Every year their numbers grow fewer … yet, every year on November 11th, those who remain march proudly to honour their fallen comrades and remind us of a time when they fought for freedom.
Their faces have become weathered with time and their hair has turned to silver but their memories are those of young men and women who answered the call to help save the world from tyranny.
The first World War, known as ‘the war to end all wars’ was thought to be just that – the end of world conflict. In fact however, it was only a prelude of what was to come.
An instigator, a young Austrian who had served in the Germany army, Adolf Hitler joined the then-small German Workers Party. Two years later he became its leader and renamed it the National Socialist German Workers Party and, then finally, the Nazi party.
At the beginning of 1933 in a meteoric climb, Hitler was made Chancellor of Germany and, in July, the Nazi Party was officially declared the only party in Germany. Then, in October of that same year, Germany withdrew from the League of Nations that had been founded in 1919 and Hitler began his ‘Lebensraum’ or acquisition of ‘living space’ for the German people at the expense of surrounding neighbours.
On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand declared war.
Although Canada had been made a fully independent nation able to exercise her right in matters of war and peace, there was no doubt or hesitation when war was declared and Canada quickly offered support with grim determination.
With a population of only 11.5 million, more than one million Canadians joined the ranks of navy, army and air force united in their endeavour to stop the Hitler regime.
The Royal Canadian Navy grew to a force of almost 100,000 and became a vital key in the battle of the Atlantic to keep the all-important sea lanes to Britain open. By the end of the war, it had become the world’s third largest navy.
Canada’s Army paid a heavy toll at Dieppe in 1942 and distinguished itself through the war in Sicily, Italy and the Normandy invasion until Europe was liberated in May, 1945.
The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) began with a small and largely obsolete force of aircraft that was to become an essential element in the Allies gaining air superiority in Europe.
There were many roles that Canadians played and many of those players came from Bruce County. Young men and women of ‘the Bruce’ were involved on a massive scale in all of the major skirmishes throughout the war. The 160th Battalion was one of over 150 Canadian County based battalions that had been created in 1916 to answer the need for Canadian reinforcements.
At home, women and men worked in the Southampton Plywood factory making parts for the infamous Canadian Mosquito Bomber.
It is up to the generations of today to remember those young men and women for their unceasing willingness to fight for the freedoms that we all enjoy today.
One of those ways of remembering is through the Royal Canadian Legion poppy campaign. The Legion was originally part of the British Empire Service League that was formed after the Boer War to help returning veterans assimilate back into civilian life.
Today the Legion plays an important role in every community that has a branch. They raise funds that must go back into the community in some form that include bursaries for school children, meeting the needs of veterans, purchasing hospital equipment, assisting cadets and scout programs and many others. In fact, 90 per cent of all funds raised are distributed.
The Poppy Campaign is the largest fundraiser and all funds raised are held in a trust account to be disbursed throughout the community.
The Royal Canadian Legion is made up of both men and women with the Ladies’ Auxiliary playing an integral role in each branch. There was a time when only veterans and serving member of the Armed Forces could be a member of the Legion but times have changed.
Why join the Legion? For many reasons.
It’s an opportunity to become part of an organization without whose members most of us would not be here today enjoying the freedoms that we do and whose founding generation is fading with time.
It’s also a chance to recognize, appreciate and honour all those young men and women who gave their youth in the belief they were making a difference.
It’s also an opportunity to help re-build an organization that will, in all likelihood, be called upon to help today’s own generation of service men and women.
There are two dates in history that will forever be etched in the minds of modern man …
November 11th and September 11th.
Can anyone still say … “Why join”