Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Remembering War

Bille Jo Gardner visited Wynyard this summer and did a little digging around history. She spoke of the Wynyard area’s Gunnery school North of Dafoe in a long letter that she wrote for the Wynyard Advance. I wrote the following for publishing the week of November 11th. It was not published and perhaps with references to local people meant that it should not have been published. I do not have the same inhibitions.

When I first saw the RCAF #5 Bombing and Gunnery school, there were buildings and a firing range still standing. At that time it looked remarkably similar to the air force training sites near Dauphin, Manitoba, one of which was within a mile of the farm upon which I spent my youth. The pilots flew their circles over the pasture and back to “touch and go”.

An ancestor of ours lost two of her sons to WWII – and her first husband to WWI. In the 1950's, our family “celebrated” Armistice Day seriously – we really believed that WWII was the end of war and that the United Nations ushered in a new era, one in which nations spoke to one another and resolved their differences. We believed that weapons would be hammered into plowshares.

The only winners had been the arms manufacturers, the wealthy, not the farmers, the women, or the children. There was comfort in believing that those sons and husbands did not die in vain - and that  they were the last Canadians to be sent to kill or be killed.

When I moved to Wynyard in 1980 as a physician, I inherited a number of WWII veterans. Some of them had stellar careers in the military and some were ordinary guys who survived. Two were suffering from PTSD – the long term version of “shell shock”.  When I asked one of these about his role during the war, he said, “they shouldn’t make us do that”; he suffered from formless nightmares. The really sad thing was that the nightmares continued even though Alzheimer’s meant he could no longer remember why he had them! The other gentleman was obsessed with various minor ailments, all of which he related to experiences during the war. I dutifully completed endless forms which we sent to Veterans’ Affairs, all to be denied. None of the people from WWII received debriefing – they were just sent home, having served their time, discarded veterans.

A friend of ours wrote about his father:  "Some of my earliest memories are of him pulling weights from pulleys attached to the ceiling in his recovery from polio. I also remember asking my mother why dad "yelled during the night". She told me not to worry about that "it's from the war" she said. That "yelling" continued until he died at the age of 83."

A friend of a soldier said, "H... and I were best friends in school. He was full of devilry and loads of fun. When he came back from the war he was a changed man. I never knew him after that and we never got close again".

In 2012, I attended Remembrance ceremonies in Ottawa at the same war memorial at which Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was standing when he was shot in 2014. I felt my ancestors – and the souls of those who fought in WWII - turning in their graves. The 45 minute service did not mention peace once.

As we approach another November 11th, let us honour those who died, value those who survived and re-gird our determination that they not have died in vain. We must encourage our government to build civil society instead of bomb infrastructure.

Grandma was right. Grown men and women should not be resorting to guns to solve their differences.