Canada declared a state of war In September 1939, and by doing so, changed the very fabric of our history. Some communities sent, and lost, so many young men to the Front that an entire generation was lost to the war effort.
In my own family, all of my uncles (with the exception of my father, who had to stay home to sustain the family farm), went to war. Their ages ranged from a very young sixteen (he lied about his age) to young men in their twenties. Their adventures began in Manitoba where they farmed in the Red River Valley. When they came home again after five years serving on the front lines in Italy, France, and England, they were not the same light-hearted men that went off to war in 1939. Sometimes they could be coaxed into talking about the war, and my Uncle David would reminise about going to Halifax, which was the first trip any of them had made outside of Manitoba. He spoke of the troop ships, how vast the ocean was, how seasick, and how homesick the boys were.
The families are Mennonite, with a pledge from the Canadian Government that as pacifists would never have to bear arms in the event of a conflict that involved Canada. The promises made and the treaties signed in 1918 proved to be empty promises. The families of these young men protested bitterly and at length to the government of the day. The uncles to a man were delighted with the turn of events that would take them to foreign soil that they would otherwise never have an opportunity to see.
All of that changed when they were faced with the reality of the hardships that a nation faces when it is not at peace. Certainly my Uncle Johnny never spoke of the five years that he spent on the front lines in Italy. Uncle Norman came back a broken man who never again held a decent job, and who disappeared into a liquor bottle, abandoning his family and his friends. My Uncle David once spoke to me (a little girl of ten) about the first man he killed on the battlefield. David went into Germany regularly since he spoke the language fluently, and on this occasion he and his fellow officers had chanced upon a farmhouse with the enemy still inside.
The war touched the lives of all who lived through it and many of us who came after the war ended. In that generation of baby boomers, there is no question that the remnants of the war had an impact on our young lives.
In all of our lessons as we grew up, married, and had children of our own, the one that endures is how precious life is, and what a toll the war took on those who served, and their families, long after the last gun was fired.