sake, 158 soldiers died overseas in combat or combat related situations in Afghanistan.

That means the amount of people who have committed suicide after fighting an enemy at home is just under half of that.

This is unacceptable.

You could be the most anti-war, staunch advocate of peace.

You could be in favour of more military interventions across the world.

Regardless of your position on war, you cannot deny that 70 suicides, 70 deaths on Canadian soil, from a war that happened several thousand kilometres away, is utterly unacceptable.

And I don’t have the answers. Regardless of who’s running it, I trust the government about as far as I could throw it.

What I have faith in are people and community. When was the last time you went to the Legion just to see if someone wants to talk?

I know I haven’t lately. I know I probably should remember to more often because conversations are important.

Mental illness is a dark, ethereal enemy, which is most dangerous when it’s hidden.

It might be scary or make us uncomfortable when we have to face and talk about these things head-on.

But I think we can be brave for our veterans; soldiers who have been courageous in battle, and even stronger at home.



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Journey of remembrance: Post-graduates explore battle sites in Northern France

Post by Guest on Mon 07 Nov 2016, 16:22

Journey of remembrance: Post-graduates explore battle sites in Northern France


Published November 7, 2016 - 12:14pm
Last Updated November 7, 2016 - 1:04pm

Barely noticeable from a far, the base of the Vimy Ridge monument is covered in names.

When I think about Canadian veterans my mind automatically flashes to Remembrance Day ceremonies. Unfortunately, these brief once-a-year acknowledgments are not even close to enough exposure to develop a true appreciation for our veterans. Remembering back to when I was in school, kids would do anything to slip away for the afternoon while the rest of us sat in fear we would make noise during the moment of silence, while the eyes of aging veterans stared down at us.

Twenty years later, my boyfriend Josh and I are backpacking Europe and about to take five days of our trip to embark on the most realistic remembrance ceremony there is — visiting Vimy Ridge, Beaumont Hamel, war museums in Calais, the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate in Ypres, and searching for the grave of my great-great grandfather who never returned to Cape Breton after the First World War.


The signs for graveyards and battle sites are countless in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais and I can’t even keep track as we follow the signs to Vimy. As we pull into a vacant parking lot I wonder if it is closed since I don’t see a soul. Two days ago we walked shoulder to shoulder with tourists for eight hours at the Palace of Versailles. This can’t be it, we are in Europe, right? There is not a soul here. Josh points to couple in a car snacking on sandwiches, and a man walking by himself down a path in the distance. That is it — empty, silent. A true platform for appreciation and respect. The memorial is prominent against a murky sky leaving an unsettling solemnness that engulfs me. I wonder if this weather sets in at this time each day serving as a permanent backdrop and setting a necessary tone.

I’ll admit, I didn’t know what to expect, but whatever I had conjured up in my mind is far from what I’m seeing.

I look out at an open field. There are no graves, but the battles begin to come alive in my imagination while zeroing in on craters covering the field. “Those are from the bombs,” Josh says. I wonder how many Canadian soldiers took cover in these giant groves, covered in mud instead of the bright green grass we see now.

The white grey marble makes the monument disappear and reappear against the foggy sky as we approach. You get glimpses of it drawing closer while walking through the rows of planted maple trees, seven on each side, a patriotic and uniform entrance.

Josh reminds me that this monument is ‘a tribute to the dead’ and that it is the only war memorial that was not later destroyed by Hitler, for this reason. When you walk closer you can see individual poppies placed amidst the names covering the walls of the monument.

The monument is fittingly somber, exempt of colour. It is hard to even read all the names engraved up and down on the base of the statue. Perhaps the artist was symbolizing countless unmarked graves all around us, mimicking how the bodies of soldiers became part of the land, names bleed into the monument like bodies bled into the field.

As we walk towards another part of the historical park, the craters in the earth seem to become deeper and more narrow. Trenches. We pass dozens of sheep grazing in the fields, walking in and out of grooves in the field and see a sign, “DANGER: no entry: undetonated explosives.” That's about as real as it gets, isn’t it?

The trenches are lined with stone, but Josh tells me it would have been sandbags. As we walk through them I imagine the soldiers stepping over what’s left of their friends, trying to keep them safe in hopes of returning their bodies home. It’s hard to navigate in the trenches when we are the only ones walking in them, in the light and setup for tourists. I can only imagine what it would be like crawling through here in the rain, in the dark, through the smoke, fighting, but trying to navigate this maze with no pattern hoping to survive.

The most powerful part of Vimy, for me, was the fact there is no history to read. No ‘Did You Know’ platforms, nothing, just the raw reality of what’s left.

I guess people who make the journey here probably don’t want to be told what happened because they are imagining the heroic deaths of their loved ones, not the harsh realities of a field soaked in blood, covered in limbs and helmets, scattered with crumpled faces on the pictures they would have held tightly in their hands as they took their last breaths.

As I read some of what I’ve written to Josh he gives me the most realistic perspective: “Think of it this way, Maria, if I was born 100 years ago I would probably have died here.”


After we toured the grounds at Vimy we visited the small museum where we saw some artifacts found on the battlegrounds and got to see before and after pictures of places we had just been standing. We then found some benches and started to have our lunch outside, picnic style.

I struck up a conversation with the two couples eating next to us. They began telling us about visiting the graves of their relatives. “He’s been there for 98 years, and I’m 55. I can’t get over it,” one of the men says while describing his grandfather’s tombstone.

