by Peter Johnson
Remembrance Day is, of course, a time for reflection and memories. It is also such a worrisome time. This year, as in so many years, it is especially so with the wars that are going on in Europe and the Middle East. One of my earliest memories is of the Queen’s visit to Ottawa in 1956. Her motorcade came right up my street and turned off to the Veterans Hospital on Smyth Road. It was the first time that I had seen so many veterans dressed in their uniforms and confined to wheelchairs because they had lost one or both of their legs. As a child only 8 years old, I couldn’t imagine the horrors that they had seen, nor the awful pain they must have already endured in their young lives. Nor could we see the multitude, in their thousands, who were not there to attend…who were lost forever. But my parents could.
They were born in 1921. They grew up in the awful 20’s and the dirty 30’s. Born just after The Great War ended in 1919, theirs was a hard life that culminated in 1939 – the year they turned 18 – the year that the Second World War began. For many of their generation, that was it. An entire graduating class that had the city’s best basketball team all signed up together, and before the year was out, they were all dead – gunners on bombers in the skies over Great Britain and Europe. A tragedy that my generation could never fully appreciate the way that my parents’ generation could.
I have a letter, written on RCAF stationery, by my father to my mother. He had gone to Toronto, along with so many others, and signed up at the CNE to join the AirForce. He tried to explain why he had not spoken of it, but all that he could come up with was that he felt he had to do something – he had to do what he could to be a part of the effort to right the horrible wrong as the Nazis rolled into Poland at the beginning of September 1939.
In high school, I had a new friend – he had just arrived. He used to get grief from the teachers because his name was ‘Spike’. Thinking it was a nickname, he told his father about his predicament. Mr. Braham came to the teacher’s class with his son’s birth certificate to prove that ‘Spike’ was indeed his son’s legal name – named after his aviator who died when they were shot down over Denmark.
Mr. Braham was the most decorated pilot in the R.A.F. in the Second World War. We were 18 years old, the same age he was when he enlisted. We wondered if we would be brave enough to enlist, like he and his friends did. He said, “If your country is being attacked, of course you would. You would do it gladly. We were not heroes, we were young men who felt that we had to do something” , the same words that my father had used when writing to my mother. I have a hat – it’s an anti-MAGA hat. It’s bright red, and in white letters, it says, ‘Canada Is Already Great’. It does NOT say that Canada is perfect. Of course it isn’t. There’s a lot that needs to be fixed. But even though it sounds trite, it is also true that we have so much to be thankful for.
All of the generations that have come before us would want us to do what we could, to make it better. Together, not in opposition to each other. In a civil manner. Being constructive in our objections and criticisms. Leaving out the negativity and listening to those who oppose us. To do what we can in partnership and collaboration to make this country a better place. We have so much to be thankful for, but we also have a responsibility to do our part to protect and advance what the previous generations have tried to do. We stand on their shoulders. We have an obligation to carry on what they have started.