The following in a excerpt from Year 2 of my book about my experiences whilst living abroad.
11th November 2012 Remembrance Day, Unionville
I have no memory of where I was for Remembrance Day 2011 and that troubles me. I admit that I have been very lax in recent years about making the effort to attend a Remembrance Day service but I think that was because I had worked in education for several years and had attended many school assemblies on the subject and therefore felt my yearly duty had been fulfilled in this regard.
This year however I decided that I needed to make an extra effort to attend. After all, two members of the family fought in World War One and Two.
My Great-Grandfather’s brother, David Marshall was killed a few days before the Armistice in France aged nineteen. (Possibly he was eighteen) and my Grandfather Leslie Lawrence who survived the fighting in Burma in World War Two but sadly passed away in 2001.
I have very fond memories of him. He used to show me all sorts of magic tricks from simple coin tricks to the more difficult, “How to escape from handcuffs”.
Occasionally he’d tell me stories about himself and his army buddies during the war. Some were very sad and even tragic. He told me that there was an air raid on his camp. The Japanese planes began shooting the men on the ground. He and a few others dived for cover under a truck. After the planes departed he realised that the men who he was standing with and talking to just moments before had been shot and killed but he had survived.
Some were hard to believe. He told me a jeep he was travelling in had crashed into a ditch and they were being chased by the Japanese. I can’t remember if he said the front or the rear was in the ditch but he told me that he knelt down to pray (He was a very religious man after all) and wished for the strength to move the jeep. He managed to lift the ditched end back onto the road. Although this does seem unfeasible there are stories all over the world of people performing superhuman feats when faced with danger. I believed him after all he was my Grandfather and had lived through a war and was therefore, to me at least, indestructible.
Some stories were quite amusing too. He told me that near where he lived in London a bomb dropped by the Germans had blown a crater in the road near his local pub. The police had put railings up to guide people around the crater to safety. One night, no doubt after a few beers, he and some buddies rearranged the railings so that as people left the pub and felt for the railings to guide them to safety, they proceeded to fall into the crater, much to the amusement of my Grandfather and his friends.
So I decided to attend the Remembrance Day Memorial Service held in Unionville.
The day was warm with a gentle breeze blowing. The Canadian flag flew at half-mast and although I was wearing a jacket I quickly realised that it wouldn’t be needed. Looking around the crowd as we waited patiently for the service to start I was pleased to see people of all ages and it pleased me to think that parents and grandparents are instilling the importance of Remembrance Day on the young.
It is understandable how the relevance of the day is being lost on so many youngsters nowadays because they have no relatives who were alive or who fought in the two wars. In the not too distant future there will be a time when no-one knew anyone who was alive during World War Two.
The service started with a haunting wail from the warning siren. Immediately my imagination conjured up images of families huddled in Anderson shelters, cold, wet and frightened in the middle of the night. Children crying, afraid and not understanding what was going on, parents wondering if their houses were going to be left standing after the raid.
A procession led by a fire engine ensued along Main Street Unionville. Local police and representatives from local schools and societies solemnly walked along carrying wreaths that were to be placed by the cenotaph.
After a brief speech by one gentleman, I’m not sure who he was, the siren was set off again and I began to weep. I couldn’t help thinking of my ancestors who fought bravely and answered the call to defend their country. Should another war like World War One or Two occur in the future I wish I would have the bravery to put my life on the line like David Marshall and Leslie Lawrence.
As the siren faded, ‘The Last Post’ was played by a bugle player followed by two minutes silence. I could hear the sobs and sniffs of people around me. Big burly men, petit women and small children, all were being affected by the thought of those killed in the wars.
After the silence a lady approached the podium and read ‘In Flanders’ Fields, a poem written by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae during World War One. The poem goes as follows:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
This was followed by the laying of the wreaths and a rendition of Canadian national anthem “Oh Canada”.
To end the service the air raid siren wailed one last time and the crowd slowly dispersed once it had gone silent.