I soon learned, with a bit of friendly prying, that the two couples spend a lot of time at these sites because they are retired British military and the women were military nurses. They told us they’ve made it their life’s goal to visit all the soldiers from England, especially the graves of unknown soldiers. When I asked them to tell me how they came to such a specific goal, they told me a story about visiting their first unknown grave as uniformed soldiers. One of the men remembers saying, “It is a shame their family doesn’t get to stand here and have some closure,” to have an another, older man in uniform standing at the site with them respond to their comment with, “You are his family now. We are all his family. We are a family.”

As our conversation grew deeper one of the women told me they used to think about stuff they have seen and convinced themselves they had it bad, but said when they come here it puts it in perspective. “We get to see what is left. They don’t.” The other woman added, “We get to see what has become of what they died for. They don’t.”

I've never wanted to visit the grave of my great-great-grandfather — who never returned to Cape Breton after the First World War — more than I did at that moment. I was a little discouraged because I had looked in several cemeteries while en route to Vimy. We stopped at two different Commonwealth cemeteries. Although it is easy to rule them out fast with the registries, I still had no luck. I wasn’t about to get my hopes up, because after talking with the couples I knew it was no easy feat. “They bury the men as they fall, everything is a graveyard here. Good luck,” they told me as we left.

The next day, as we were driving towards Beaumont Hamel my head was swinging back and forth trying to catch all of the gravesite signs, that’s how many there are. After driving for over an hour without seeing signs for anything, I saw the name I had written down on a piece of paper: Thelus. We pulled over immediately but I couldn’t see a graveyard comparable to the ones we had already checked. But in the distance I saw a cross. We started walking across a large field out into the middle of nowhere. On one side there was rapeseed, the other was cultivated land. We walked, well, I think I might have been slightly jogging at this point, until we reached a small cemetery in the middle of the open land.

There he was: Third row, fourth in, Philip Walsh. The flowers around his grave seemed to have bloomed more than the rest. I am sure that the upkeep of these cemeteries isn’t taken lightly, but I couldn’t help but wonder maybe there was someone over here taking special care of him, or he knew I was on my way and made himself easier to find. I hope he knew I wouldn't leave until I found him. As I read the gravestone I realize he died at 23 — the age I am right now. I whispered, “I hope I am making you proud because the sense of pride I have for being a part of you will never cease.”



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'We can’t forget'

Post by Guest on Mon 07 Nov 2016, 16:42

'We can’t forget'

By Michael Lea, Kingston Whig-Standard
Monday, November 7, 2016 4:17:35 EST PM

Daniel Chabot bends down to one the military graves on which to place Canadian flags in Cataraqui Cemetery in Kingston on Monday, part of a pre-Remembrance Day tradition. (Michael Lea/The Whig-Standard)

His black leather vest is festooned with crests and insignia, but it’s the row of patches down the right-hand side that tell the real story of who Daniel Chabot is and what he has seen.

As you drop your eyes down the row, they start with the first Gulf War then descend to Rwanda, Haiti, Sarno, Aviano and Golan Heights.

“These are all places I have been on different missions,” explained Chabot as he clutched a handful of the Canadian flags he was about to place on the military graves at Cataraqui Cemetery, an annual pre-Remembrance Day tradition.

It’s also a list of human misery and the failure of politicians.

He had signed up for the air force, but, in another example of the military’s perplexing reasoning, ended up driving a transport for his 25 years of service, including during those tours with the United Nations and NATO.

He was a truck driver for a Canadian field hospital south of the Kuwaiti border during the first Gulf War in 1991, was in Rwanda in 1994 just after the genocide that so affected now-retired lieutenant-general Romeo Dallaire, was on a United Nations mission in Haiti in 1997, was in Sarno, Italy, following the 1998 landslides that killed more than 350 people, and served at a U.S. base in Aviano, Italy. and on the Golan Heights.

Chabot has been out of the military for the past eight years and managed to come back from it all “more whole than others, probably.”

“We all have our issues,” he said. “It’s just that some are more extended than others.”

He heard about Dallaire dreading the memories that Remembrance Day forced upon him.

“I understand where he is coming from,” Chabot said. “Since I have been on tours, it holds a lot more importance to me, especially having people that I know that didn’t come back and people that came back and are not around anymore because of the PTSD suffering. There have been more suicides than people know of.”

His wife, Robin Chabot, has never been in the Forces, but comes from an American military family. She joined him for the morning in the cemetery and carried her own Canadian flags.

“It’s just to honour our veterans,” she explained.

This was the second year the two have taken part. They live in Gananoque and only heard about the flag-placing ceremony last year.

Thanks to a larger-than-normal turnout back then, they were among the last to make the cut and get their flags.

“They had to turn away a lot of people,” she recalled. “We were lucky.”

Robin still remembers seeing a headstone for a veteran knocked over on its side.

“That just broke my heart. I wanted to lift it but I couldn’t.”

They made sure they arrived early this year.

Robin noted the American equivalent of Remembrance Day always gets a strong turnout.

“We can’t forget and we can’t let the kids forget.”

Her husband agrees.

“It means a lot to me, especially for the veterans and what they went through. I know what the majority of them went through, even if I didn’t go through the same exact thing they did. I like honouring the veterans any way I can.”

They were joined for the morning by friend Jason Poirier of Kingston. He had served in the army and was in Kosovo in 1999, driving tanks and other armoured vehicles.

This year was the first time he took part in the event in the cemetery.

“It’s just a chance to honour my fallen brothers and sisters that are out there,” he said. “I am proud to be able to take part in something like this.”

The three are all members of Veterans UN NATO Canada and are also involved in the Flags of Remembrance display on Bayridge Drive.

Poirier said he keeps watch over the flags on Monday nights, to make sure there is no repeat of last year’s thefts.

