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101-year-old World War II veteran reflects and honours friends on Remembrance Day

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On Remembrance Day, Canadians across the country are pausing in honour of those who currently serve and those who have served in our armed forces. As Erik Bay tells us, for one World War II veteran, it’s a day to give thanks to the ones who didn’t make it back home. – Nov 11, 2021

It’s been 80 years since Elden Coleman went overseas to serve in World War II.

“When the jobs ran out, a bunch of us boys went to Calgary,” Coleman said, reflecting on his time serving his country.

On July 23, 1941, at just 21 years of age, Coleman travelled by troop train to Halifax, before taking a ship to England.

He would spend more than four years in Europe.

Elden Coleman was only 21 when he went to England to serve in World War II. Courtesy: Wendy Coleman. Courtesy: Wendy Coleman

A natural athlete, he became a physical training instructor, teaching calisthenics, running and unarmed combat, while becoming a full Sergeant.

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“I loved what I was doing. Teaching phys ed to the troops and getting them in shape to go fight.”

“I got to do many things in the sport that I liked, which was track and field,” Coleman said. “I wouldn’t want to be anything else, if I had to do it all over again.”

Coleman taught unarmed combat while in the army and was a pretty accomplished boxer himself, even getting into a bout with a professional fighter. Courtesy: Wendy Coleman
Coleman taught unarmed combat while in the army and was a pretty accomplished boxer himself, even getting into a bout with a professional fighter. Courtesy: Wendy Coleman. Courtesy: Wendy Coleman

Coleman remembers eating in London and seeing a German “buzz bomb” plane – unmanned aircraft loaded with explosives, intended to run out of gas and drop on their targets.

“We would lie in our barracks at night and hear one come over… (then) its engines would cut and we’d wait to hear it explode,” Coleman said.

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And while he never saw the front lines, many of his friends and the men he trained did.

When Coleman returned to Canada in 1945, it was without his brother, Duane, who was killed in combat near the end of the war.

“They were going through a minefield and the coastal guns were firing – I don’t know how many miles it was – but they were firing on… this minefield where the troops were coming through,” Coleman said.

“One of the shells landed close to the truck and the whole truckload was killed.”

After leaving the army, Coleman returned to his hometown of Magrath, Alta., working as a carpenter.

Still living there at the age of 101, he used Remembrance Day to honour those who served alongside and he hopes others take the time to appreciate the sacrifices that were made defending our freedoms.

“To have our country free, it’s not like other countries.”

 

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