We must remember them

Laurel Beechey, The World is a Stage

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Hopefully, last week you took two minutes to remember those who gave their lives for us in past conflicts and those still serving and those putting their lives on the line today in our military, police, firefighters, and all our front line workers caring for us during COVID. Ponder this: Where would we be without them?

Back in 1993, I did research for Tillsonburg Legion Br. 153 and interviewed men and women who lived through the First World War. Several men had been at various fronts in Europe and, although in their 90s, they had never told their stories. Why? They were never asked.

Parts of their stories were horrendous – the slaughter, the mud, the death and pain would make both of us cry; while another part was usually about how wonderful the men were that died there. Their friends. They didn’t want them forgotten. Thank goodness I was able to interview them, for the men I talked to were all dead within the year.

I understood the honour they had bestowed upon me and the silent challenge they had given, that they would not be forgotten.

One man remembered the anguish of having to climb over piles of dead comrades and horses to retreat from the enemy – the Allies. After the war he immigrated to Canada, as his country had no food, no jobs, and the land was destroyed. We cried again because although he had been the enemy, Canada still allowed him to start a new live here.

For the anniversary of the First World War , I assisted the Tillsonburg Military History Club and Legion in researching those from our area who died and whose names were then added to our cenotaph. Learning of these young men enriched my life and it was worth the hours I gave to those who had saved so many people and ways of life.

Both my grandparents were in the First World War and both came home. One had been buried alive and wounded. He was missing for two days and had to drink mustard gas-tainted water. He was later wounded again (severely) from bullets and shrapnel from a gas shell. They were able restore his jaw, and the wounds healed, but the effect of the gas on his organs and body took 20 painful years to kill him.

Although English-born, grandpa enlisted in Canada, and it was amazing to me that he was in hospitals that Tillsonburg nursing sisters served in!

After surgeries in England, he met a young woman visiting the lonely wounded. They married and both came to Canada. He got the free trip back on the troop ships, but she had to pay and travel separately in 1918.

Who in your family served? If they are still alive, get their stories now! Get information from anyone who knew them as fast as you can. Get into the attic and find the shoebox with all those bits of paper. Get them to write down their stories so they can be remembered.

Remembrance Day is over, but you must not forget those who died or lived.

And make sure your loved ones get the help they need for their physical, mental, spiritual or other problems.

lbeechey@rogers.com

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