Friday, November 11, 2005

thinking day

This is my thinking day. I had the chance to work for time and a half, I declined. The backlog will be waiting for me on Monday. Today, November 11, is a day to be quiet and think. I think about lots of things on this day, every year.

I am a granddaughter of WWII. I think of my grandparents today. They are no longer here with us in body, but my memories of them will never fade. They lived the war. . they survived and I am alive now because they lived. My grandfather was a soldier. . he fought for the liberation of Holland. He shook Eisenhower's hand when he departed for Europe and he listened to a pep talk for the 20,000 troops aboard his ship home, from none other than Churchill himself. He witnessed things that he wouldn't tell us. In my later years my grandmother told me the 2 reasons for his discharge from duty: 1. A large chunk of his leg was claimed by shrapnel. The crater left had not escaped my notice. When i was a little girl I remember asking : "Bop, what happened to your leg?" I don't exactly remember his reply, i think it was something like 'Oh, that's just a souvenir from the war.' He brushed it off. It always bothered me to see it, even though he tried to make light of it. 2. His fox hole partner was decapitated. When I heard about that, i tried to imagine what it must have been like for my grandfather to be hunkered down in that hole with his partner. I wondered what their particular job at that time was, what weapons they may have had. I wondered what they talked about. I wondered how nervous and afraid they were as they heard the sounds of war all around them. Of course I wondered how horrible it was in that dreadful moment and in the moments that involved my grandfather exiting that hole in the ground, leaving his partner and running for cover and sustaining his own wound. All these things I have to imagine, because these things were too painful for him to tell us. My grandmother didn't elaborate very much. I think it bothered her too to talk about it in any great detail. I wish I had asked more. I wish that now. . . as a middle aged woman, I wish that i could ask them so much. It saddens me to realize that I only knew a really small part of who they were.

For me, Remembrance Day, well its all about WWII, because I have a personal connection to it. My grandparents lived it, their children lived in the shadow of it, and I lived in the clear. My husband too, has this experience - being a child whose family lived through this war. His Opa dying in a Japanese-run labour camp, his Oma and his mother and uncles all separated, interred in several Japanese P.O.W. camps in Indonesia. How traumatic, how difficult, how strong they had to become to survive.

Rob and I have an intense shared "generational' thing. We are from the same generation, our families were war families. We have this need to stay connected to this time in history, i think because its part of our families' legacy and experience. Some of our favourite things to do involves checking out museums, historical sites on our travels, watching documentaries, movies. We have a huge interest in aviation history. . . which is something we both just seem to love so much. . and now our little grandson seems also to share this love. One of our favourite family places is the "Warplane Heritage Museum" in Hamilton, Ontario. *see link below* . Here you can climb into the cockpits of these vintage planes and imagine for yourself what it must have been like for the pilots and crew. On our last visit i even got to work the tail flaps and move the stick of the CF100 fighter. I felt the claustrophobia as the volunteer slid the canopy over my head. Everything's so close in that cockpit. The gauges and buttons, wow. . I really recommend this place to anyone who has an interest, or would like to cultivate one. The Lancaster bomber seems to have this special allure for our grandson, James. I have to admit, we also do find it quite special. You will see 1 of only 2 flying Lancs in the WORLD at the Hamilton museum. (I've had the privilege of sitting in one of the bomb crew's seats in the Lanc. . and it was something else. . my imagination was just running wild being in there.

Here are some links for some of the places we have visited, and wish to visit in the near future: Canadian Military Heritage Museum
Brantford, Ontario The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, Ontario The Canadian Aviation Museum in Ottawa, Ontario Canadian War Museum Ottawa, Ontario The Lancaster Museum - Nanton, Alberta

And here's a link to the WarAmps of Canada. . which has a fantastic video and DVD series called "NEVER AGAIN!". I have watched a marathon of these videos today on TV. They are very well done. WarAmps Canada

I watched the ceremonies televised from our nation's capital this morning. A recent mini trip of ours to Ottawa this past spring made it so real, to see the cenotaph again, the tomb of the unknown soldier, the gigantic, statuesque monument to the great wars. The 2 minutes of silence was preceded by howitzer blasts, "The Last Post" and was followed by more canon blasts and "Reveille". The symbolic guards at the compass points of the monument seemed almost like statues. The faces of the assembled veterans. . . every line and wrinkle earned, their eyes communicating the memories turbulence and trauma that was uniquely theirs. . . haunting to see. I watched the laying of the commemorative wreaths from every conceivable people group in this land and the embassies of many others. . . I was struck by the importance of ceremony, remembrance, symbols, gatherings, parades. People need this. I watched the veterans' parade with gratitude and emotion. The salutes, the allegiance to flag and regiment, the purpose, the pride. I witnessed the Harvards fly by. . . 1 plane peeling off from the others, symbolizing those who were lost. What a day this has been. Solitary reflection and lots of remembering.


