It’s Remembrance Day.


I try to go to the National War Memorial every year (this year, I almost didn’t make it for the ceremony) and every year, I weep. The Last Post, the bagpipes, the ever-smaller numbers of Second World War vets parading down Elgin Street. It’s important to me that I go. I actually scheduled my trip so that I would be back in time for Remembrance Day. My poppy was purchased in Paddington Station last week, a paper one that got a bit mangled in transit.

My grandfathers were both involved in the Second World War, but there’s not really anyone to give me details on their service anymore. All I have are half-remembered things that I heard in childhood. But I’ll share the bits I know/was told:

My Grandpa Jack (who died long before I was born) enlisted in 1941 (aged 32), and, soon after, married my grandmother. He didn’t come back until after the war was over. My father hadn’t met him until he was 2. Jack was an engineer (before the war, he also worked as a trapper, horse breaker, and bus driver) and was somehow involved with both the invasion of Sicily and the liberation of the Netherlands. We have a telegram to my grandmother to say he was wounded (shrapnel in his back), but not sure how/when/where. He also is alleged to have a) lived off his poker winnings, b) been demoted for swearing at an officer who kicked his foot when he was under a truck, fixing it, and c) got sick from eating olives right off the tree (his unit was thoroughly sick of their rations and didn’t know that olives need to be cured to not be disgusting).

My other grandfather, Bill, was in a similar field, and had previously worked in lumber camps as a cook. He was unfit for service due to a limp resulting from an axe-related injury (yikes). He did work on base in Petawawa, training soldiers to restore power and communication lines. It’s also where he learned to drive (which he loved to do).

Beyond that? I know next to nothing, which upsets me. I regret almost every day that I didn’t ask my older relatives about that time (as I’m sure millions of other people do too). Looking up things in Library & Archives Canada (which I really would like to do, yet haven’t – I’m a bad historian) is one thing, but it’s nothing to hearing the realities of day-to-day life. My grandmothers were both housewives, but I’m sure their stories were just as interesting. Why didn’t I ask them more questions about it when I could?

In other ancestry-related news, I did not make it to Wałcz to visit the (probable) hometown of my great-grandfather. It was impractical given time restraints (which were exacerbated by Piotr’s having a mandatory work thing on the Saturday) and the Polish highway non-system. Fingers crossed that I get to go back in the next year or so, better prepared to learn about my family’s past.

(If I can. It turns out that the entire German population was expelled from the area, so it’s doubtful I would be able to find anything out anyway. What kind of records did the Kaiser’s folk keep?)

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