My Dad was a World War II veteran.
Seeing this picture of my Dad when he first enlisted, fills me with sadness. Dad looks so fresh-faced and young; only nineteen-years-old. He was such a gracious and kind person, attuned to his environment and the surrounding people. Dad grew up with three sisters and was the youngest in his family. It must have been a training ground for him, learning to sense emotions and feelings, even if only to protect himself from being bossed around and relentlessly teased.
Young men going to war
We know nineteen year old young men now. I shudder. I cannot imagine them going to war. Some shy and reserved like my Dad. To think of the young men who faced the horrors of war is heartbreaking and mind-boggling.
Young men of differing temperaments and abilities entered the fray.
“Approximately 700,000 Canadians under the age of 21 served in uniform during the Second World War.”
“Sometimes boys as young as 13 would lie about their age and trying to enlist in the military. The underage volunteers who looked old enough were often accepted while many of those who were rejected ended up serving in the Merchant Navy, where they supported the war effort differently, transporting troops and materials overseas.”1
Their preparation was intense and punishing. I remember Dad talking about the training exercises they went through at Camp Borden. I remember him telling us of crawling along the ground, in the mud, under the barbed-wire with guns firing around them.
Dad told us of a Sergeant Major, who would have them out on long, seemingly endless marches, shouting at them, “When you think you haven’t got one ounce of strength left, you‘ve got TEN MORE MILES in you! Left, Right, Left, Right, Left.” And he told us of the ditty that the Sergeant Major would yell, at the top of his lungs, “I left, I left, I left my wife and forty-five children, in a starving condition, I Left, I Left, Left, Right, Left, Right, Left!!!”
My Dad served as part of the Royal Canadian Dragoons.
“The Regiment was placed on active service in September 1939 and sent one squadron in 1940 to the 1st Canadian Cavalry Regiment(Mechanized). Later, the Regiment was again reorganized; this time as an armoured car regiment and went overseas in November 1941. The Regiment was sent to Italy. Resuming the armoured car role it took part in the Liri Valley offensive as the reconnaissance regiment of the Canadian Corps. The Regiment led the advance up the Italian boot and won seven new Battle Honours.
The Regiment was also involved in the breakthrough of the Hitler line in May 1944 (as part of the Canadian Infantry Division) and later the Gothic Line on 12 September 1944. From 3 December 1944 until mid-January 1945, the Regiment once again became the Infantry. In the spring of 1945, they transferred the Regiment from Italy to North West Europe where it joined 2nd Canadian Corps in forming 1st Canadian Army. It was not until this time that it was to its full advantage as an armoured care regiment, employing vehicles such as the Dingo, Staghound, Humber, and Greyhound making a spectacular sweep from the Rhine to the North Sea. In this action, the Dragoons collected 3500 prisoners and killed 1500 of the enemy.”2
Canadians liberate the Dutch
“On 15th April 1945, the Dragoons liberated the city of Leeuwarden, Holland. Squadrons A, B, C, and D were all involved in the liberation.”3
Dad was a soldier in the “D” Squadron of the Royal Canadian Dragoons and was among those who Liberated the Dutch.
Fifty years later my Dad and Mom would travel to Holland to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Dutch People.
Morse code operator
Dad was a Morse code operator and involved in reconnaissance missions. The picture below has a caption on the back, “the troop – taken just before a ‘scheme.’ ” I cannot help but wonder about the assignment upon which they were about to embark.
He was in the armoured tanks, and two of the men with him got shot and bled out in Dad’s arms. It is a small example of the wealth of stories he could’ve told. But he was hesitant to share the gruesome things that took place in the War with his children. However, he would talk at length to others who showed a keen interest in what he experienced during the war. In retrospect, our family believes that Dad had PTSD.
On the lighter side, Dad also told the story of being on watch one night when he heard men some coming down the road. Dad raised his gun preparing to fire. To his chagrin, he realized that the guys he was about to shoot were on our side!
The picture below is one sketch that Dad drew depicting his experience in the War.
Rembering – with gratitude
I am deeply grateful to my Dad for giving up his safety and well-being so we can live in a free country. And, I am immensely thankful for all those who have fought, and fight today to safeguard our freedoms. I am profoundly moved by, and indebted to those who lost their lives. We cannot ever risk forgetting the sacrifices made on our behalf.
So, we Remember.
1 – http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/remembrance/history/historical-sheets/youth
2 – http://www.dragoons.ca/secondworldwar.html
3 – http://www.dragoons.ca/secondworldwar.html