A Day of Remembrance
from Canada Veterans Affairs
That he managed to live to that age is rather remarkable, given what happened in the Second World War. Born in England , he was one of the 400,000 members of the British Expeditionary Force sent to the mainland where they found themselves facing the new German warfare technique - the Blitzkrieg.
A TEN DOLLAR REMEMBRANCE DAY COMING UP
THE VETERAN ON OUR TEN DOLLAR BILL
If you look at the back right-hand side of a Canadian $10 bill, you will see
an old veteran standing at attention near the Ottawa war memorial.
His name is Robert Metcalfe and he died last month at the age of 90.
He was treating a wounded comrade when he was hit in the legs by shrapnel. En route to hospital, his ambulance came under fire from a German tank, which then miraculously ceased fire. Evacuated from Dunkirk on HMS Grenade, two of the sister ships with them were sunk.
Recovered, he was sent to allied campaigns in North Africa and Italy. En route his ship was chased by the German battleship Bismarck.
In North Africa he served under General Montgomery against the Desert Fox, Rommel.
Sent into the Italian campaign, he met his future wife, a lieutenant and physiotherapist in a Canadian hospital. They were married in the morning by the mayor of the Italian town, and again in the afternoon by a British padre.
After the war they settled in Chatham where he went into politics and became the warden (chairman) of the county and on his retirement he and his wife moved to Ottawa . At the age of 80 he wrote a book about his experiences.
One day out of the blue he received a call from a government official asking him to go downtown for a photo op. He wasn't told what the photo was for or why they chose him. 'He had no idea he would be on the bill,' his daughter said.
And now you know the story of the old veteran on the $10 bill.
Poppies show our regret at war's horrors, not our love
National Post ~ November 6, 2010 ~ Rex Murphy
Nathan Denette for National Post
In the tradition of Western poetry, flowers and flower imagery are inevitably associated with mortality. “Man is in love, and loves what vanishes,” is Yeats’ terse summary of our human condition. Nothing captures the bittersweet brevity, the “vanishingness” or our estate, better than the heart-stopping beauty and simultaneous fleetingness of flowers in bloom.
The gathering of flowers is itself a most enduring symbol of human mortality — we are “gathered” by accident, illness, war or, finally, time. Milton made the comparison explicit when he wrote of how fair “Proserpine, gathering flowers/ Herself a fairer flower, by gloomy Dis was gathered.”
Flowers also are the abiding symbols of regret and remorse — a truth true as much outside poetry as within it. We mark funerals with great floral tributes — to signal affection and honour for the dead; to signal as well, by the beauty of the flowers, the joy that while alive those now gone once brought to the world. Scripture is thick with such imagery — the ultimate and most vivid passage being that of Isaiah:
And he said, “What shall I cry?”
“All flesh is grass,
And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades …”
The kernel maxim strikes innumerable echoes in English verse, the whole passage being (I think) most successfully recapitulated by Williams Cowper in the 18th century:
All flesh is grass, and all its glory fades,
Like a fair flower dishevelled in the wind
All great English elegies concerned with memory and regret are — as it were — strewn with flowers. The very greatest of them all, Milton’s Lycidas has one of the most remarkable floral passages in verse history. Milton drew upon a great tradition that the world of Nature herself mourns when a good person dies, and Nature speaks or manifests her sympathy through the flowers.
He calls for Nature to bring “every flower that sad embroidery wears” to strew his friend’s hearse. Milton writes most eloquently of all of the hyacinth, as “that sanguine flower inscribed with woe” alluding to the myth of Hyacinth accidentally killed by Apollo, and Hyacith’s blood staining the lily purple.
“Inscribed with woe” might do as a compressed description of all floral mementos of departed loved ones, or for any flowers devoted to the commemoration of those who lost their lives early, either by accident or in the great upheavals of disaster or war.
Certainly when most people think of Nov. 11, on the nation’s great commemoration — our remembering — of the horror and magnitude of the sacrifices of our soldiers and their loved ones in all wars since the First World War, their thoughts are primarily “inscribed with woe,” a compound of regret, remorse and gratitude.
