Special to The Morning Star
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row, wrote by Lt. C.J McCrae on May 3, 1915 at the battlefronts in France during the First World War.
More than 45,000 Canadian soldiers and civilians lost their lives in the Second World War, but my great-grandfather Daniel Francis Colvin did not.
He was only 21 when he was recruited by the Canadian military and trained for more than three months at army bases near Regina, Winnipeg, Brandon and Kingston. He took basic training and learned how to be a driver, operator, and received special training in communications.
He remembers one day in Brandon, Man., when the captain said that whoever could run back to the barracks, which were 10 miles away, and back with their packs on would earn a leave to go into town for the weekend. He and his friend won!
In 1939, Canada made the independent decision to join Britain in the war against Germany, after the Germans invaded Holland. My great-grandfather started fighting as a corporal for three years in France, Belgium, Holland and finally Germany. He was only paid 30 cents a day, but in those days, that wasn’t a bad salary.
Many towns and cities were destroyed, leaving blasted buildings and ruined houses. The soldiers would use whatever they could find to stay warm, fed and comfortable. When he was in a forest in Holland, my great-grandfather and a partner used shovels and made dug-outs, then placed logs across the top. They then piled on dirt and cartages that the ammunition shells came in, over the roof making a make-shift shelter.
Using the silk blankets and sheets they found, the soldiers were able to stay warm and hidden throughout the entire winter.
“Warm as toast,” my grandfather says. Knowing your enemies’ position was key during war and my great-grandfather was sent up into large towers to watch with a spyglass. When he spotted them, he radioed back but soon after, the Germans got smart and started blowing down the towers while retreating.
Having an expectant wife and baby girl at home, my grandfather would send letters back to Canada every now and then. These letters were intensely examined to ensure no one was stating their location because if the enemy got hold of one, there would be a massacre.
“You knew they would be read, so you wrote them accordingly,” says my grandfather, adding even the letters sent to him by my great-grandmother were censored.
Canadian soldiers were, and still are, fed very well. They knew nutrition was important so whenever they got a chance they would eat. Being the kind-hearted Canadians we are, when we see someone hungry, we want to feed them.
If you were a soldier liberating Holland like my great-grandfather was, very often you would see starving children running beside you begging you for something to eat. You wanted to give to them, but knew that you would need food as well. There were just too many. Now and then, you would desperately try to sneak a child a slice of bread or cup of soup, but you couldn’t help all of them. This clawed at my grandfather’s heart, seeing young children this way. Many of them died.
Never having meals consistently, soldiers often had to take their lunch on-the-go. Not wanting to eat cold stew, they would place their meals on top of their truck’s engine to warm up the food.
After pushing back the Nazis further and further, the Canadian troops did liberate Holland from Germany’s grasp, but it wasn’t all back to normal. It’s not like the movies, when the good guys win and the sky lightens up and everyone is singing and dancing…the effects of war took over the country and much of the population was left without a home and without a voice. Although they had been saved, poverty took over still. It took time but eventually Holland brought their country back and earned their independence, thanks to the brave men and women of Canada’s military. Even to this day, Canadians are treated especially well in this country and we are thought of very highly and respected greatly. We would not be shown this gratitude if not for those incredible soldiers.
I think kids today take all of their rights and freedoms for granted. They don’t understand the struggles and hardships Canadian soldiers went through so that we could have a brighter future.
Martha Cothren was a high school socials teacher and on the first day of school she removed all the desks from the classroom. When students came in, they were shocked and had no idea where their desks were. Throughout the day Ms. Cothren asked every class if they knew why they had the right to sit at a desk. No one did. They guessed it was based upon their behaviour or their grades but all were shot down. No one understood until Ms. Cothren opened the door on the last block of the day and 27 war veterans walked in, each carrying a desk, and replaced them in the classroom. We didn’t earn the right to sit at desks, these heros did it for us. They laid down their lives for us and now we have the responsibility to learn, be good pupils and great citizens. They have paid the price for us to have the freedom to get an education.
We must never forget that.
Now, I am trying to follow in my 94-year-old great-grandfather’s footsteps by joining the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets, and he is my biggest inspiration. We are both excited to be taking part in this year’s Remembrance Day ceremony at Kal Tire Place. Because of him I am honoured to be Canadian and I know he is proud of me also.
Thank you, Papa, you’re my best pal. I love you.
– Landon Colvin is a 13-year-old cadet with the RCSCC 63 Kalamalka unit in Vernon.