As the three headed off to find their allotted section of the cemetery, Dave Donovan, chair of the Day of Remembrance veterans committee that organizes the event each year, was looking at his watch and wondering if he was going to run short of volunteers this year.

“This time last year you couldn’t move in here,” he said as he sat in the near-empty cemetery building where the flags were handed out. “I hope we are going to get enough this year.”

But people were still coming in in twos and threes, many in one uniform or another.

“I’m sure we’ll be all right.”

Placing the Canadian flags on the military graves “is very, very important,” Donovan said.

“It is necessary that we remember the veterans. They were ordinary people who gave up their lives. Whether they came back or they didn’t come back, they interrupted their lives to ensure that we could live in freedom.”

The number of veterans resting in the cemetery is growing steadily, Donovan said. Not too many days go by without an obituary appearing in the newspaper for yet another service member who has passed away.

There were once 500 graves in the military section. Now there are 730, he noted.

“It’s huge now.”

Donovan expected his volunteers would place flags on 800 or so military graves that are scattered elsewhere in the cemetery.

It is a point of honour to find them all, he stressed.

Many have military unit crests or ranks on them to signify the person resting below was in the Forces, but they can be hard to find when they are mixed in with thousands of other headstones.

“If they don’t have any markings on them, we don’t know,” Donovan said.

The volunteers are armed with maps that denote the names and their final resting place, but it can be a daunting task in the sprawling, 100-acre cemetery.

The veterans committee’s next event is a pre-Remembrance Day ceremony on Thursday at the military section of the cemetery. Schoolchildren are invited to take part in a service after placing their own flags on the graves.




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'War is a big mistake of mankind' says 95-year-old Guelph veteran

Post by Guest on Mon 07 Nov 2016, 16:48

'War is a big mistake of mankind' says 95-year-old Guelph veteran

McCrae House hosts a Thank A Veteran event as part of Remembrance Day week activities

Nov 07, 2016

Dorothy Scott was 19 when she enlisted in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force during World War II.

Dorothy Scott has a message for war for all those who haven't lived through it.

"As far as I'm concerned, war should never be. It's a big mistake of mankind," Scott said Sunday during the annual Thank A Veteran event at McCrae House.

"War is something that should be deplored. It does nothing," she said.

The 95-year-old Scott joined Canadian peace keeping veterans Jacques De Winter and Bob Harkness at Sunday's event to greet and chat with visitors.

Scott was a 19-year-old transplanted Canadian attending university in Scotland when war broke out in 1939.

She decided to enlist in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, a female extension of the Royal Air Force assigned to non-combat duties.

Her roles included "plotting" aircraft, using pre-radar information to track where allied and enemy aircraft were while in the air.

"I worked marking the routes that aircraft took and trying to figure if they were ours or not," she said.

She later rose to the rank of corporal and worked in operations.

"It was much more interesting working in the operations room than pushing arrows around a board," she said of her increased role.

That's what she was doing as D-Day approached, never knowing when the massed soldiers and equipment were going to be sent across the English Channel.

One night she was out walking when she heard a massive roar grow, looking up to see the sky filled with the lights of planes pulling troop-laden gliders heading to France. That was how she knew D-Day had begun.

"It was like a cathedral ceiling with twinkling lights. They went on and on. They filled the sky," Scott said.

Her father, a World War I veteran, served in army intelligence and her brother in the ultra-secret role of trying to crack German codes.

Life during war wasn't all bad, she said.

"People think that living in England during the war was awful all the time, but it wasn't," she said. "There were some good, some bad."

But rationing, restrictions on communication and movement and occasionally coming face-to-face with the realities of war, like the time she saw a Spitfire and bomber collide mid air and was greeted with a wall of fire when she rushed to the crash site to try and help.

She left the WAAF right after the war and finished her education before returning to Canada. After marrying her husband in Toronto, they moved to Guelph where she has lived for many years, teaching the deaf. She still works with a support group of people with hearing loss.

Scott enjoyed the small gathering at McCrae house and the chance to share her stories, which she has done several times in the past in local schools.

"Getting a chance to talk and have people listen, how nice!" she said. "My family has heard it all before."



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War veteran who survived D-Day will turn 100 on Remembrance Day

Post by Guest on Tue 08 Nov 2016, 11:47

War veteran who survived D-Day will turn 100 on Remembrance Day

'I have a hard time believing I'm 100 years old because people don't live that long,' says war veteran

By Kamil Karamali, CBC News Posted: Nov 08, 2016 7:00 AM PT Last Updated: Nov 08, 2016 7:00 AM PT

World War II veteran Leslie Jacques will be turning 100-years-old this Remembrance Day.

With his sense of humour and hearty laugh, it's hard to believe Leslie Jacques will soon turn 100 years old.

Even he has trouble accepting it.

"I have a hard time believing I'm a 100 years old because people don't live that long," said Jacques laughing.

"Every day is a bonus."

Second World War veteran

It's rare to make it to 100 years of age, but what makes Jacques' story unique is that the Second World War veteran is celebrating the milestone on Nov. 11, Remembrance Day.

Jacques, who now lives in Surrey, B.C. grew up on his family's farm in rural Saskatchewan with his five siblings.

He volunteered to join the Royal Canadian Air Force after the Great Depression in the 1930s.

"My parents were doing quite well until the Depression arrived. Then, all of a sudden, we didn't have any money coming in."

Leslie Jacques joined the Royal Canadian Air Force at the age of 25 as a wireless operator. He served from November 1941 to February of 1945

Jacques trained to become a wireless operator and flew to England in December of 1942. He was 25 at the time.

Jacques joined a six-man squadron, tasked with flying over enemy territory and dropping paratroopers. The members of the team became inseparable.

