(Remembrance Day XCIV, 2013)
My father joined the Navy in ’43, at the age of 17. His part in the war was as a torpedo-man on a Canadian Corvette, the HMCS Midland, a convoy escort ship on the Atlantic “triangle run” between Boston, New York, Halifax, and St. John’s. (Oddly, Corvette’s don’t carry torpedoes. They carry depth charges. Tomayto, tomahto). The corvette was a U-boat chaser and the Midland saw “action” several times (I’m sure it always saw action, just not necessarily violent action) and got one “probable kill” of a U-boat not far off the coast of Newfoundland. They got called in for a refit after that and the HMCS Shawinigan took it’s place on next convoy. On that run, the Shawinigan was torpedoed by Nazi U-Boat 1228 and sank with all hands lost. 85 men died but only six bodies were recovered. My father knew many of those aboard. There’s a right place, a wrong place, a right time, and a wrong one.
Not surprisingly, the WAR was a significant presence when I was growing up and my father never tired of telling his stories. But not once did he express any malice toward anyone involved in that horror, with the exception of certain small-minded bureaucrats. He didn’t consider himself a hero, nor his German opponents as enemies. He didn’t flaunt his service nor proclaim that they saved “democracy’. He did what he felt he had to do and then came back and lived his life.
My Mom lived in NFLD during the war and lost a few cousins to the insanity. When it was over she came to Canada (NFLD was Britain at the time), to Montreal, specifically, to study at McGill where she met my Dad, a slightly more experienced Greek-Canadian boy who had a scholarship courtesy of the navy. (My Dad, a poor son of Greek immigrants, hadn’t a chance in hell of going to University if not for the war).
The story is pretty predictable from here on. I only tell it to remind myself, and maybe others, of just what we owe to our ancestors, as clueless as they might be to things WE find important.
My father and my mother were unflinching pacifists throughout their adult lives. I wouldn’t call them liberal or left-wing, that was foreign to their education, but when push came to shove they always chose the moral high ground.
And that’s how the Second World War created me. I’ve done some renovations, but the foundation is solid. And my daughters, though not yet old enough to fully grasp the historical significance, are definitely old enough to hold a moral code that makes me burst with pride.
Remember … but forgive.