Those remembering think on the sorrow and pain of loss and death, not triumphalism; certainly not something as callow and cheap as “nostalgia and romanticizing” of war — whatever that eerie, glib phrase is really supposed to mean. Those words come from the Ottawa White Poppy Coalition, whose activists currently are promoting a “white poppy” campaign symbolizing, in their own Dr. Phil formulation, “non-violent conflict resolution.”
Activists have no manners. They are heedless of the sensibilities of veterans and their families who have made the poppy campaign a cardinal national rite since its institution in 1918. Nor can they launch their own little publicity rocket without parasitically leaching off a far more honourable and far more venerable tradition. They have to have a “poppy,” too. Such originality.
Well, the poppy, the poem that made it famous and the ceremony that is now a genuine part of our civic liturgy will more than survive these efforts to degrade or misread them. When he wrote the great war poem, In Flanders Field, John McCrae — both in his call for future generations not to forget, and in his depiction of the field and its “blowing” poppies — was linking his verse to one of the great patterns of human art and human memory, the intersection of Nature and man’s mortality.
No white poppy will disturb that.
National Post Copyright 2010
Rex Murphy offers commentary weekly on CBC TV’s The National, and is host of CBC Radio’s Cross Country Checkup.
More than a million Canadians served in the armed forces between 1939 and 1945. Some refer to them as our greatest generation, a band of brothers and sisters who beat back Hitler’s armies, liberated Europe, helped chase the Japanese from the South Pacific and, in the process, saved the world.
Remembrance Day: The greatest generation vanishing
National Post ~ November 11, 2010
Now they are a vanishing generation, and there is nothing they can do to save themselves. Old age is a most relentless enemy. Canada’s Second World War veterans are dying off at an astonishing clip: 1,700 a week. Only 143,700 remain among the living. Their average age is 87.
Thirty-five years ago they were ubiquitous. They were familiar as parents, grandparents, teachers, neighbours and friends. And they were always there on Nov. 11, standing ramrod straight by a memorial to the fallen to remind us of the names — Dieppe, the Battle of Britain, the Battle of the Atlantic, Juno Beach, Caen and Falaise and the liberation of the Netherlands — and the sacrifices that were made. Now, they are among the fallen, while many of the survivors that remain are lost in a haze of dementia or Alzheimer’s, and largely hidden from public view in long-term care facilities.
Sunnybrook Veterans Hospital opened in 1948. Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King attended the grand unveiling, and in a speech heard from Vancouver to Halifax dedicated the new 1,600-bed facility in Toronto’s north end to the “sacrifices made by those members of the armed forces whom this hospital aims to serve, and seeks to honour.” Twenty years later the hospital was opened to the general public. Forty years after that it remains a bustling place. Set back from the day-to-day hum is the 500-bed veterans’ residence. Every room is occupied, only not at 10 a.m. on a Wednesday morning.
Don Stewart and Jack Hooper have been awake for hours. Don takes his coffee black. Jack prefers his with double cream and double sugar. Jack is strapped into his wheelchair. Jack is 88, and his tears flow easily, especially around Remembrance Day. “Sometimes I feel as though my bladder is connected to my eyes,” he says, eyes glistening. Jack enlisted in the navy when he was 17, a decision he describes as “crazy … it broke my mother’s heart.” Don is 85. He joined up when he was 16. He had to lie to get in.
The two friends never talk about the war. It is something they would both rather forget. Who wants to spend their days reminiscing about being stuck in a Burmese prisoner camp, like Don was for seven months, or steaming across the North Atlantic in a mine sweeper with enemy U-boats lurking all around, like Jack did when he was barely old enough to shave? “I don’t want to hear about the war,” says Don. “I saw enough. Some of the guys in here, they are still fighting the war. They fight it every day, but not us.”
No. Not them. They mostly talk about horse racing, hockey games, gambling at the casino, grandchildren and getting down to the Blythewood Social Club, a pub in the basement of the facility, in time to grab a seat and not so late as to miss last call at 4 p.m. This is life, then, for two old men, long after their brutal war ended, and it is decorated with walkers and canes and wheelchairs and signs warning visitors to the ward to stay away if they have a sore throat, a cough or a runny nose. The average age of a patient here is 88 (one year older than the average for a Second World War veteran), a reality pressed home by a display case near the cafeteria. It lists the names of the 20 residents who passed away in October.
