History was one of my favourite classes in high school. I remember reading my text book, imagining myself in the stories we learned about, partly to remember the details, partly because I was a compulsive day dreamer. But there were certain parts of history that I was never able to comprehend…the war stories.
As I grew older, my perspective changed, and I realized that I was avoiding these stories because I literally got sick to my stomach trying to understand what our ancestors endured.
I don’t know specifics about my grandfathers’ experiences; it wasn’t something they talked about.
My paternal grandfather worked in the army payroll department. Not to minimize his role (it’s how our family deals with uncomfortable situations), but we joked about how important his job was. I’ve never heard any stories, but always admired the photos of him in his uniform, which hung proudly in my grandparent’s bedroom.
My mother had only one story to share when I once asked about her father and the war. Grandpa desperately tried to go to war. The night before he was supposed to board the train to leave, he and a buddy were goofing around wrestling in their bunks. Grandpa broke his foot between two rails on the top bunk. Although he was told he would never go to war that night, he was determined to go. I guess the officials had to drag him off the train twice the next day.
His entire battalion was wiped out at Dieppe, very early in the war. None of his friends came home. I don’t know if my grandfather felt relief or regret.
Since hearing that story, November has become a melancholy month for me. I ponder the waves of emotions our grandparents must have experienced. From the pride in their decision to enlist for what they believed was a big, glamorous job, to the realization of every horrible truth associated to war.
Knowing what I know about war, I can’t say that I would ever volunteer to go, like they did. I can’t say, I’m as brave or courageous. Because of them, that is only a nightmare. Because of them, I’m free. And because of them, I wear a poppy to remember.
Janet Smith is a proud single-mom of one daughter and a marketing professional who is grateful for her rural roots in the London area. She is a big believer in connecting with people through laughter and honesty.