"You were living in this dangerous time," said Jacques. "Every time we went out on an [operation], you didn't know whether you were going to come back or not."

"There was always that possibility, so we were a pretty close-knit group."


Leslie Jacques (top right) says he his 6-man squadron was inseparable because they faced many dangerous situations.

Jacques said his most memorable day of the war was D-Day, also known as the Normandy landings.

He said he and his team were one of the first to begin the attack, by dropping paratroopers behind enemy lines just after midnight on June 6, 1944.

It's was also a day that he nearly died.

"I was just standing up and looking out [the window] and I can see tracer bullets going through the air and the tracers were just coming in behind us," said Jacques.

"I got on the intercom and said 'skipper, let's get out of here. They're shooting at us.'"

Health problems

Jacques glowed as he reminisced about the past. But his mood darkened when asked about his health.

"Eyesight is not worth a damn," said Jacques. "Pardon my English"

Jacques spends most of his time sitting on a sofa at the Rosemary Heights assisted living facility. He has a motorized wheelchair, but he doesn't see the point of leaving his home with his limited vision.

His memory is fairly sharp, but he gets frustrated when he forgets important information.

"As I'm talking, I forget things," said Jacques. "They won't come to mind. So it's a bit embarrassing sometimes when you can't remember your wife's name."

Leslie Jacques now lives in an assisted living facility in Surrey. He says his step-daughter is planning a party for him on his 100th birthday.

Secret to longevity

Jacques secret to a long life? "You have a scotch every night and that guarantees you won't have a heart attack or a stroke," said Jacques.

He was married three times and he adopted two daughters with his first wife, which he described as one of the happiest moments of his life.

He's also travelled back to England and vacationed in Zimbabwe with his current wife, Anne.

All of those happy moments have kept him going, he said, though he stressed again the value of his favourite drink.

"I have one drink of scotch every night and it works fine," said Jacques. "It works for me."



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Scarborough man followed stepdad's footsteps enlisting in Canada's army

Post by Guest on Tue 08 Nov 2016, 12:01

Scarborough man followed stepdad's footsteps enlisting in Canada's army

Gord Holmes saw power of Hurricane Hazel, his stepdad was at Vimy RIdge
Nov 08, 2016

Scarborough Mirror
By Mike Adler

Canadian army veteran Gord Holmes displays a portrait on Monday of his step-father Phillip Robert Brown. Brown served in the First World War and told his stepson he was at the battles of the Somme and Vimy Ridge. Holmes' father was also a Canadian veteran. Oct. 31, 2016

Not every veteran’s story contains the horrors of war.

Gord Holmes of Scarborough is lucky that way. He signed up wanting to go wherever Canada needed to send him, but during his years in the army there was no fighting overseas.  

His stepfather, Phillip Robert Brown, was less lucky.

A Canadian machine-gunner in the First World War who was sent to Europe at age 16, Brown returned with a metal plate in his head and scars on a torn-up shoulder.

Both men served in the same regiment, the 48th Highlanders of Canada, but Brown never said much about the war.

“I pretty well know he would never have recommended anybody to go through what he went through,” Holmes said last week.

“I know the first time I ever came home in my uniform, he cried. I’ll never forget that.”

Holmes’ memories of the military are different.

He enjoyed the training he received so much, he said, he wishes it was mandatory. “It teaches you discipline, it teaches you the social graces, camaraderie, and responsibility.”

It was also a paying job. When Holmes was 17, he had a little experience working in a grocery market, and  didn’t want to end up “a punk on the street.”

A lot of his friends had relatives in the army or navy, some of the them in the Highlanders, where Brown said he’d served.

Holmes signed up in 1953. Once he got a taste of military life in camps around Ontario – firing all sorts of weapons, riding in a Sherman tank, blowing things up – he enjoyed it all.

There were still a lot of Second World War vets in the regiment, “a really rowdy crew.” People called him Horizontal Holmes because he could sleep anywhere.

Hurricane Hazel devastated Toronto in 1954, and Holmes was in a photo on the front of the Toronto Star with two other young soldiers.

They were wearing their Glengarries (woolen cap) and rubber boots, clearing debris from the Humber River Valley.

Holmes and his comrades sifted deep mud with long steel poles, looking for bodies. “We didn’t find a lot of human remains, but we found a lot of livestock - cows, horses, pigs.”

Twice, he trooped the regimental colours for Queen Elizabeth II himself, once to open what is now Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

He became the sergeant of a mortar platoon. You could get hurt; Holmes remembers a soldier whose face was blasted by a training grenade.

They didn’t wear ear protection; firing those mortars and guns damaged his hearing, but Canada’s Veterans Affairs supplies hearing aids and batteries for life. “Sure enough, they looked after me.”

He never saw his stepfather in uniform. Brown had said he was in the Highlanders, but what he wears in the only picture Holmes has from that time suggests Brown was in another unit, the 70th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.

That infantry battalion was used to reinforce others in Europe during 1916, so it’s possible Brown was assigned to the Highlanders later on.

At the Beach, though, there was no mistaking the damage bullets had done to Brown’s head and shoulder. He said he’d been at the Battle of the Somme and Vimy Ridge, costly battles in which the 48th Highlanders took part.

He also told Holmes he had survived a mustard gas attack.

Like his stepson, Brown was tall. He never went near a Royal Canadian Legion branch. He was a good man, said Holmes.

His father, Norman Holmes, was also a Canadian veteran, and served during the Second World War, but Holmes knows even less about that.

“I was only three years old when he left,” he explained, adding by the time his father returned, Holmes’ mother had met someone else, his stepdad.