Lindsay said...

Oh, what a great post. That was awesome. It is too bad that you couldn't find out more about the war from nana and bop - I didn't know he shook hands with Eisenhower and listened to a speech from Winston Churchill! Banny had already been born when he left for the war, right? Is that when he got the shrapnel wound, when he was fleeing the foxhole? Was he shell-shocked from seeing the decapitation of his partner? It would be interesting to know what that partner's name was. I feel the same way, I wish I knew all this stuff! There's so much about history, even family history and local history that I wish I knew - I find it's not good enough for me to read about things in books, I often wish I could know things firsthand, I wish I could have been there and have learned all the things that weren't mentioned in history books.

Kathryn said...

Nana and Bop didn't want to talk about those details. When I was young i was too oblivious, except for summer time when Bop wore shorts and his leg injury was very obvious. He would often tell funny stories, like when he and some of his buddies had to take a dump along some road when they were over there. . and they went off into bushes and they had to wipe up with leaves. . and some local girls riding by on bikes, or walking, can't remember, they were whistling at the men, which he found extremely embarrassing! *being British and all!* Your great grandfather trained in Sussex, N.B. where Nana followed by train, 9 months pregnant and against doctors' orders, because she couldn't bear to be without him any longer than was necessary. My mother was born in Sussex and I can't remember if she was born just before her father shipped out. . or just after? But my Nana felt so alone. . with this newborn daughter and not knowing if she'd ever see her husband again?! . .S.A. Brigadier Merle Silver (Glen Sr.'s Aunt) was a HUGE help to Nana in those days. She helped her with everything in her every day life, with emotional support, prayer support etc. That was just about 1 year after my Aunt Kathryn *my namesake* had died during delivery and I think my grandmother felt especially anxious in the emotional aftermath of that event, and with her husband going off to fight the Nazis. . I'm sure she was FREAKING OUT! But she was so strong.

Yes, the decapitation of his partner did shell shock him and yeah, he was pretty much unfit for active duty after that. .that's why he wouldn't tell us about it. . he seemed to need to suppress that. His physical injury was really what got him sent home. I wish that I knew more too. .I do know that he was very 'funny' when he came back. . he was so upset by what he saw with the Dutch ppl being purposely starved by the Germans, he freaked if he thought food was being wasted, he got mad at my mother who was only little, if she said that she didn't want her food. My Uncle Vic was born after my grandfather came back. Its my uncle who has the bulk of my grandparents' pictures and most, if not all of my grandfather's volumes of hand written journals, articles and his published articles as well. I wish that I could tell you more. The only hope I have of learning more is to talk to my Uncle Vic and that's not likely to happen. I guess if i contacted him though, he might be inclined to sit down and talk? I didn't learn about Churchill until my grandfather was on his death bed, when he just let it slip in conversation. I learned about Eisenhower at my grandfather's funeral, during a eulogy delivered by my Uncle Vic. I have the CD if you wanna listen to it. It has a lot of cool historical stuff on it. You are a HISTORY BUFF!!! You should be a history teacher!!!!

Lindsay said...

Whenever I try to imagine how the war must have been like and try to realistically picture it, it feels like a movie.Probably because I've only seen such things in movies - I can't figure such a thing in to everyday life! They must really mean it when they say that it's impossible to picture war when you've never experienced it firsthand!

Lindsay said...

I think that whole food wasting phobia is a residual effect of the war generation - bala's like that too, as you know. She even saves soggy bowls of cereal! Bleeecchh! And don't forget the infamous year-old white chocolate bunny that she kept trying to give us!

Kathryn said...

yes, the non food wasting, or non anything wasting. . using every last bit of something up. . and re-using it. . is a 'war generation' mindset and habit. They lived through shortages and lack. Your "Bala" (grandma) nearly starved to death in that camp, as almost did her younger brothers, esp. George (Sigi). I used to wonder why she would wash tin foil and dry it and reuse it. . To this day, as you know, she has phobias connected to post traumatic stress from the war.

Dale said...

Kat, this was another excellent post and well worth the read. I must tell you how much I appreciated it and how much it sounds like you and Rob are like myself and my wife. We too have connections to WWII through our grandparents and other family members and friends. (Just two example connections would be my wife's mother's father and my grandmother's brother. My wife's mother's father died during the Battle of the Bulge so she only ever knew her mom's step-father as her grandfather. Mt grandmother's brother, whom she always told me I was most like, was a navigator on a B-24 bomber and died when he crashed shortly after take-off on one of his units' final missions in April of 1945.)

