For the past two years, Harv Allen has been invited to speak at the Remembrance Day service at the Mountain Spruce Hall at Sulphurous Lake.
Born and raised in Vancouver, I graduated from high school and immediately joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in September 1958. I spent a 37-year career as an aircraft technician in Canada, as well as eight years in Germany and short periods of time in NATO countries such as France, Belgium, Italy and Norway, retiring with the rank of Chief Warrant Officer.
Why are we here today on this the 102nd anniversary of the end of World War I?
My father was a soldier in World War I. He survived four years of hell to return to England, before immigrating to Canada with his two brothers. He returned whole but suffered for the rest of his life from the effects of mustard gas and a piece of shrapnel in his arm. Each year on this day of remembrance, I think of what he endured.
When and where were those wars in Europe and other countries in the past 100 years?
The South African War (1899–1902) was Canada’s first foreign war. Also known as the Boer War, it was fought between Britain – with help from its Dominions such as Canada – and the Afrikaner republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State. More than 7,000 Canadians volunteered for service. Approximately 280 died, most due to injury or illness brought on by harsh conditions, and more than 250 wounded. The South African War ended on May 31, 1902.
World War I (1914 to 1918) – the ‘War to end all Wars’ as it was called. That terrible conflict ended 102 years ago today on Armistice Day, now known as Remembrance Day. We lost 65,000 men and women, and 172,000 were wounded. What a blood bath and a terrible waste. Sadly, there are no survivors of this conflict living.
Only 22 years later, Europe was at war again, along with Japan for six long years, from 1939 to 1945. We lost another 44,000-plus young men and women . Once again, what a waste. Last year we recognized the 75th anniversary of D Day, the beginning of the end of WWII. The average age today of those WWII participants is 96.
Five years later, we were at war again, this time in Korea (1950 to 1953). It wasn’t even called a war, but a Police Action, but once again we lost many good Canadians, 516 of them.
Canada’s military then took part in the war in Afghanistan (2001 to 2009), and Canada lost 159 troops. This war also presented us with a new phrase: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. A hundred years ago it was labelled as cowardice, shell shock, or mental strain, and some Canadian men were even executed by the British for this malady. One of these days someone should sit back and realize that wars are a waste.
In all those wars, thousands returned home broken – mentally and physically. I visited some of them in Vancouver’s Shaughnessy veterans hospital. I was only a teenager and amazed that some had been there since 1918. It was a heartbreaking experience to see these gentlemen, some missing all four limbs, still able to laugh and smile.
I have made several trips to Europe, and visited Vimy Ridge and Juno Beach, where a fantastic museum is located, illustrating what our soldiers experienced on D Day, on June 6, 1944. I stood in many cemeteries in France and England and witnessed rows and rows of headstones, many of them covering the remains of our youth, from across our great country, many only 18 years old or younger. It takes your breath away.
Earlier, I asked: “why are we here today?” Now we know. To recognize the supreme sacrifice made by so many to keep us safe so that our children would never have to go to war. This is profoundly evident in the many Canadian cemeteries throughout Europe, in Hong Kong, and of course in cities and towns across Canada, which bear our war dead.
Our soldiers, sailors and airmen, men and women, are today still doing their duty, serving 24/7 in many dangerous regions in the world in NATO, NORAD and the United Nations.
The Remembrance Day poppy was inspired by the World War I poem “In Flanders Fields,” written by Lt.-Col. John McCrae, a Canadian, in December 1915. Its opening lines refer to the many poppies that were the first flowers to grow in the churned-up earth of soldiers’ graves in Flanders, a region of Belgium. The first-ever annual poppy day occurred on Nov. 11, 1921, marking the third anniversary of Armistice Day. It was immediately adopted by Canada and Australia in 1921 and New Zealand in 1922.
Remember. Remembrance. Let us never forget their sacrifice.