“So I didn’t have much to do with him.”

Holmes believes he was a private in the RCEME, the Royal Canadian Electrical Mechanical Engineers, and may have worked to ready vehicles to go overseas during the war. What’s certain is he’s buried in the military section of Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

After he got out of the army in 1962, Holmes went into sales and worked his way up to be general manager of Harold Schafer, the company that brought Mr. Bubble to Canada.

He then spent 23 years as a Toronto police court officer, and is still president of the Scarborough Seniors Slo-Pitch League.

Many army friends have passed away, but at age 79, Holmes continues to help with the 48th Highlanders’ Continuing Sergeants Association and its Old Comrades Association.

And on every Nov. 5, Holmes joins a ceremonial parade at Mount Pleasant that ends with a moment of silence in the cemetery. “There’s an old saying, ‘Once a Highlander, always a Highlander.’”



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Black Watch Snipers' profiles vets from storied Canadian regiment

Post by Guest on Tue 08 Nov 2016, 17:46

TV docu-drama 'Black Watch Snipers' profiles vets from storied Canadian regiment

Posted Nov 8, 2016 12:51 pm EST Last Updated Nov 8, 2016 at 2:00 pm EST

A still image from "Black Watch Snipers" is shown in this handout photo. They suffered more casualties than any other Canadian regiment on the allied Western front during the Second World War. Now, their stories are being told in "Black Watch Snipers," premiering this Remembrance Day Friday on History.

TORONTO – They suffered more casualties than any other Canadian regiment on the Allied Western Front during the Second World War.

Now, their stories are being told in the docu-drama “Black Watch Snipers,” premiering this Remembrance Day on History.

The film profiles Canada’s Black Watch regiment through the true stories of five snipers who worked side by side to help defeat the Nazis in the 10 months following D-Day on June 6, 1944.

Four of them, all in their 90s, were alive during the making of the film and appear on camera to describe their harrowing experiences.

“It’s a long and storied regiment,” says Robin Bicknell, the film’s director/producer.

“They had three or four Victoria Crosses in (the First) World War … and so I think it was in and of itself a story that needed to be told.

“For example, their first battle at Verrieres Ridge, the first big battle, 97 per cent of the kids who went up that hill didn’t come back.”

The snipers who recount their tales in the doc are Jimmy Bennett, Jim (Hook) Wilkinson, Russell (Sandy) Sanderson and Mike Brunner.

“Some of them have told their stories, even to their families or whatever, but certainly Jim Bennett … it was like I had turned a faucet on and it all just came pouring out and he said, ‘I’ve never told anyone this — not my family, not my wife. No one,'” says Bicknell.

The film is narrated through the story of Ontario-born Dale Sharpe, who died in battle and was said to be the hero of the group’s platoon.

Bicknell says she tracked down the Sharpe family and interviewed them for the film after hearing the other veterans talk about him.

The film has been “life-altering” for the family.

“They didn’t really know anything about what had happened to their dad after he had gone over,” she says.

“They knew some vague thing and they have the telegram that said what happened to him. They didn’t know the impact he had on all of these men.”

Bicknell says when she started the project, there were only about 20 veterans left out of about 5,000 that served in the Black Watch regiment, and of those, there were maybe 10 or 12 that could actually sit for an interview.

When she started production, she realized that four of the interviewees were not only personally close but they were part of the same platoon and had saved each other’s lives.

“Then on top of it, all four of them, separately, spoke about this Dale Sharpe character with such great reverence and sadness and honour, so I really felt like he had to be part of that film as well,” she says.

Bicknell retraced the steps the regiment took in 1944. She also hired actors for re-enactment shoots in Elora, Ont.

“It was moving, it was powerful, they laughed, they cried,” she says of the first-person accounts they filmed.

“It’s almost like we time-travelled a little bit and it felt like they were right back there and could describe it in such visceral detail. It was astounding, actually. My memory is not that good!”

Two of the real-life snipers who appear in the film — Sanderson and Wilkinson — have since died.

Bicknell was able to bring them and Brunner together during shooting (Bennett was unable to fly), and their reunion is captured at the end of the film.

“I took them to a gun range and gave them their old sniper rifles and sure enough, they could still hit those targets, honest to God,” she says.

“The muscle memory just kicked it. It was amazing to watch.”



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Canadian Letters and Images Project captures first-person history of veterans

Post by Guest on Wed 09 Nov 2016, 05:04

November 9, 2016 12:17 am

Canadian Letters and Images Project captures first-person history of veterans

By Sean Boynton
Online News Producer Global News

As we head towards Remembrance Day, Global News got an inside look at one of the most important projects in the country, preserving the memory of the Canadians during WWI. Specifically, the personal stories that are often lost. As Kylie Stanton reports, everyone can see this growing collection.

As Remembrance Day approaches, a project at Vancouver Island University is giving Canadians a whole new perspective of our wartime history: that of the veterans themselves.

The Canadian Letters and Images Project, an initiative begun by the Nanaimo university’s department of history, started in 2000 with the mission to create an online archive of soldiers’ letters and photographs, from any war, in order to give those brave souls a dimension often lost to the passages of time.

The materials collected also give a humanity to historical events that we all read about in school, but often have trouble grasping.

“You hear about Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele,” said Josh Boutin, a Vancouver Island University student involved with the project. “Here you get to see what the soldiers thought of it and how they experienced the war.”

The materials get sent to the project from across the country, often in shoeboxes that had been at the backs of closets for years, even decades. More than 25,000 letters, photos and diaries have come through the doors in the project’s 16-year history.