It is a roll call that keeps rolling inexorably on, pushing toward its ultimate conclusion. Nov. 11, though, brings a momentary pause, when the past comes rushing back in a sea of faces belonging to people they knew in a war that happened an eternity ago. “You never forget a single experience, you remember everything about the war,” Don says. “All the fellows I was in the service with are passed on. I am the last one left. Remembrance Day brings back the memories for me, especially at the 11th hour. It brings tears to my eyes every year. It is a very emotional time.”
Jack and Don are not afraid of being forgotten. They feel the new generation of young people is so smart, with all their new-fangled gadgets, their computers, cell phones and “Google”, that there is no way they can forget. School groups who visit the hospital ask lots of questions. Classes write the veterans letters decorated with rainbows and poppies and sentiments, such as “thank you for protecting our freedom.”
Many of the students the men meet already seem to have some answers about the war thanks to The Memory Project, The Historica-Dominion Institute’s ongoing effort to gather testimonials and dispatches from Second World War veterans before it is too late. “In five years’ time there won’t be any of us left,” Don says, and the way he says it, with a firm sense of knowing, helps you to understand that it’s just the way life is. His time is passing, and while he is in no great rush to see it go by, he appears to be at peace.
Peace? There is no such thing for John Feeley. He is a restless soul. He is not ready to slow down and he is damn well not moving into a care facility, not anytime soon. Says the homes help turn a man’s brain to mush. Besides, he is up each morning drinking his hot chocolate, reading his paper and getting ready to get down to work by nine.
His business card reads: “John Feeley Insurance, established 1946.” He owns some commercial real estate, some properties north of the city, and is working tirelessly on a bid to have a monument erected in Toronto dedicated to the 4,200 local boys who never made it back from the war. And he is in the schools, telling the story. A memory project, a poppy on a lapel, two minutes of silence and a reading from John McCrae on Nov. 11 can never be the equal of a living, breathing, witness to the past.
On a cool and sunny November morning, at a middle school in Toronto’s east end, the old gunner is surrounded by his memories, by photographs of the men he used to know. John Feeley tells the Grade 7 students the story of Bill McMullen, a kid from Toronto’s east end, a kid maybe not so different from the kids in the room.
Pilot Officer William Stuart McMullen was John’s pilot, his third of the war. The men were on a training flight over England when an engine on their Lancaster bomber caught fire. The order came to bail out, and so out they went, except for Pilot Officer McMullen. He wrestled with the great, stricken beast, and crash-landed in a farmer’s field to avoid crashing down in the streets of Darlington. “He sacrificed himself to save a lot of people,” his old gunner says.
John has a photograph of the pilot. He is smiling in the picture. He is young, full of life, full of potential unlived. Passing it to the children, it travels from row to row, moving through a cafeteria that is a cross-section of Canada in the 21st century. White, brown, black and yellow-skinned children sit knee to knee. They have pigtails and hair ribbons and headscarves — and Iron Maiden T-shirts and jackets made by Adidas, the German sports apparel giant.
It is a different world now, a different Canada from the one John Feeley knew, once upon a time. He likes what he sees. He also knows people are forgetting about the past, and can feel a sense of ingratitude, or perhaps ignorance, around the sacrifices his generation made. It is the same for Jack and Don, unless they walk into a Royal Canadian Legion branch where they get treated “with respect.” The men are not angry about it. It is what it is. People have busy lives. They have families. They forget. But the ones who lived through the war never will.
After bailing out from his second bomber in the span of six months, John Feeley had a sinking feeling. He had been lucky twice, and was convinced the third time would be lethal. So he sought the counsel of the Catholic priest stationed at his base. “I told him, ‘Father, if it is OK with you and OK with the air force, I’d just as soon be done with this flying thing,’ ” he says. “All he said to me was: ‘You’ll have to live with yourself for the rest of your life.’ I had no idea what he meant at first, but when I translated it into something I could understand I knew he was saying don’t be a quitter — you don’t want to have to live with that. And that’s why I talk to the kids. I don’t want to be a quitter. I am a survivor.”
Each time he tells his story to a group, he gives new life to the old memories. Maybe only 20 kids in the entire crowd will be truly listening. Maybe only a few of the lines sink in. But saying the words out loud matters.
