This year marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. For many of us, Remembrance Day each year is the opportunity to honour and to remember a member or members of our family who may have served in the First or Second World War, in Korea, in Afghanistan or with NATO or the United Nations. Unfortunately, for too many citizens, it is just a day off work or away from school…not a time to remember.
Canada has not gone to war on its own, but it has supported Great Britain and Canada’s other allies in several major conflicts over time from the Boer War in South Africa (1899 to 1902), the First World War (1914 to 1918), the Second World War (1939 to 1945), Korea (1950 to 1953), and Afghanistan (2002 to 2014).
Canada went almost 50 years from Korea to Afghanistan without participating in a shooting war, but 125,000 of its military members, and occasionally civilian police, have served in almost 40 peacekeeping missions. That is something in which we can take pride.
Collectively, Canada has sacrificed over 104,000 military killed in action, 229,000 wounded in action, over 13,000 prisoners of war, as well as about 10 per cent of front-line military, mostly soldiers, to what was known as “shell shock” in the 1st World War, “battle fatigue” in the 2nd World War, and is now known as “post-traumatic stress disorder” (PTSD).
The average age of Canadian soldiers in the First World War was 28, but the oldest soldier was 80 and the youngest was 10. Many youths lied about their age to get into some branch of the service. About 700,000 Canadians under the age of 21 served in the 2nd World War. They were among the best of their generation.
In aggregate, these numbers are staggering. The loss of and disruption to all the lives, families and property in these conflicts worldwide was catastrophic. Additionally, tens of thousands of the civilian populations laboured on the home front in war industries.
My wife and I visited Amsterdam in September 2019. At the beginning of a walking tour our Dutch tour guide asked where members of the tour group were from. When we told him Canada, his first words were “thank you for liberating us.” After 75 years, they have not forgotten that Canadians liberated them and never will.
The suffering and starvation the Dutch and citizens of other countries experienced under Nazi occupation in the 2nd World War is the kind of sacrifice most Canadian civilians have never been, and hopefully will never be,called upon to make.
We owe our service people, both past and present, a debt of gratitude. They have helped keep us free from foreign oppression and to keep us safe. To those Canadians who died or were wounded in war, to veterans who served Canada for much of their adult lives, to our military members currently deployed around the world…“lest we forget”–”thank you for your service.”