Thursday, November 11, 2010

Saluting each and every one of our Canadian veterans

Hump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

Tomorrow is Remembrance Day in Canada, a day when we honour those who have fought - and died - for our country and for our freedom.

My grandfather - Michael Pineau - fought in the First World War. If he were still alive, he would be 117 years old. Tomorrow - Nov. 11 - is the 95th anniversary of the day he joined the military in 1915 when he was 22 years old.

Originally, he only signed up for one year, but stayed for the rest of the war and was discharged on Jan. 24, 1919, after arriving back in Canada. He sailed to Halifax from Liverpool, England, on Dec. 12, 1918, so would have spent Christmas 1918 aboard a ship in the middle of the freezing and likely stormy Atlantic Ocean. His rank at discharge was private and he was with the 105th Battalion at the time.

He arrived in England on the S.S. Empress of Britain on July 25, 1916, 10 days after setting sail from Canada. His military records show that he was promoted to corporal but reverted back to private at some point. I'm not sure why. Regardless, according to the military paperwork I have on him, he was paid the handsome sum of $20 per month for his service to the country.

In May 1918, while fighting in France, he contracted trench fever which, according to my online research, was a disease transmitted by body lice that caused a "high fever, severe headache, pain on moving the eyeballs, soreness of the muscles of the legs and back, and frequently hyperaesthesia of the shins." (Wikipedia)

For those of you, like me, who were not aware of the meaning of "hyperaesthesia," it pretty much means "hypersensitivity."

On Aug. 27, 1918, he received a shrapnel wound to the face while fighting in France and had surgery performed four days later to remove the foreign body from his jaw. His medical records indicate that he received "an incomplete fracture of the lower jaw."

He spent a month in hospital and was transferred to the Princess Patricia Canadian Red Cross Hospital, Cooden Camp, in Bexhill, England, to convalesce, leaving the facility on Oct. 25, 1918, and returning to duty. Less than three weeks later, the war ended on Nov. 11, exactly three years to the day that he enlisted.

He was one of the lucky ones to return home. A school teacher and farmer, he married relatively late - in his 30s - to my grandmother. Together, they had nine children - one of whom is my mother.

The First World War seems so long ago. In fact, it is. But there are still three verified veterans of the war alive, one each in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States.

Each of them is 109 years old, having all been born in 1901.

I can only imagine what my grandfather would think of today's war in Afghanistan - a conflict that is creating an entire new generation of veterans, wounded and war dead. While war is war - and people die regardless of how much armour they are wearing or how tough their vehicle is, I can't even begin to think how much harder the trench warfare was in the two so-called world wars. The bitter cold, illness and harsh conditions in the trenches must have been unbearable.

I'm thankful to our military - those who served all those years ago; those who serve today; and those who never made it home. I'm thankful because - quite honestly - I doubt I have the courage you did to fight for our country. And trust me, having me overseas fighting wouldn't have done the country much good because that chubby guy you would have seen running through the field screaming like a little girl in surrender and wildly flailing his arms in abject terror would have surely been me.

Recently, I attended the True Patriot Love Foundation's New Brunswick-Prince Edward Island Tribute Dinner in Fredericton. The fundraising event raised more than $310,000 for three charities that assist members of the military and their families in both provinces. One of the most touching parts of the evening was the tribute to fallen soldiers. The lights in the room dimmed and a spotlight shone on a small table near the front of the room. The speaker explained the table setting in words repeated often.

"The table is round - to show our everlasting concern for our fallen comrades. The tablecloth is white - symbolizing the purity of their motives when answering the call to duty. The single red rose, displayed in a vase, reminds us of the life of each of our fallen comrades, and the loved ones and friends of these comrades who keep the faith."

"The vase is tied with a red ribbon, symbol of our continued determination to remember our fallen comrades. A slice of lemon on the bread plate is to remind us of the bitter fate of those who will never return. A pinch of salt symbolizes the tears endured by the families of those who have sacrificed all."

"The Holy Book represents the strength gained through faith to sustain those lost from our country. The glass is inverted, they cannot toast with us at this time. The chair is empty because they are no longer with us."

On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month tomorrow, let us all stand in silence to remember those who fought, died and continue to fight for our freedom and the freedom of others. I salute each and every one of you.

1 comment:

Ray Hiltz said...

Very moving. Thanks for posting,Brian.