In August, I drove from the Hamilton-Burlington area of Ontario to Coquitlam, B.C. It was both for the distinct pleasure of experiencing so much of Canada, as well as a long overdue reconnect with family.
My cousins Diane and Gael hadn’t seen me in 57 years. We were kids in Europe then.
I was very much looking forward to reuniting with my cousins and eager to find out more about my dad than I’ve been able to discover.
Diane and Gael’s mother was my dad’s favoured sister. Their mom kept his memory alive.
Coincidental to the reunion was the release of the much-heralded film Dunkirk.
We decided we’d go. Dunkirk was where my father, as a member of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), had fought to hold back German troops from reaching the beach where his mates were massing for their storied evacuation, as ships, pleasure boats, ferries, anything capable of crossing the channel from England to France and making it back, cast off to “bring the boys home.”
My dad was 19.
He didn’t manage to board a ship or a boat returning to England loaded with soldiers. My father’s fate was to be marched away at the business end of a German rifle. Quite a few German rifles. He became a prisoner of war.
Not for very long. He escaped with a few other Brits who then decided to strike out individually, believing their chances of true escape would be greater solo than travelling as a group of young men.
After borrowing shirt and pants from washing drying on a line, my father headed out walking the French roads. When he came upon them he would wave to German military convoys. Had he been captured, his fate would have been execution as a spy. On the spot.
In England, my grandparents received two telegrams from the British Ministry of War. The first informed my father was “missing in action.” The second confirmed dad was a prisoner of war.
I have spoken and written about my father’s experiences; about his escape and long journey overland to Switzerland, assisted by and fighting alongside French resistance along the way.
Dad shared as much as he felt appropriate before he died suddenly when I was 12. My mother filled some blank spaces, but there was more I wanted to know. Diane and Gael proved great sources of additional information.
The theatre was only perhaps a third full for the matinee of Dunkirk. As we filed out there was almost no chatter. Diane, Gael and I clearly weren’t the only ones with a connection to what we’d witnessed.
Today, as years increasingly separate us from the two World Wars, memory and attention wane. For some wearing a poppy has become an afterthought.
For too many, at least from what I’m witnessing, actually contributing to the Royal Canadian Legion’s Poppy Fund and pinning a poppy to an article of clothing appears unnecessary. Perhaps it’s the thought of poking a hole into an expensive piece of clothing. Perhaps it’s indifference. Perhaps both.
Sad. The sacrifices were real. The men of Dunkirk, JUNO Beach and wherever Canadians hung up their usual work gear and picked up a rifle in its place were ultimately selfless defenders of the freedoms they battled to enshrine for future generations, including the increasingly endangered constitutional freedom of expression.
I’m so glad to have rediscovered Diane and Gael and met or know of their families, now extensions of my life.
We’re living a good life in Canada because this nation was and is defended by men and women in uniform.
Unfortunately, successive federal governments have and are engaged in court action to uncouple a formal relationship between government and military in uniform.
Shameful thought for Remembrance Day.
Thank you, dad. Thank you all who wore or wear the uniform. Bless you, lest we forget.
Roy Green is the host of The Roy Green Show and a commentator for Global News.