But perhaps we should remember who it is that allows us to enjoy that day in the first place. In fact... to enjoy all days!
In my case both, my parents served in WWII. Each has told me and my siblings many stories of the years they spent away from home in service to our country and the free world.
We have also been told the story of a relative that was tied to a tree and used by the enemy for bayonet practice, a matter confirmed by the Red Cross years later. Perhaps we can remember our grandfather who was buried alive in a shell crater, and dug up in time. That, either before or after having five of six horses shot out from under him and eventually managing to come home with the Military Medal pinned to his chest.
Another relative in WWII would show his bravery by standing up and motivated his men to follow him through heavy enemy fire. He came home with a Victoria Cross pinned to his chest.
As I step out of my front door I am reminded of all the WWI men and women who never got the chance to come home again as I walk or drive along Shelbourne Street... the Memorial Avenue lined with trees on either side. The plan to have one tree per member lost fell aside for many reasons, but of late a plan evolves to have more planted, and even massive gates at either end.
While not facing the enemy myself, many of my students have. One would lose a husband and a father. A decades long military friend was assigned to lead a patrol, but in the last minute, plans were changed to allow another officer to take the lead that day. It was his last.
Each of us has our own ways to remember. This blog, starting its 9th year in two weeks helps Canadians, Americans and others elsewhere to remember by reading about those that have gone before us. Those in particular that have come home with the highest medals one could earn in both Canada and the United States. Many had fallen and their medals arrived by mail or presentations back home to family.
Almost 550 stories have appeared hear to help you and I to keep these men and women in our minds as we remember them not just on November 11th... but on all our days.
Last week's blog gave an update on the Remembrance Illuminated 2020 showing of over 100 paintings of WW11 by some 50 or more official Canadian war artists.
That show took place on the 9th 10th and 11th of November. The later being a busy day for me.
For the 15th year, (less one due to illness,) I attended and paid my respects at the grave to the late Rowland Bourke of Victoria. Several members of the HMCS Malahat, the local Naval Reserve unit also attended and held a brief ceremony. It was their 7th year attending and the numbers were a little lower than usual. This due to the dreaded Covid-19 affecting millions around the world.
English born, but raised in northern BC, a terrible accident happened while clearing the land. A cousin was lost in the blast and he lost an eye.
Then the Great War began. He tried to enlist but the army and navy and air force all declined him in Canada because of his loss of site in one eye. Not to be defeated, he sold his land, donated a considerable amount of the proceeds to the local community to help look after returning injured troops and left for greener pastures. So he thought!
But then the Americans in all three services also declined him. So he then paid his own way to England and tried a third time. Getting the same result he persisted and persisted and persisted and the Naval Reserves finally gave in and took him on.
They'd planned on keeping him well out of harm's way and chuckled as his fellow officers would joke about him driving boats into... instead of along side the docks. But soon the planned invasion came and he was allowed to tag along... as long as he stayed way back from the action.
But for Rowland Bourke it was a start!
If you drive through the Channel Tunnel traveling between England and France, one of the exits is at Calais. Turning left and traveling about 100 km northbound along the coast line you come to a place called Ostend. Traveling about another 25 kms you arrive at a harbour called Zeebrouge. Both of these ports are at an entrance to a canal that travels inland about 25 kms to Brugge.
During WWII the Germans used these waterways as graving docks for servicing and supplying their submarines.
If the Allies could destroy the two ports they could neutralize the submarines from exiting, and thus the British attacked both with the hopes of scuttling vessels and blocking access in and out of each.
But the Allied intelligence got the enemy strength wrong, and with the tides and weather not cooperating, the attacks at both harbours were disastrous. Conditions for the Brits turned so bad that most of their ships were destroyed. And then they recalled the tag along fellow.
His name was Rowland Bourke!
At Zeebrugge in April 1918, Lt Rowland Bourke moved to the front of the line to rescue sailors from certain death by enemy fire or drowning. His crew managed to save 38 men from this fate. He would later be awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) by HRH King George V.
Less than two weeks later a similar mess occurred when the British attacked the Ostend Harbour. This time Bourke made repeated trips in to look for survivors in the water. He would hear a call for help and look for the fellow and head off, only to return several more times and eventually, after several men were saved, he withdrew and carrying some 55 shots into his hull from the enemy. He lost 2 of his crew on that day.
Once again HRH King George V would reward Rowland Bourke with a medal. This time it was the Victoria Cross.
This is the man who lies at rest with his wife in Victoria at the Royal Oak Burial Grounds. And it was here that I made my first stop on November 11th.
Seven years ago several groups and folks organized the arranging of a new marker at the grave site. In the lower picture we see myself and behind me is the Belgium Ambassador to Canada at the time, the honorable Bruno Van Der Plyme. To his left is the former Commander of Maritime Pacific, Rear Admiral William Truelove.
Years later the Rear Admiral was posted to the Canadian Embassy at Washington, and from there was most instrumental in assisting with several US cases I was working on. One on point was the unveiling of a new marker in the DC area for a Nova Scotia colored man and recipient of the US Medal of Honor. His name was Joseph Noil and has been oft noted in this space.
He had been buried under the wrong name for about 130 years till I and many others joined efforts to solve that puzzle.
The young fellow I was shaking hands with is Shane Jones of Victoria. one of Rowland Bourke's descendants.
These four pictures were taken bu a local photographer by the name of David Cox. He also attended the Remembrance Illuminated 2020 showing and has attended several such events in the local area and developed a following of those who like his professionalism, and profound interest in the military.
At above left I am placing a poppy and to the right is Commander Miller of HMCS Malahat also placing a poppy and wreath.
Commander Miller reminded me that when he was taking his Basic Officer training at Albert Head I was an army Sergeant Major and one of his instructors that very year.
Ironically it was another Commander years earlier that assisted in the unveiling the new VC marker 7 years ago. And that Commander was a seaman on "goffer" staff at Albert Head when I was on the first or 2nd of five years as a Sergeant Major and instructor there. He rose in rank from a goffer to its commander.
In his first appearance at the grave he made a commitment, at my request, to have his unit adopt the grave with plans for these annual visits and ceremonies.
Each commander since has followed with this new tradition.
In the last picture we see Shane 7 years and a few feet taller. He stands with his mother Judy and husband Jason, who payed an instrumental role in the original planning of the new marker and its unveiling.
Having lost a lot of weight, my clothes sure look like they need replacing. But never the less that is me proudly looking on.
I shall return to this space on December 13th
Hope you will join me then.