Remembering the World Wars: Stories from decorated veterans
Published Saturday, November 10, 2018 1:15PM AST
Last Updated Saturday, November 10, 2018 1:17PM AST
The last First World War veteran may have passed away in 2010, but veterans from the Second World War are continuing to encourage young Canadians to continue remembering – even after they’re gone.
Roland Marshall recently celebrated his 91st birthday, but age doesn’t seem to matter, much as it didn’t when he signed up as a seaman in the Second World War the age of only 17.
“Our squadron took the surrender of 15 German U-boats up off Norway. We escorted those German submarines back to Northern Scotland,” said Marshall.
It sounds like something straight out of a movie, and it’s hard to fathom being on the Atlantic and taking on German U-boast in the early forties.
The incident is forever documented in newspaper articles by The Canadian Press, but Marshall is among a dwindling list of those alive and able to share first hand those stories from the second of two world wars.
“Every day was an adventure, and you learned something new, and you learned to get along with other sailors in close quarters and you learned how to sleep in a hammock. You learned how to get by, or get over sea sickness, or find and chose your food carefully,” said Marshall.
Across the Atlantic from where those battles took, Marshall’s home sits along the coast in Seaforth. From time to time, he carefully pulls out his medals, still proud of the decades he spent serving Canada.
8 years ago, the man affectionately known as Canada’s last link to the Great War passed away, and with him, firsthand accounts of the First World War.
John Babcock, was 109-years-old.
One million Canadians entered the Second World War, thousands were from the Maritimes. Veterans Affairs keeps track of how many are still alive.
500 in Newfoundland, 300 in P.E.I., about 1,900 in Nova Scotia, and in New Brunswick there are 1,3000.
John Hann is a retired Master Warrant Office who spent 33 years in the Canadian Army, he has been working with schools to ensure veterans are not forgotten.
“We’re losing out vets, we have no more First World War vets. We’re losing out World War Two and our Korean vets. We still have vets from other conflicts, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and we need to take care of them as well,” says Hann.
So Hann works to organize Remembrance Day ceremonies in schools around the region.
“We can always do more,” he says, “Take the minute, take the moment of time as they say in the one song.”
Markus Harvey is someone who knows how precious time can be -- at 10:06 in the morning on January second, 1940, Harvey’s father, Lawrence, informed loved ones he had arrived safely overseas. Over the next five years, the correspondence never stopped.
“As they came home to my grandmother, she number them one through 200 and something and kept them,” said Harvey.
Lawrence Harvey wrote about his voyage, walked his parents through his days and weeks, and even sent a menu from the ship.
“Dear mother. His writing was terrible. Well at last we see land. And it happens to be Scotland. We’re up the Clyde River, I don’t know how far. It’s now 10 o’clock here. I don’t think we’re going to disembark until about 3 o’clock this afternoon due to the tide,” said Harvey reading the words of his father, written almost 80 years ago.
Harvey’s father died when he was just 11-years-old, and Marshall considers these letters a blessing.
“There’s one that he sent home to his grandfather when he found out his grandmother had died,” says Harvey, holding back emotions, “That was a letter that obviously got me, especially his signature because his signature was always a mess and in this one letter – it was perfect.”
He says this time of year is always difficult for his family who has a rich military history. His father was in the Second World War, and his grandfather in the first.
“The experiences that they went through, like I know my father, you know, he was a good guy who went through a war. Seeing rats just brought back terrible memories for him,” explained Harvey.
“And my grandfather I know he didn’t speak of it much either, I know my uncle said he told him one story once, when the Germans started using gas and my grandfather said you could walk for miles and never touch the ground – just walking on dead bodies,” he said.
Harvey says the letters and photos remind him and now his three sons, of what happened in those wars.
Back in Seaforth, Rowland Marshall holds a photo of the HMCS St. Pierre, the ship where he got his sea legs. He says he is grateful people take the time to listen to veterans tell their stories, but worries what might happen if they didn’t – a collective consciousness lost and with it the lessons only history can teach.
“Trying to preserve democracy ourselves, trying to help other preserve theirs, and the other, is to try to preserve the world through the conscientious work of the new generation,” said Marshall.
The new generation who may someday have to learn to remember on their own, without the people who lived through it.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Laura Brown