This week as the Remembrance Day Service on Wolfe Island approaches, I recall once more as I do every year how important the day was to my parents. How, as far back as I can remember, it became a day equally important to my brother and to me. No, not because we lost someone in either of the great wars but because so many young Canadians died defending the country where my parents chose to raise their Canadian born children. We tend to forget that war is about the young.
For many years, as I was growing up in Ottawa, my mother and I, sometimes my brother and sometimes my father (not all schools were let out and not everyone got time off), made our way to the War Memorial and stood quietly as bands played in sombre tones, veterans proudly paraded by, wreaths were laid, prayers were said and hymns and anthems were sung. There is no doubt that it was indeed the pomp and ceremony that caught my attention in those early years. But it was the sights and sounds of the city that drew me in. Trains still chugged into the Union Station close by. At the Peace Tower the carillon played and the guns sounded off Major Hill park, but for much of the ceremony, people were silent, heads bowed, many crying remembering loved ones lost in the First Great War and far too soon thereafter the Second.
Growing up during the Second World War, I said little about my family, about my roots. Indeed, as my mother, born and raised in Germany, regularly signed-in on Parliament Hill as an alien, I tried hard to remain oblivious to the fact that we were considered the enemy, concentrating instead on the fact that my father was Swedish born, a “naturalized British subject” and was working for the Canadian government.
During those war years, censored letters came to mother from her aging parents, (grandparents I never knew) telling of the hardships facing her family, of uncles and cousins of an age to serve their country and younger ones, my age, cold and hungry. The shortwave radio in our home made it hard to be oblivious to the war. I, of course, tried to forget and focussed instead on friends and families whose loved ones were serving in the Canadian military overseas, some of whom were killed or maimed. And the years went by.
Fast Forward. My brother joined the RCAF and served in the Korean War. Later I too joined the military where I met and married my husband, and I learned his brother had joined the RCAF at 17 during the 2nd War.
My father- in-law, born in Dover, England, who had migrated to Canada as a teenager to work on the Great Lakes, was a veteran of the First Word War and among the first Canadians gassed and taken prisoner at the 2nd Battle of Ypres in 1915. He was 22 years old. The train transporting the prisoners stopped along the way at a small town in Germany’s Ruhr Valley, where my mother, then 20, lived with her parents. She was working at what is similar to Travellers Aid in Canada. On that day, she and her father went together to see the “Canadians” pass by. A brief encounter.
In 1958 my parents- in-law travelled from Port Arthur to Ottawa, to meet my mother and my brother. They toured the city, Parliament Hill, the War Museum and of course, the NationalWar Memorial, a tribute to the fallen of the “Great War.” And it was over a cup of tea that the story emerged about the Canadian prisoners of war and the train station in a small German town as my mother and my father in-law spoke of the war of 1914-18. They realized that their lives had briefly touched those many years before at that station when they were there at the same time, albeit then on different sides. My mother Agnes, and Needham became fast friends, bonded in a special way, perhaps because of their lived war experiences. Perhaps because they could talk about the war as they never had before, and understood each other as no others could. He told my mother that In 1941, too old to enlist (although he tried), he joined the Veterans Guard of Canada with the task of guarding German prisoners sent to Canada. Now that is irony.
This year on Remembrance Day I will remember that Canada does not honour war, but honours its veterans, and mourns for the young men and women who in good faith, have died for their country. And, I will pray for all those serving Canada in the military. Remembrance Day has become Remembrance Week. Please wear a poppy.
Around Town: 1. Road work on Wolfe Island continues with trucks going back and forth from Kingston all day and ferry line ups becoming longer and longer during the day. 2.There is no sign on the Kingston side indicating that the ferry is docking at the winter dock creating a real surprise for people who walk onto the ferry and suddenly realize there is quite a long walk to Marysville. 3. The Deck Hands are packing in the cars with real expertise. It’s fun to watch. 4.Work continues on the WI Community Health Clinic with the ramp now completed.
Coming Events: * Trinty Anglican’s, TURKEY SUPPER, Sat. Nov. 21st, St. Margaret’s Hall, Doors Open at 4:30 pm *WI’s Christmas Market, SUNDAY, November 22nd, St. Margaret’s Hall, 10am to 4pm, Jewellery, art, crafts, bake good and a lot of wonderful merchandise. The 2009 Photo Contest winners will be announced at the Market at 11 am If you or your group are interested in having a table,please contact:Maureen at 385-2540 or Linda at 385-1947 *Friends of Big Sandy Bay AGM, Wed., Nov. 25th, WI United Church Hall. Join us at 6:45 Presentation by Francine MacDonald Invasive Species/Aquatics Biologist with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters .* An Ecumenical Advent Service of Readings & Carols, Trinity Anglican Church Sun. Nov. 29th, 4:00 p.m. A wonderful way to prepare for Christmas. EVERYONE welcome. *The W.I. Volunteer Fire Department invites you to their annual Santa Claus Parade, Sat. Dec. 5th beginning from Fire Hall at 4:30 pm Floats are welcome Hot Dogs & Hot Chocolate at the Fire Hall when it is over.
It is not often that Annual General Meetings draw a huge crowd, but the Wolfe Island Historical Society AGM surely did. Island born and raised, Gene Manion came home to the island and to the meeting to share the stories of his 40 years as a bush pilot in Newfoundland and Labrador, and all that he had been doing there before returning to Ontario and settling down on Howe Island. All of which he describes in exciting detail in his newly published book “Flying on the Edge”.
Following an enthusiastic welcome by society president Brian Johnson, Gene got right into telling his audience about his 7 years as a pilot in the RCAF, leaving frustrated because of the cancellation of the Avro Arrow program, doing bush flying in Baie Comeau and around the St. Lawrence, and asked to come and help out with his plane when Wolfe Island was trapped in heavy snow period, before moving onto Wellons Flying Service. And there began Genes love affair with Newfoundland and its people.
When Wellons was bought out by the Crosby family, Gene went on to form his own company Newfoundland Air Transport (NAT), in a province he described as 40 years behind in economic development in 1960, having only the Trans Canada highway, mail delivered by dog team, an impoverished Labrador, no roads to the interior, ski and float planes a way of life, and wealth and everything else (fish,seals) controlled by a few families.
Manion began slowly, warming up to his audience who sat spellbound listening to him tell one flying story after the other, about the difficulties and threats he faced building his airline business along with his partners, with little or no money,(“I’ll use all my resources to put you out of business and out of Newfoundland,” said Chet Crosby, owner of Eastern Provincial Airlines), the acquiring of (ski-float) planes, engaging skilled pilots and getting contracts to fly into places where float planes had never been before and engaging in services ( fresh food to remote locations, hauling out seal pelts during the commercial seal hunt, wilderness camps, charters, etc.) that helped energize many small Newfoundland communities. And so it went, story after story told to an enthusiastic audience in a conversational manner, just the way the book is written by its author, Gene Manion. Gene remained to sign books available for sale, to meet and greet friends and neighbours and to talk about the photo collage of his adventures that was on display. ‘Flying on the Edge,’ is published by DRC Publishing and is available in Kingston.