Today's letters: A toast to our protectors, and more on the WW1 medical ship

Remembrance Day evokes feelings of both grief and gratitude.

Jean Levac / Postmedia News

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Forever grateful to our protectors

In November, we display our tremendous gratitude for those who have protected and continue to protect us. This year we also commemorate 100 years of the signing of the Armistice and the courageous people who fought in the First World War. Defending a country brings out many heroes; some have been written in history, others have quietly continued to protect our country.

My father, a retired DND pilot who rarely described his duties, made many sacrifices during his career. As a pilot during the Cold War, he and his teammates endured gruelling survival training. On many occasions, heavyhearted goodbyes were said to family members before leaving for days to fulfil “alert” duties. This immediate-readiness routine meant being airborne within minutes to chase and intercept intruding aircraft. Flying in the dead of night over the Atlantic Ocean was unsettling for the CF101 pilots, knowing that in an emergency, their floating vest would become a tool to locate them instead of rescuing them.

To the brave Canadian soldiers and their families, to my father and the pilots who shared the same roles, I will be forever thankful and on Nov. 11, I will raise a glass in your honour.

Marie-Josée LeBlanc, Ottawa

Mysteries of the medical ship

Re: He survived war’s worst ship sinking in 1918, lived to weep in his wife’s arms, Nov. 7.

There are names to be given for the three Ottawa women who died in the sinking of the medical ship HMHS Llandovery Castle: (1) Minnie Katherine Gallaher, Nursing Sister, whose next of kin was listed as Mrs. M.E. Gallaher (mother) of Regent Street; (2) Jean Templeman, Nursing Sister, whose next of kin was listed as J. Templeman (father), 218 Strathcona Avenue; and (3) Jessie Mabel McDiarmid, whose next of kin is listed as J. McDiarmid,(Uncle) of Ashton, Ont.

As well, the ship had come from Halifax, having delivered 624 military patients, making one wonder what was used as ballast on the way to Liverpool. According to Charles Harrison in the book Generals Die in Bed, an orderly told him, in reference to the Llandovery Castle: “She was carryin’ supplies and war material.” Harrison also describes how Brig.-Gen. Tuxford visited the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade before the August offensive in 1918 and told men about the appalling sinking: “the amputation cases went to the bottom instantly … they couldn’t swim, poor chaps … the salt water added to their agony.”

The upshot of this portrayal of wilful wickedness on the part of the German submarine personnel is that Canadian troops were in no mood to be civil in their treatment of Germans. Harrison quotes Canadian Lt.-Col. Dick Worrall as saying to his troops: “I’m not saying for you not to take prisoners. That’s against international rules. All that I’m saying is that if you take any we’ll have to feed ’em out of our rations.” In war, truth is a continuing casualty, and I don’t profess to know the truth regarding Harrison’s claims, but the effect of ignoring them seems to me worse than that of knowing about them.

Randal Marlin, Ottawa

Poland, too, marks historic day

On Sunday, Canadians will commemorate their fallen and all those who fought in wars or conflicts. Poland, and Poles around the world, will also commemorate this day in a jubilant fashion, for on Nov. 11, 1918, after 123 years of absence from the map of Europe due to the partition between Habsburg Austria, the Kingdom of Prussia, and the Russian Empire, Poland became a free and independent nation again.

Poland is indebted to Canada. In 1917 the government of Canada permitted the establishment of a training camp at Niagara-on-the-Lake. There, some 20,000 Canadians and Americans of Polish descent enlisted and trained to eventually fight in Europe, hoping for a free and independent homeland.

As Canadians with Polish roots, we will commemorate Remembrance Day and Polish Independence Day. We will pray for all those who fought for freedom. We will never forget!

Jose Semrau, Ottawa

Let’s explore good models for veterans’ care

Re: Is this the veterans’ care we want? Nov. 9.

On Sunday, MPs should be looking at excellent working examples of veteran care. One model that should be considered is the Royal Hospital Chelsea in London, England.

This institution is a retirement home and nursing home for some 300 veterans of the British army. It is an independent charity and relies on pensions and some donations to cover day-to-day running costs to provide care and accommodation for veterans.

Eric R. Stephen, Ottawa

Following the Remembrance Trail

This past August, after the peaceful death of my wife, I fulfilled our promise of following the Remembrance Trail by visiting many war cemeteries of the First World War in northern France. The hopelessness of dying in the trenches, in No Man’s Land, and far away from home were not just a horrific burden on the young soldiers, but an uncontrollable whirlwind of emotions for me.

I understand what Lt.-Col. John McCrae meant when he wrote “In Flanders Fields” in 1915. Wars are horrible. War graves are witness to the devastation, the terrible effects on countries and families, but also a reminder of peace. Nothing feels real until you visit such war cemeteries, walk through rows and rows of graves and read names of so many young soldiers. I could almost envision their bravery and suffering but also discovered stories that I had not known before – for example, that almost 96,000 Chinese labourers were recruited under the Chinese Labor Corps from northeastern China to construct British military infrastructure. A number of Chinese war cemeteries were built to honour their service and were the final resting place for many dead. it was also ironic to see that many German soldiers of Jewish faith have their graves inscribed with the Star of David in the German war cemetery.

At our last war cemetery visit at Beaumont Hamel, where many men of the First Newfoundland Regiment were decimated, there was no one in the deserted memorial ground, making it even more destitute and lonely. The well-preserved and maintained site sees the old battlefield much as it was, its artillery craters and trenches left untouched after the war. I paused on the path, closing my eyes, just trying to imagine the bloody scene where many brave Newfoundlanders fell on that tragic morning. Then around the turn, there stood the great bronze caribou, emblem of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, on the highest point overlooking the former battlefield, as if trying to call out for the lost souls.

By visiting so many war cemeteries on this journey, I feel very attached to our Canadian history, a more intimate connection to my adopted country for 50 years. As I strolled past each row of headstones, I deliberately touched them, as if shaking their hands, recognizing their ultimate sacrifice, and reminding myself to keep faith in humanity and humility.

I wish I had more time to visit more sites, but I will bring my grandchildren with me to the National War Memorial on Sunday so that they can learn from history, good and bad.

Kam Wong, Ottawa

100 years later, veterans still turn to CNIB

Edwin Baker had a bright future ahead before his wartime service changed his life’s path. “I found myself with my head and shoulders above the top of the trench. A German star-shell lit up the desolate landscape … I remember wondering if there was any possible chance of the enemy being able to see us. I think the last thing I saw was that bright, floating star shell for, as I watched, a bullet smashed through the bridge of my nose and left me to the mercy of the darkness and my friends,” said Baker.

After returning to Canada in 1916, he and six other Canadians (including four with sight loss) founded CNIB. Two years later, they gathered for the organization’s first Annual General Meeting and discussed what they had accomplished, but more importantly, what work needed to be done.

Today, the thousands of Canadians we spoke with during our community consultations shared the same vision: to boost the employability of Canadians who are blind or partially sighted and ensure CNIB’s efforts are dedicated to improving the lives of those impacted by sight loss. As we enter our second century, we will not settle until we’ve created the inclusive society our founders envisioned.

Canada was built on the dreams and ambitions of veterans like Edwin Baker. Ahead of this Remembrance Day, we pause to thank them for their service and sacrifice. Lest we forget.

Duane Morgan, Executive Director, CNIB Foundation Ontario East