It then falls upon students and volunteers to painstakingly scan, transcribe and proofread each document. The materials are then organized into the project’s six different collections, which are separated by major wars.

While the common perception is that every war is different, the project’s collections each tell a very similar story: that war changed these men and women, often bringing heartbreak to families. It also highlights the bravery of all involved, something those working on the project say provides an important lesson to today’s Canadians.

“I think it’s a very, very important educational tool to understand what Canadians in the past have given us, for today,” said project director Stephen Davies, who works for the department of history at the university.

Virginia Fournier, another student involved with the project, agrees.

“The tremendous integrity and bravery and nobility that you can see in the materials…I don’t know where you could find that now,” she said.

The project has done its best to ensure pouring through these materials is not a chore, and has also made it easy for family members, now generations removed, to search for their relatives. Visitors can even hear Canadian celebrities, ranging from the Governor General David Johnston to “Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek, read select letters, further bringing these stories to life.

If you have letters or photographs that could be of use to the Canadian Letters and Images Project, visit different collections, which are separated by major wars.

While the common perception is that every war is different, the project’s collections each tell a very similar story: that war changed these men and women, often bringing heartbreak to families. It also highlights the bravery of all involved, something those working on the project say provides an important lesson to today’s Canadians.

“I think it’s a very, very important educational tool to understand what Canadians in the past have given us, for today,” said project director Stephen Davies, who works for the department of history at the university.

Virginia Fournier, another student involved with the project, agrees.

“The tremendous integrity and bravery and nobility that you can see in the materials…I don’t know where you could find that now,” she said.

The project has done its best to ensure pouring through these materials is not a chore, and has also made it easy for family members, now generations removed, to search for their relatives. Visitors can even hear Canadian celebrities, ranging from the Governor General David Johnston to “Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek, read select letters, further bringing these stories to life.

If you have letters or photographs that could be of use to the Canadian Letters and Images Project, visit the project’s website. http://www.canadianletters.ca/



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City students honour veterans

Post by Guest on Wed 09 Nov 2016, 05:37

City students honour veterans

Dog-tags, No Stone Left Alone recall sacrifices

Wednesday, Nov 09, 2016 06:00 am By: Kevin Ma

TAGGED MEMORIES – ESSMY student Laura Welling displays some of the roughly 325 dog-tags she and her fellow students made this month to honour western Canadian soldiers who fought in the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The tags were displayed in the school's lobby this week to create a "Foyer of Heroes" as part of the school's Remembrance Day celebrations.

On April 9, 1917, some 15,000 Canadian soldiers stormed Vimy Ridge in France, beginning one of the most important battles in this nation’s history.
Some 3,598 of them would not return alive, amongst them Pte. Alexander Biggan, 19, and his father, Pioneer Andrew Biggan, 41.
Almost 100 years later, student Laura Welling remembered them.
“They were father and son,” said the École Secondaire Sainte Marguerite d’Youville (ESSMY) student, and they left behind their wife and mother, Ellen.
Welling said she was struck by this fact as she researched fallen soldiers as part of her school’s Remembrance Day project.
“Remembrance Day has always been important to me.”
Welling, a Grade 12 student and member of the 533 St. Albert Royal Canadian Air Cadets, was one of the thousands of area students who commemorated Remembrance Day this week.
While many will take part in traditional school assemblies with flags, wreaths and soldiers today and tomorrow, some took part in more elaborate ceremonies earlier in the week.

No stones alone

Some 360 W.D. Cuts students came to the St. Albert Cemetery Monday to take part in the sixth annual No Stone Left Alone ceremony, for example. Started by Edmontonian Maureen Bianchini-Purvis, the event has students lay poppies on the graves of war veterans to recognize their sacrifice in the lead-up to Remembrance Day.
About 20 Grade 5 students from Bertha Kennedy performed a similar rite Monday at the Catholic parish cemetery on Mission Hill.
After hearing speeches from active and retired soldiers, the Cuts students filed past the roughly 70 graves in the cemetery’s Field of Honour and placed poppies on each, dappling the dark stones with crimson droplets.
This was the second year that Cuts students had done their Remembrance Day ceremony in this matter, said Andrew Wiens, who teaches the school’s military history course.
“There’s something a little more personal about it when you know the people who actually sacrificed themselves are less than 100 feet away from you.”
This year, Wiens had his 15 students research the lives of the veterans buried in the cemetery to create posters others could read during the ceremony.
Grade 8 student Colby Yacey stood guard by the grave of Maj. Wallace Oaken Klatt with his poster.
“He is a veteran of the RCAF,” Yacey said, and lived from 1924 to 2015.
When you look at a grave like this, you typically think, “Oh, he’s a person,” and move on, Yacey said.
“I wanted to give this a more personal touch.”

Memorial tags

Over at ESSMY School, Welling and her fellow students were hanging about 325 paper dog-tags in their school’s front lobby. Inscribed on each was the name and biographical details of a western Canadian soldier who fought and/or died at Vimy Ridge.
Teacher Gidget Bouchard, who co-ordinates the school’s Remembrance Day activities, said she got the idea for the dog-tag project after reading up on the purpose of the tags in war. As 2017 was the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, she decided to have students create dog-tags of soldiers in that battle this month.
Welling has been one of the project’s most enthusiastic backers, having personally completed about 30 of the palm-sized tags. There was often very little information available about these soldiers, she noted, as their bodies were never found.
“All of these people fought for our rights and our freedom,” she said, and many were the same age as her.
“Look at the sacrifices these men and women were able to make so I never, hopefully, at my young age have to be able to put my life on the line for my freedom and the freedom of my nation.”
The tags will hang in the school’s lobby all week before being distributed to classrooms to encourage year-round remembrance, Welling said.
Events such as No Stone Left Alone and these dog-tags help students connect with the facts and statistics about war they read about in school, Welling said.
“It’s giving you an idea of an actual living being that sacrificed their life for us.”
Welling said she would be in the flag party at ESSMY’s Remembrance Day ceremony Thursday and would march in the St. Albert one Friday.