We also enjoy history very much and visit museums and historical sites on our vacation trips (we went to Williamsburg, VA on our honeymoon) as well as do plenty of reading about history and watch the documentaries and movies about historical events. I also am a former American Civil War reenactor/hobbyist. (Pictures of me in uniform are scattered around the world wide web. This is also why my screen name is Blackhatter1. The unit I belonged to was from the famed "Black Hat Brigade" otherwise known as the "Iron Brigade" of the Union's Army of the Potomac.)

Surprisingly enough, I too have a fascination and passion for military aircraft and have seen the "boys" from Hamilton (Warplane Heritage Museum) many times during my life when they have attended airshows here in New York state (specifically the Wings of Eagles airshow). I have an old home video of the Lancaster and other aircraft flying over the fields of Geneseo, NY when the airshow used to take place there. I also used to work for the National Warplane Museum (now known as the "Wings of Eagles" museum) as well and have sat in (on the ground) and rode in (in the air) a number of their aircraft including their B-17 bomber, "Fuddy Duddy".

Here are a couple links you might enjoy:

The web site of the Wings of Eagles museum:

The web site about my grandmother's brother's 8th Air Force, 392nd Bomb Group unit, the Wendling Raiders, stationed in Wendling, England:

Kathryn said...

wow, Dale!!! You guys sound SO cool!!!! If we lived closer, we'd be getting together!!! Amazing stories. . Battle of the Bulge?!!!!! WOW! navigator on a B24?!!! WOOOH!!!! That's amazing. We had CF100 pilot in the family, our dad's brother,Doug, who was killed in the early 50s during an experimental 'black out' flight in remote Alberta. Found his jet in a lake - never found him. I was walking Saturday through the local cemetery, reading all the veterans' headstones. . bombardier, navigator, pilot, able seaman, infantry, etc. . it was so sad. I wondered about each of them and about all their families. .

That's so cool that you're a re-enactor!!! Thanx for the links - i'll check them out!!! You lucky duck, getting to ride in some of those vintage planes!!!! wow!!!! It pays to work for an aviation museum, eh?!!!! There's nothing like seeing those oldies fly, is there? We love the local "Aviation Day", which we like to attend every year. The airshows are fun. . we don't get to one every year, but they are so thrilling! Hey, for a price, you can 'hire' the Lanc and take a 'bomber tour'. . they have a few flight paths with activities at the destinations etc. . A bit expensive!!!! but that would be a thrill!!!

Dale said...

Oh I'm sure too that if we lived closer, we'd be getting together! It sounds like the four of us share similar interests. Perhaps someday when we take a vacation into Canada I'll shoot you an e-mail and we'll all go take in a museum together. LOL

Yes, flying in/on the old planes is/was a thrill. Although it was not a B-24 (like my grandmother's brother was on) I most enjoyed the B-17 because I got to sit in the navigator's seat and bombadier's seat up in the nose and look out at the earth going by so far below.

Kathryn said...

the flying fortress. . so famous!LUCKY DUCK!! wow, that's cool! Yes, do email me if you ever plan a trip to Canada! We'd love to do a museum tour with you guys!

I see from your website that you guys have several Grummans! and you have a PBY too. . we also had a one. . a "Canso". . I believe. . We have a Mitchell bomber. . we have a newspaper picture of Rob holding our grandson, James up to investigate the prop of the Mitchell. . This photographer was there and saw Rob hoisting James up for a better look, so he asked if he'd mind if he took a picture for the paper?! I see your warplane place is also restoring some, and you have several airworthies! I talked to one of the volunteers at the museum here, he said that only certain people have the training to fly these old bombers, especially since they must be familiar with the feel, the 'drag' he called it. . They seem very heavy!! Aren't these facilities huge?! Man!!! There are so many planes. . all the drip pans down to protect the floor -- I love to see them when they're working away on a restoration project. . its so exciting. I think that if you did book a Canadian trip, Ottawa has a FANTASTIC aviation museum. . but the one in Hamilton here is also VERY cool. . Ottawa has a lot more planes in its collection, of course, some really rare ones too. . even one of those German 'rocket powered' planes. . funny little thing!

Jenn Finucan said...

Great post Kath!

I couldn't imagine having to live through war both on the soldier's end and the women and children left behind to wonder if they'd ever see their husband/father again.

Kathryn said...

thanx, Jenn! yes, its a very difficult situation to imagine being in, isn't it?!!!