by Charley James —
Today is Remembrance Day in Canada – what Americans call Veterans Day – and everything other than retailing and restaurants shuts down tight. Canada treats Remembrance Day much more somberly than do US celebrations. This might be the result of how the British mercilessly used the colonial Canadian army as fodder in both World Wars and the US seems to view Veterans Day mostly as time for a one-day-only sale.
In The Great War, Canadian troops were always the first over the top and units were usually being assigned impossible tasks such as taking and holding Vimy Ridge. Tens of thousands of Canadians died in a few days of fighting while the Brits stayed the flanks and took very little German fire. But Canadians held the ridge.
It was much the same thing in World War II.
When Winston Churchill decided to try an ill-considered and poorly planned mini-invasion of France way before D-Day, Lord Louis Mountbatten send a nearly all-Canadian force to Dieppe. Ill-trained, ill-equipped and ill-led by the British, almost everyone was either killed or captured, and those who returned to England were suffering hideous wounds.
During the Italian campaign, Field Marshall Montgomery used Canadian troops to take the brunt of German resistance as the British army fought its way up the center and east coast of Italy.
Likewise during and after D-Day: Canadians were assigned to fight their way through the hardest of German reinforcements in Normandy and, later, sent alone to rout Germans from the Veldt in the Low Countries.
On the other hand, the Danes have been forever grateful to Canada for liberating the country. It is Canada – not Britain or America – that holds a special place in Danish hearts (and, for all I know, Danish pastry). On a number of occasions over the years, I’ve been in bars in Denmark where a friendly local happened to ask where I was from. When I answered Toronto, patrons wouldn’t let me pay for a drink the rest of the evening.
My dad served in the US Navy during World War II. Other than a few anecdotes about how he figured out a way to scrounge more than his ship’s meager allotment of beef when a supply party went ashore, he barely spoke of his wartime experiences. Now that he is long dead, all I have from that period of his life are his officer’s dress uniform, a pair of shoulder bars showing his rank, a tiny handful of photos, and an ash tray some Chief Petty Officer carved out of a shell casing after Iwo Jima.
Phil survived the war, went to law school on the GI Bill, and when he aged and needed medical help, the Veterans Administration hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota turned him away. He would relate to the problems veterans of Viet Nam, Iraq and Afghanistan face nearly every day with the VA.
So, to Phil and the millions of others who have served in war time, for me it is truly a day to remember all of you. Thanks.
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