Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Child's Remembrance

With this week's Remembrance observations, I have been thinking back to what I actually remember about WWII. If you visited Hiawatha House earlier this week, you saw a simple acknowledgement of Remembrance Day. A radio station I listen to was asking people what they thought about during the minute of silence. Many interesting calls came into the station. We not only remember those who died , but what freedom was won, and how we enjoy it because of their efforts. Too often we do not appreciate that the freedoms we enjoy were won at great cost.

This topic also got me thinking back to what I remember about WWII. I was born in Oct. 1939, a few weeks after the war started. Of course, I do not remember the early part of the war.

I vividly remember some things about those times. Keep in mind that they are from a child's perspective. We lived about 40 kms from a special airport which was set up to train pilots. It was known as the Dafoe Airport. The area we lived in was flat prairie with few cloudy days. I remember the noisy yellow Harvards flying over our farmyard. I always hoped that they would land in the yard and pick me up and take me for a ride. Many times they came over at treetop level. (Our farm was surrounded by a shelter belt.) Sometimes they were flying in formation. For a four or five year old it was very exciting to see.

My younger brother and I would listen to the news and turn to each other and say "German,German,German", as the news was always about the Germans. This caused us some consternation as we were of German heritage, and heard the German language in our home almost daily.

We were also involved with wrapping parcels which my mother made to send to her brother and other relatives who were overseas. She would put in some baked goodies and maybe socks, toothpaste and other personal items. We probably weren't of much help to her, but she involved us, and as a result I remember some of those things.

At the end of the war my brother and I were again listening to the radio as reports were given describing troop ships arriving and unloading. We always wondered if Uncle Ernie was getting off the ship. Of course, very few people knew when their family members were actually returning.

We did travel by train occasionally, and in those times the trains were loaded with people in the forces. We found the people in uniform to be very exciting.

My wife was born in England and spent the war years there . She remembers different things. The rationing of food was a large issue for her. She remember the blackouts and her Mickey Mouse gas mask that she was issued. She also remembers some bombs which landed near her home, and the fires which were caused by them.

My memories are only snapshots of incidents which occurred . I often wonder how other children were influenced, and if they were traumatized by what they saw and heard at such a young age.


  1. Different kind of day here - Nov. 11 in America...

    Well, first of all, I have learned that what can be done in 1 day in Canada is split into 2 in the US. This, at first, confused me. Why have Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and what's the difference? Turns out the former (celebrated in May) is in remembrance of those who died in service, while the latter (celebrated Nov. 11) is for those who are also alive and possibly in service still today.

    I also discovered that pretty much nobody here wears poppies, and they are not a common symbol of 20th century wars for Americans. Clearly, this is more of a British or Commonwealth influence. Last year, my first Veterans Day experience living in America, I did what I'd done for years back in Canada - I put on a poppy (turns out I had one mixed in with jewelry when I moved) and wore it from Nov. 1-11. People at work stopped to ask what it was about. Nobody's heard of the poem "In Flanders Fields" unless I've mentioned it to them. I did not get a stat holiday either; business as usual for most places other than schools or government agencies. This rather surprised me to be honest, especially considering the far stronger public presence of armed forces personnel. In a land where active service members are invited to board airplanes along with first-class passengers, and are pointed out and applauded on a civilian flight, I'd have thougth this day would be a much bigger deal.

    Memorial Day also struck me more as a marker for opening up outdoor swimming pools, having a tailgate party, major retail sales, and generally kicking off the summer season. Maybe there's just so much saturation already. Maybe there are too many omnipresent reminders of war and its consequences (after all, America is at war in 2 places right now), that having a day to remember or acknowledge any of it is asking too much.
    I also can't help but think that so many of the philosophical aspects of 'remembrance' are too confused, too polarized, too simplified and too painful for many here to consider. How do you ask people to reflect on the horrors of war when they view it like a video game or 15 second TV clip sandwiched between sitcoms and commercials, with little relevance or context? How do you ask people to reflect on the horrors of war when they, or their loved ones, are intimately and immediately caught up in it? We get regular reminders on company email where I work, asking us to "keep in mind" those who have family currently and actively serving, including a list with the details...
    Honestly, I thought about it more than once on the 11th, and kicked myself for having forgotten to pack my poppy (was traveling on business at the time). In the end, when it was 11:00 where I was, life was going on and we didn't stop.
    And I later thought to myself maybe that's also a good testament to those who bought our freedoms; that we enjoy the luxury of going about our business without having to stop and think too much about it all...

  2. Well, Mk I thoroughly enjoyed your comments. I'd never really thought of the differences in marking remembrance of war dead and those who served and the freedoms they won for us.
    I think your comment should be more of a post than a comment. Thanks for taking the time to express yourself.