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Regional contribution to war 'way high'

Post by Guest on Wed 09 Nov 2016, 05:44

Regional contribution to war 'way high'

By Richard Plaunt, Sault This Week
Tuesday, November 8, 2016 5:18:55 EST PM

Harold Soderlund served in the air force, flying out of South Africa from 1941-1945 and has served his fellow veterans since 1951, lending a helping hand to the poppy campaign. Ali Pearson/Sault This Week

Sault Ste. Marie and Algoma District made a stronger than average contribution in Canada’s wars.

Historian Phil Miller, one of three padres at Branch 25, Royal Canadian Legion said given the 4,000 in the First World War and 3,000 in the Second World War, “We’re way high”.

“Proportionately, or per capita, I would like to think that the District of Algoma responded to the nation’s need at a higher level than in other areas.”

His supposition comes from 40 years of studying local and Canadian military history. “You look at the numbers out of say the city of Toronto, proportionately, we’re way higher,” he said. “I think northern people saw the need and went to give what they could.”

Of the 7,000 men enlisted from the area, 660 died, he recounted. The men lie buried in cemeteries scattered across Europe, nearby the sites of major battles and along the routes of major campaigns that engaged Canadian troops during the two world wars.

Some died in action and some died due to the “vagaries of war,” said Miller. Seventeen died at sea, including one in the merchant navy.

Preparation for the local exodus began in 1913, with the formation of 51st Sault Rifles. A company from here and other parts of Northern Ontario shipped to Valcartier, Que. in 1914, joining the 2nd Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force.

This company of 127 men included William Merrifield, winner of the Victoria Cross. “Some guys’ war was 10 minutes long,” said Miller. Merrifield fought and “amazingly” survived through to Armistice on Nov. 11, 1918.

Troops from here wound up distributed throughout the force, many in 238 Forestry Corps – Canadians provided 90 per cent of wood and materiel “a story in itself” – or in the artillery corps, or medical “You think of all the services, the veterinary corps – we had a veterinary corps until 1942,” he said. Some went straightaway to battle and others went as reinforcements.

“They were numbered battalions, not associated with units per se.” As for their battles, “Pick any one of the engagements.”

Early recruits would have fought at Ypres in 1915, he said.

In their first major European appearance, at Ypres Salient, the Canadians “established a reputation as a formidable fighting force,” says the Veterans Affairs Canada website “But the cost was high. In these 48 hours, 6,035 Canadians, one man in every three, became casualties of whom more than 2,000 died.”

(All of the stories of Canada at war are available at the site: www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/history .)

Miller listed other battles – The Somme, Ypres, Vimy, Passchendaele. “Those were the big hits there. We lost guys in all of those campaigns,” he said. The number of deaths of soldiers from the Sault and area in the First World War is 400.

An account of the deaths of two brothers from the Sault is among the poignant recollections of the Second World War, from which 260 local soldiers did not return.

“Here’s a quirk of war,” said Miller. “On 20th July, 1944, George and Robert Tasse are both killed on the same day. They’re in the artillery, they’re not in the same unit, but they’re buried a row apart” in Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery, in a village just south of Caen.

“Aug. 19, 1942, the Dieppe raid, we had Sault people involved and I’ve known them in their lifetime. We had casualties there as well and the D-Day invasion of course is part of it. We’ve left guys in the Italian campaign at various battles there,” Miller continued.

“Fifty-six-hundred Canadians died in Italy… Just run that one through your mind and you know we’ve got some guys there.

“They’re little collections of guys that we’ve lost over periods of time,” he said, offering a conservative unofficial figure of 27.

Twenty-five died in Germany, “a hundred per cent of them are aviators.” They died during raids over Germany beginning in 1942. “These are guys that a part of the various bomber and fighter squadrons.”

Mostly ground forces added to the toll of 30 dead in Holland after the D-Day landing, including one aviator in 1943.

Four died on D-Day, June 6, 1944, one on the third day of the invasion after the Canadian landing on Juno Beach and one on June 11. “The question of course is, When did they get wounded?” They might have got wounded on the first day but, for example, Wallace Roussain, “He died on the 23rd of June, so was he part of the initial assault?

“You’re classed right through to the 21st of August as having taken part in the Normandy campaign,” the date the Falaise Gap closed during the Allied rout of German troops. The Allies, including Canadians, liberated Paris on Aug. 25, 1944.

Miller said 44 local troops are buried in France including 35 at a minimum during the Normandy campaign. Another 12 are buried in Belgium in six cemeteries. Half are ground troops and half are aviators.

The Sault and district lost 17 sailors including one in the merchant navy during the Second World War.

Sailors from the area served in all of the major operations of the Royal Canadian Navy during the Second World War. “We had a variety of guys involved… We had one guy involved in the sinking of the Scharnhorst,” said Miller.

The sinking was a Royal Navy victory in 1943, during the Battle of the North Cape, as part of the Arctic Campaign, which was essential to secure supply lines to Russia, by then an Ally.

Three local men went down with the Tribal-class destroyer HMCS Athabaskan off the Brittany coast on April 29, 1944, during preparations for the D-Day landing. “The Athabaskan and the Alberni are where we lost multiple guys,” said Miller.

A German submarine torpedoed and sunk HMCS Alberni on Aug. 21, 1944 in the English Channel, off the Isle of Wight.

