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Dominion’s last surviving Second World War veteran celebrates 95th birthday

Image of Greg MacNeil taken at 2019 Remembrance Day in a local elementary school.
Image of Greg MacNeil taken at 2019 Remembrance Day in a local elementary school. Allan MacNeil

The last surviving Second World War veteran at the Dominion Royal Canadian Legion branch 78 has celebrated his 95th birthday on May 4th.

Greg MacNeil resides at the Taigh Na Mara nursing home in Glace Bay, and due to COVID-19 he wasn’t able to physically celebrate with his family.
However, the nursing home helped arrange a Zoom session with his family, which he has enjoyed.
“It’s amazing that I’m still alive and healthy,” said Greg MacNeil, who shared some of his memories of the war with Global News.
Zoom birthday session.
Zoom birthday session. Mike Ratchford

MacNeil said he doesn’t think the soldiers who died want to be remembered as heroes, “just the fact that they did the job.”

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“Soldiers went to war and that was a very, very sad thing to see, and some didn’t come back,” said MacNeil, who wants people to never forget that fact.

He said the memory he has of the soldiers is something he carries with him to this day.

READ MORE: War bride recalls 67 years of marriage with Moose Jaw sargeant

“The soldiers who went to war were scared, many of them were scared, but they didn’t admit it,” said MacNeil, who joined the army at the age of 18.

Kingston’s Britton “Brit” Smith hits the century mark
Kingston’s Britton “Brit” Smith hits the century mark

During the war, MacNeil was selected to become an infantry signaller, where he had to operate radios and send telegrams.

He initially served in Italy, then as part of the liberation of the Netherlands. At the very end of the war, he served briefly in Germany.

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“It was a demanding job. We had to be on the job for 24 hours and use Morse code, which is very common today, but it was strange to us.”

READ MORE: ‘I’m here! I’ve made it!’ Canadian war brides reunite in Halifax

MacNeil said he joined the army mostly for the adventure.

“I guess I had to be with the crowd…Young people like adventure and I was just getting in on that.”

MacNeil’s son, Allan, says his father is a very active man who loves to get outdoors and interact with people, but it has been hard for him due to COVID-19.

“There are a lot of people that have lost family members to COVID-19 or to something else and they haven’t able to get together and share in the grief. My father is very conscious of that,” said Allan, who visits his father everyday to talk to him from behind a window.

Greg MacNeil at the nursing home in Glace Bay, speaking with his son Allan.
Greg MacNeil at the nursing home in Glace Bay, speaking with his son Allan.

“My father said that during the war, it was a terrible time for sure. People lost many of their loved ones, but they were at least able to share their grief and move on and get over it much more quickly. With this, there are people that are really struggling because they can’t share that with others.”

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Allan says that MacNeil rarely spoke of the war with his seven children.

“My dad is a very private, a very faithful and optimistic man. I just don’t think he wants to spend time dwelling on those kinds of things,” said Allan, who goes to visit his father daily to speak with him from behind his room’s window.

READ MORE: Coping with loss on Remembrance Day: ‘Grief rarely goes away’

He said that his father was always involved in his church after the war, and was dedicated to the community.

“I want people to remember his kindness and generosity … He always managed to find somebody that needed help and give them whatever help was available,” said Allan.

“He never had a bad word to say about anyone. Those may be the values that he fought for.”