When I was young, my parents would drag me in the early morning on November 11th to the Legion, where we would sit for the Remembrance Day ceremony.
At the beginning of the service, they would dim the lights and play a soundtrack of a battle. You’d hear the bombing, the whistle of incoming fire, the yelling of orders and the screams of pain. As a child it was both sobering and terrifying.
As I grew I felt like I understood. I respected and appreciated the battles that had been fought for my freedom. I couldn’t have known then that I would marry a man who would deploy over and over to his own generation’s war. But I certainly felt that I grasped as best a civilian can, the reality that those before had fought and died for eveything I took for granted here.
But that understanding, it felt far removed from any real life person. Though I had 3 grandparents who enlisted and served during WWII, I didn’t really connect who they were with what I knew had been experienced.
I definately never equated a war veteran with the man who told us jokes, bounced us on his knee and stuck out his teeth at us.
This is my Poppa.
He was born in Montreal to British immigrants on May 31st, 1920.
At age 15 he got a job with United Shoe Machinery.
He worked there for 46 years, volunteering to take 4 years off in 1941 to go fight as a Gunner for the Allies in WWII.
As a child it was hard to see my Poppa as a veteran.
But this week as I prepared his memorial service, I spent my evenings reading histories of his war and his unit, B Troop, 1st Battery, 2nd Heavy Anti Air Regiment.
I read how they moved around Canada training until September, 1941 when they went overseas to London.
How they defended Britan from air attack.
Landed at Normandy in the weeks following D Day.
Fought in France and Belgium.
Were a part of the liberation of Holland.
They even had a dog while they were overseas in London named Gunner.
From what I can understand reading his pay book, he made less than $30 every 2 weeks, most of it sent hime to his mother.
My Poppa returned to civilian life at the end of the war, returning to his job at the shoe plant.
He met my Bamma in the months following and married her quickly.
Together they raised 11 children on very little money but so much love.
In the mid 80’s Poppa renovated an attachement on the farm house at my aunt and uncle’s farm and turned it into an appartment for him and his bride to retire to. And they lived there happily until 2003 when my Bamma quiety was called Home.
In the years since then Poppa has stayed on his farm. And while the war made him mostly deaf and Macular Degeneration made him mostly blind, he loved to ride on the lawnmower and sit on the deck and drink his beer.
And he remembered every single part of his kids, grandkids and great grandkids lives. When they called, when they visited, he always knew where they had been and remembered where they hoped to be.
For the last 3 years we were posted nearby, and my kids got to know their Great Poppa.
My husband got to share stories with a Veteran.
And I got to reconcile all those parts of his life into this one amazing man who I was privledged to call my Poppa.
If you look back on Twitter or facebook or news reports from May 15th, 2015, you won’t find any celebrety tweets or press releases to let you know that on that day, Poppa left that farm he loved for the last time.
The world did not stop to notice when this son, brother, veteran, husband, father, grandfather and great grandfater left us.
But today, today over 100 people will stand outside: family, friends, friends who are like family and even some representative of the Artillery community willing the mark the day with us.
With birthday cake.
Because today, Poppa would have been 95.
And we will hear the piper play Amazing grace, we will hear stories from his life and we will say our ‘see you laters’, each of us knowing without a shadow of a doubt that we were his favourite.
You are missed, but more importantly.
You are remembered