The “quick count” of the dead includes 95 for the air force, including the only woman on the Sault’s memorial wall, Rita Lamothe. She died of an illness, in Toronto, he said. “The remainder are army.”

The Korean War took five local men, said Miller.

They joined a contingent of 26,000 Canadians taking part in the operation, a larger military contribution in proportion to its population than most other United Nations participants, according to Veterans Canada.

The men lost from the area “were basically reg forces,” said Miller. One of the five fought with the U.S. military. Of the other four, two lost their lives “in the same moment in time” while their ship, H.M.C.S. Iroquois came under enemy fire.

“They were shelling a Chinese gun that was on a train. They (the Chinese) had this gun that would roll out of a cave, fire and go back into the cave and hide.”

The Iroquois was bow in and firing at the Chinese gun and then they disengaged and “For whatever reason they turn a broadside instead of backing out and the Chinese gun gets off four rounds… and it kills three and injures 11 on Oct. 1, 1952,” said Miller.

The war in Afghanistan took two from Sault Ste. Marie, Master Cpl. Scott Vernelli and Sgt. John Wayne Faught, “three if you include Nichola (Capt. Nichola Goddard)
as having roots here.”

Not all of the casualties of Canada’s wars are battle casualties, Miller added. “A lot of these are accidents and stuff and the vagaries of war and misfortune,” a Spitfire landing nose-in and bursting into flames, other mishaps, and illnesses, one of pneumonia in a German PoW camp in the First World War, another one returned from the war and took influenza and died at home in the Sault. “People always picture the grand glory of charging the beaches or a bunker or something like that, like Saving Private Ryan. About half of them didn’t die that way.”



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Steveston veteran to receive France's top honour

Post by Guest on Wed 09 Nov 2016, 16:23

Steveston veteran to receive France's top honour

Philip Raphael / Richmond News
NOVEMBER 9, 2016 09:36 AM

Len Rigg proudly displays the French Legion of Valour medal that will be officially presented to him by France’s ambassador to Canada on his 100th birthday on Dec. 13. Rigg was among those who survived the D-Day landings in Normandy, France during the Second World War. In 1956, he moved his family to Canada from the U.K., settling in Richmond in 1962.

It’s going to be quite a birthday celebration on Dec. 13 for Steveston’s Len Rigg.

“I never thought I’d make it,” says the D-Day veteran, who will not only mark a century of living, but be recognized by the French government with its Legion of Honour medal that was established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte and is the highest decoration bestowed in France.

Scheduled to make the official presentation is the French Ambassador to Canada, Nicolas Chapuis.

“It was for fighting on French soil,” Rigg said. “I was surprised when it came because I never expected anything from France.

“Now, I’m not sure where it should go on my jacket, separate, or with the rest of my medals,” he said with a wry smile. “Wherever, it’s quite the honour.”

Rigg’s daughter, Eileen Campbell, said she first became aware of the availability of the medal two years ago when a group of local veterans were invited to a ceremony in Downtown Vancouver where both the French and Dutch governments bestowed their thanks and medals on vets who helped liberate their countries.

Knowing that her father also qualified for the honour, she gathered all the required paperwork and applied for the medal.

According to the declaration that came with Rigg’s award, it attests to the recipient’s courage and devotion and the ideals of liberty and peace.

“This distinction illustrates the profound gratitude that France would like to express to you,” it states. “It is awarded in recognition of your personal involvement in the liberation of our country during World War II. Through you, France remembers the sacrifice of all of your compatriots who came to liberate French soil.”

While the recognition is arriving about a lifetime after D-Day, the significance of the medal for Rigg remains, as does the memories of how he earned it.

He was not yet 28 when he was packed into a train car along with the rest of his group in the British Army’s Corps of Royal Engineers and shuttled to the seaside town of Newhaven, just west of Eastbourne on the southern coast of England.

The train stopped about 15 yards from a small armada of troop-carrying landing craft at the wharf that would ferry Rigg and his fellow soldiers across the English Channel.

“They had locked the rear door of the train, so there was only one way out and that was towards the boats. There was no escape,” he laughs.

Prior to boarding the boats, each of the soldiers was given a shoebox-sized, cardboard container that was filled with rations designed to last 24 hours. Among the items inside was a special tin of Campbell’s Soup.

“You’d never believe this, and I’ve never seen it since. But in the middle of the tin was a candle. You lit it, and by the time it burned down to the bottom it was ready to eat,” Rigg says, adding it didn’t make the soup too hot, but enough to make it palatable.

“I thought it was a great idea and that after the war you’d see that everywhere,” he says. “But I never saw another one.”

Crossing the English Channel was incident-free as the waters were relatively calm. But when they landed on the beaches of Arromanches-les-Bains, Normandy, the full fury of war was unleashed on them.

“The first guy I saw get killed just before we got off the boat was a dispatch rider (messenger) on a motorbike,” he said. “He was riding across the sand on the beach and all of a sudden he went straight up in the air, both him and the bike.

“He had hit a mine.”

Rigg knew a thing or two about the dangers of mines. Originally, he was assigned to a Bailey (pontoon) bridge unit. But once he had finished his training, he became ill and was in hospital for two weeks. When he emerged, he was sent to another unit as a mine-layer and clearer. That was to be his task on D-Day.

“When I discovered that, I thought to myself, what have I done now,” he said. “On my way over on the boat, I thought to myself that I’ll never see England again.”

But Rigg did. He survived D-Day and was among the Allied Forces to take part in a victory parade in Berlin, once the war had ended. “All the big shots were there,” he said, “Stalin, Churchill and Montgomery.”



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