There is an old Bell Telephone commercial that used to come on nearly every Remembrance Day here in Canada. It was the one where a Canadian Backpacker is shown walking on a beach with his Maple Leaf flag sewn on his backpack in France. He calls his Grandfather and when he speaks to him, his Grandpa asks how Paris is. “Are the women still as lovely as I remember?” “Grandpa, I’m not in Paris” he replies. “I’m in Dieppe” ”I just wanted to call to say thank you Grandpa.”
It brings tears to my eyes every time.
Remembrance day happens every November 11th in Canada. On the 11th Day of the 11th Month on the 11th Hour we observe a moment of silence. We wear our poppies to pay tribute to those who gave their lives in the name of freedom since World War I. Lest we never forget.
My Grandfather fought hard in the Second World War. He was captured at the Battle of Dieppe in 1942 and was held in a concentration camp until he was freed by the Russians at the end of the war. He was one of the lucky ones. Over 6000 men were sent to their slaughter on the coast of France and out of the over 3000 that made it to shore, most were killed. He suffered greatly during that time and barely survived. He had sustained organ damage due to starvation and I remember hearing something about him having to have his stomach rebuilt. I, being so young never asked him about his time in the war. I just heard things that my parents said, bits and pieces about his time in Germany.
I never understood my grandfather when I was younger. He was an angry man who was bigoted. It was a long time ago and back then there weren’t any psychologists to help returning vetrans find their inner feelings. There weren’t support groups or self help books explaining the reasons they felt the way they did. They didn’t have a professional to speak to outside of their family where they could talk candidly of their time in the trenches. They came home with pasted on smiles after witnessing death and great suffering, and they had suffered themselves.
Our Vetrans were expected to go on with their lives and deal with their scars of the war in silence.
It wasn’t until we were older and living in Vancouver that I started to understand Grandpa. My grandfather thought that Dave was his grandson and I was his wife. He would sit in the living room of Burnaby BC telling Dave (“his Grandson”) stories about the war while Grandma and I talked in their dining room. I would sneak in to listen and couldn’t believe how much my grandfather was opening up. Dave has that effect on people.
I was grateful for getting to know Grandma and Grandpa better during that time in BC. I was the youngest of 5 and my grandparents had already moved out to British Columbia in the early 80′s. I barely knew them.
Like most Canadian men of that time, Dave’s Grandfather also fought in the Second World War. He was a Scottish Highlander. There is a long tradition of Canadians with Scottish roots fighting for their country in the name of Scotland. The Canadian Scottish Highlanders had their own battalions and fought for Canada and their land of heritage with great honour. Dave knew even less of his grandfather than I did.
He died young when Dave’s father was only 16. But his time in the Scottish Regiment was spoken about often at family dinners and holidays. Dave says that he remembers seeing his dad with his grandfather’s beret. He had the full suit – Kilt and all.
Canadians have an odd tradition of referring to our heritage. Our European friends can’t understand why we say things like “We’re Scottish” or “I’m French” We are a young country and we still have bonds with our motherland. Every Canadian will tell you where they come from. I have Scottish and French in my roots and Dave comes from a line of Scotsmen. When Europe suffers we suffer. Our grandparents came from there and even though we don’t call it our home, we will forever be connected.
It is what makes this country great. We are a country built on immigrants and freedom. People come here knowing they can have a better life but are free to keep their traditions alive. People seem to forget that in todays world. When the Italians or the Irish, Polish or Greeks first came to Canada they held on to their roots. There were private community centres, clubs and churches. They stayed in their communities and built near one another in their own little part of town. ie: College street became Little Italy, The Danforth is known as Greek Town and Roncensvales village is where many from Poland have settled in Toronto. They kept their motherland close at hand.
Now that people are coming from other countries outside of Europe, we should give them the freedom to keep their traditions alive. We shouldn’t judge and be filled with anger because they wear a hat or scarf on their head. We shouldn’t worry when they want to build a mosque or a church from a different sect. They are just trying to hold on to a piece of home while searching for a better life.
After all, it is this freedom that our grandfathers fought so hard for. We should never forget.