The children of the first generation to grow up after the Second World War had to learn about what had happened not long before they were born.
I learned slowly. I grew up in a small, isolated farming and forestry community in northern Alberta. Some men had war injuries and neighbours helped them. No one ever talked about what a war might be.
I don’t recall there ever being any kind of Remembrance Day commemoration but people must have remembered it in their hearts.
This was a time when the radio was only turned on for the news and Hockey Night in Canada in order to save the battery, there were few books and screen time was bright, unbelievable films at the drive-in during infrequent trips to town.
The first idea of the wider world, and the unknown war, came when European immigrants came to work at the mill and their children came to the school. They were far away from their homes because of the war. They could never go back. They were called displaced persons.
War started to seem a little more real when we were told in school that if there was an atomic bomb attack we should hide under our desks. What was an atomic bomb? Why would someone far away want to kill us?
Later, horrifying films about the war were shown in social studies class. How could people be so cruel to other human beings only because they were a different religion? I couldn’t believe it. I had to leave the room to vomit. Then we had a teacher who had the dark blue numbers tattooed on her left wrist. It was another sign that war had happened to real people.
War seemed close to me when my mother let me touch the little silver brooch an uncle had brought back to her from Europe. He had found it on a bombed street, left as someone fled. I touched the engraving. War had taken the owner’s home and maybe her life. Could war take my family and home and little treasures?
As a child of the love and peace era, I ignored war. Maybe it would go away if enough people ignored it even though it was still happening regularly.
When I started to interview veterans and other people who had experienced war in different ways around the world, I gained some imperfect understanding of what war was — the Second World War, the wars since, the wars of the centuries, since the beginning of time.
I heard about how servicemen and women did their jobs, how people coped at home in Canada, in Great Britain, Europe and other places where the war waged around them, taking lives, homes, hope.
My parents talked in later years about how they would never have met except for the war, when my mother came from the farm to work in Edmonton. My father was stationed near there. He trained as a medic and was about be sent to Europe when the war ended, and then to Asia when the atomic bomb ended that part of the war.
My parents didn’t talk about the war but I remember my father singing the haunting war songs to my mother. It made war seem somehow romantic. But did the adults who never talked about the war in my childhood have nightmares too?
I think about every person, displaced by the war in their lives if not actual location, who carried on with visible and invisible wounds, knowing they had made a better future for their children and grandchildren. We all went forward together because that is always the only choice in life.
What would my life have been like if that war had not happened?
Most of my generation in Canada has lived with peace and opportunity. It might have been very different. Remember.