On this day, the old air force gunner speaks to the students for a little over an hour. He takes their questions, and accepts their thanks — a book about flying in the Second World War — and leaves them with a simple message, passing a torch from his failing, frail hands, to theirs. “I am not anticipating that I will be doing this much longer,” John says. “But I hope I have given you some idea of the price that was paid. “You are young people. You have freedom of speech. You have freedom of action. You would never have wanted to live in a country that had our enemy as its leader.
“And you can take my word for that.”
IN FLANDERS FIELDS
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
The poppies referred to in the poem grew in profusion in Flanders in the disturbed earth of the battlefields and cemeteries where war casualties were buried and thus became a symbol of Remembrance Day.
Remembrance Day – also known as Poppy Day or Armistice Day (the event it commemorates) or Veterans Day – is a Commonwealth holiday (observed in all Commonwealth countries except Mozambique) to commemorate the sacrifices of members of the armed forces and of civilians in times of war, specifically since the First World War. It is observed on 11 November to recall the end of World War I on that date in 1918 (major hostilities of World War I were formally ended "at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month" of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice). The day was specifically dedicated by King George V, on 7 November 1919, to the observance of members of the armed forces who were killed during war; this was possibly done upon the suggestion of Edward George Honey to Wellesley Tudor Pole, who established two ceremonial periods of remembrance based on events in 1917.
(Note that "at the 11th hour", refers to the passing of the 11th hour, i.e. 11:00 am.)
WHY WEAR A POPPY
"Please wear a poppy," the lady said,
And held one forth, but I shook my head.
Then I stopped and watched as she offered them there,
And her face was old and lined with care;
But beneath the scars the years had made
There remained a smile that refused to fade.
A boy came whistling down the street,
Bouncing along on care-free feet.
His smile was full of joy and fun,
"Lady," said he, "may I have one?"
When she'd pinned it on, he turned to say;
"Why do we wear a poppy today?"
The lady smiled in her wistful way
And answered; "This is Remembrance Day.
And the poppy there is a symbol for
The gallant men who died in war.
And because they did, you and I are free -
That's why we wear a poppy, you see.
I had a boy about your size,
With golden hair and big blue eyes.
He loved to play and jump and shout,
Free as a bird, he would race about.
As the years went by, he learned and grew,
And became a man - as you will, too.
He was fine and strong, with a boyish smile,
But he'd seemed with us such a little while
When war broke out and he went away.
I still remember his face that day.
When he smiled at me and said, 'Goodbye,
I'll be back soon, Mum, please don't cry.'
But the war went on and he had to stay,
And all I could do was wait and pray.
His letters told of the awful fight
(I can see it still in my dreams at night),
With the tanks and guns and cruel barbed wire,
And the mines and bullets, the bombs and fire.
Till at last, at last, the war was won -
And that's why we wear a poppy, son."
The small boy turned as if to go,
Then said, "Thanks, lady, I'm glad to know.
That sure did sound like an awful fight
But your son - did he come back all right?"
A tear rolled down each faded cheek;
She shook her head, but didn't speak
I slunk away in a sort of shame,
And if you were me, you'd have done the same:
For our thanks, in giving, if oft delayed,
Though our freedom was bought - and thousands paid!
And so, when we see a poppy worn,
Let us reflect on the burden borne
By those who gave their very all
When asked to answer their country's call
That we at home in peace might live.
Then wear a poppy! Remember - and Give!
On November 11th, Remembrance Day
Free Open House 1pm to 5pm at the
Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum
Brandon Airport ~ Brandon, Manitoba, Canada
Please visit the museum canteen for a free presentation of remembrance:
At 2:00 pm The Senior Songbirds will
have a sing-a-long of old time favourites and at
2:30 pm a slide presentation by
Stuart Johnson entitled “What are we fighting for?”
Also the Museum’s Ladies Auxiliary will be providing
coffee, cookies and doughnuts for a nominal fee in the museum’s canteen.
For more information call the museum at 727-2444.
Little Belgian boy saluting Canadian Troops
Visit this month's other AS YOU WERE. . . features
plus previous Remembrance Day Tributes at: