Veterans on Parade

I accompanied my dad to the Dieppe remembrance service at the cenotaph on Sunday. The sun was hot; the speeches were blessedly cliche-free (mostly). Sitting in the sun gives ample time to consider some things.

Most of the vets are old. Very old. Considerations abounded: there were two articulated OC buses to drive people from the NAC garage to the War Memorial.

Below, a facilitator rubs sunscreen onto bare hands that have seen too much hot sun. There was a giant duffel bag of Tilley hats to plop onto the heads of those who arrived bare-headed.

Water, of course:

There was music, including The Maple Leaf Forever, with its curiously old-fashioned lyrics running through our minds:

There was a lot of chest hardware visible down the row to my right:

Go ahead, double-click on the photo and look closely at those faces. Isn’t it true, the greatest generation? And more to my left:

The flags of the nations participating at Dieppe: Canada, France, Poland, UK, United States.

Atop the cenotaph, the figures of peace and freedom,  each 5.33-metres-high (17.5 ft)   standing at the apex of the arch, entwined with each other, representing their inseparability. I notice they are bare breasted.

Just the day before I came across the Slut Walk parade on Bank Street at Laurier, which included at least one bare breasted marcher. The war memorial and the slut walk  connect in some very direct ways, despite the very different segments of the population celebrating each.


After the ceremony, my father and I walked down into the market for lunch. A great opportunity to coax out some early memories. He recalled his father (himself a vet of the first world war) coming down the stairs at 7.30 every morning at their house on Bronson at Christie, and turning on the radio to get the war report. More raids over Germany; 93 bombers didn’t come back. Next day, 36 bombers don’t come back. Day after day. How a parent must dread these reports while noticing the sleepy headed teen coming down the stairs.

So promptly upon finishing at Ottawa Tech, my dad enrolls.

In bomber command.

“Why that one?” I ask. “Surely you knew that only about 50% of the crews survived a half-dozen runs. They all went to their deaths. You heard the radio every morning.”

“Didn’t think about that. When I enlisted, the guy had a board with a bunch of shoulder flashes and insignia on it of the various groups we could join. He pointed to the bomber command flashes, and said they were rare ones, you didn’t see them walking down the street every day.”  [wonder why??!]  So he joined bomber command.

To me, this is a bit like becoming a school teacher because you like the stickers.

Surely we didn’t send our teenagers off to die based on how appealing were the stickers or shoulder flashes? Nah, I must’ve misheard some of this story, surely something is missing (conversations with my elderly parents often have strange gaps in them).

My favorite vet, standing by the bust of Hampton Gray, VC. :

3 thoughts on “Veterans on Parade

  1. I think your dad’s story about joining Bomber Command because of a cool shoulder flash is completely plausable. I suspect that recruiter had a quota to fill in bomber command and he knew how the teenaged mind worked. Make it sound cool and tough and elite and rare and the teenage male mind will be inevitably drawn to it. My mine and my wife’s grandfathers were in the RCAF during the war. Her grandfather in Wellington’s (or was it Halifax’s) in the early part of it. Mine was a geezer of 28 when he joined with years of experience at Bell so he was safe on the ground in Communications.

  2. With blog entries like this, and Mr. Doyle’s series in the Citizen, we’re getting a lot of glimpses into times gone by. It’s really nice.

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