November 12, 2012 Features & Images » Feature Story

Lest we forget 

click to flip through (5) Roy Buchholz (right) with a friend at Trafalgar Square, London, U.K. during his service in WW II.
  • Roy Buchholz (right) with a friend at Trafalgar Square, London, U.K. during his service in WW II.

Each of us has our own way to honour those who fall in battle no matter our system of beliefs or values. Each has a story they have lived through or heard that makes Remembrance Day one universally celebrated in Canada and beyond. This year Pique reached out to several residents to ask them to share what Remembrance Day means to them and why it is a day for all to commemorate. Here are their stories... Lest we forget.

My Old Man

By Brian Buchholz

My dad, Roy Buchholz, was a first-generation German-Canadian.

The middle of nine brothers and sisters, my dad's parents spoke more German than English on their rural Manitoba farm. Most of my aunts became nurses, while all the boys joined the military at the outbreak of war in 1939.

My aunts weighed their options between the backbreaking existence of their farmer / parents (my grandparents) and the worldly "profession" of nursing. The boys enjoyed no such options, no such exalted plans. The war started in September, by the end of the month they were all in uniform. Until the Nazi invasion of Poland, that career path had been nowhere in their plans.

My dad and his brother's story was repeated across Canada in those early days of the war by thousands of families. Even though the worst days of the Depression had past, underemployment and an uncertain future remained for many young Canadian men.

My dad had less than high school education. He had been a farmer and a carpenter, a first baseman and a forest ranger. He joined the army and trained as a Sapper with the 5th Regiment — 12th Company, Royal Canadians Engineers out of Winnipeg.

By early 1940 my old man was overseas. Until then, he'd never been out of Manitoba. Over the next four horrific years he served in many forward areas in France, Italy, Holland and North Africa — building bridges and blowing stuff up while somehow finding time to meet his future wife, my mom (a bomber manufacturing plant worker), in Trafalgar Square, London.

My dad's best army buddy, Don Brown, told me many stories about my dad's trouble with military authority. He was promoted and busted in rank more than once — one time delivering his best mate to an embarkation (after the required celebrations) and rolling a half-track into a ditch. I'm so proud! His medals and his army record speak for themselves to his bravery, ingenuity and leadership.

My uncle Carl joined the Air Force and was a gunner on B25 Lancasters. A Messerschmitt Night Fighter — a ME 109, shot him down over Germany. He told the story of how only he and two others, from a crew of nine, survived an attack that no one saw coming; bailing out of their flaming, stricken craft. On his own, with just a few words of German, he roamed the countryside for two days until arrested by a civilian policeman. He would spend two-and-a-half years in a German Stalag.

The youngest boy, Barney, served in the artillery in England and on the continent. In 1945 he returned to Selkirk and married his sweetheart — a nurse!

How did three German-Canadian farm boys wind up fighting for their lives and their country from 1939 to 1945?

It was a different time and the world a different place. Do the same mindsets exist today? Yes, but not so much.

"For King and Country" was the patriotic cry during WWII. Not going, for so many young men, was not an option.

Even though that war ended 67 years ago and my dad has been gone for more than 45 years, every November 11 I still think about my old man and my uncles Carl and Barney. I am always amazed and infinitely proud!

I think I'll give my uncle Barney a call tonight!

The Pathfinder's way

By Ali Van Gruen

My father, Herbert Alan Millar, was a flight navigator in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve during World War II. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on October 5, 1922, he interrupted his studies at medical school at Queen's University in Belfast to volunteer his services for the war effort. Based on memories retold to members of our family, the data contained in his flight logbook and some research found in Jennie Gray's Fire by Night, I can share with you some of my father's role in WWII.

Shortly after volunteering, H.A. Millar was based in Miami in August 1942 for training on a Commodore. His logbook mentions Great Abaco, Gun Cay, North Bimini and Anguilla Island as various locations where he flew. He also trained in Georgia, U.S.A. and remembers the locals being very hospitable to all the Brits.

On his Air Observers Navigation Course, dated July 6 to Oct. 15, 1942, he achieved 93 out of 100 for Navigation Theory, 88/100 for Navigation Plotting Problem, 90/100 for Meteorology and 90.8/100 for Navigation Flights. Remarks on these results were "Exceptional in flight and theory." Not bad marks for a 20 year old, who was studying to be a doctor.

After completing his training, my father was assigned to No. 35 Squadron, Path Finder Force, based in Gravely, Cambridgeshire. The Pathfinders were considered a special group in the air force.

They were the guides of the Main Force, or the bomber command. The bomber command grew from approximately 14,280 men in September 1939 to 192,494 by July 1943. They marked the route over the long, dangerous trip to the targets in Northern Europe.

The Pathfinders' planes were equipped with superior navigational technology for the time and were responsible for pinpointing the exact location for the bombs to be dropped. They were key to the success of the bombing raids, which were planned according to a strict timetable. The guides had to reach their target within a margin of error of one minute, despite the typical difficulties of navigation such as bad weather, variable winds and enemy fire.

Navigators were highly esteemed. Together with pilots and bomb aimers, the navigators were the core members of any bomber crew and were likely to be promoted to the rank of officer. It was a position that required a meticulous work ethic. Never losing their concentration, they had to work in a poorly lit, cramped space and were expected to make precise calculations and measurements of angles and distances.

The odds were stacked against any bomber crew. More armaments were sacrificed for a heavier bomb load and the Lancaster planes did not have the artillery power to outgun an enemy aircraft. When my father signed on, it was expected of him to complete a tour of 45 operations without a break. My father's logbook shows a total of 368 flights with 1,455.00 hours of flying time. Many of these flights were training exercises, but considering that the RAF Bomber Command represented two per cent of all RAF personnel during the war, but accounted for 23 per cent of the total number killed in action, my father was extremely lucky.

The destinations he flew for Bomber Command included Hannover, Mannheim, Kassel, Frankfurt, Cannes, Stuttgart, Berlin, Leipzig, Magdeburg, Nuremberg, Karlsruhe, Villeneuve, Friedrichshafen, Lens, Boulogne, Mardyck, Rennes, Arras, Fouillard, Caen, Tours, Manneville, Brest, Kiel, Le Havre, Dortmund, Calais, Duisburg and Essen. He flew on eight different types of aircraft, mainly the Halifax, Lancaster and Dakota, but also on the Commodore, Anson, Whitley, Oxford and Liberator.

On March 18, 1944, in Operations Frankfurt, he wrote in his logbook: "Port outer on fire, returned early on 3 engines." On March 24, 1944 in Operations Berlin he said: "Attacked by FW190 over target, slight damage." He noted on March 30, 1944, during Operations Nuremberg, they were "shot up by ME109 on way home. Fuel tank holed. Landed Ford."

In 1945 he transferred from Bomber Command to Transport Command and No. 243 Squadron. He flew from Dorval, Quebec, to Camden, just outside of Sydney, Australia. It took 22 days to get there via North Carolina, Dallas, Sacramento, Honolulu, Canton Island, Fiji and Auckland, New Zealand. Until January 1946, he flew back and forth in the South Pacific, mostly flying dignitaries and military VIPs. In his logbook, he noted that he had Sir Henry French, the wartime head of the British Ministry of Food, and his wife, Lady French, on board.

At the end of the war, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross for service over Europe. This was in recognition of his outstanding record in safely bringing home so many planes.

My father was proud of his role in WWII, however, being such a modest and reserved person, he didn't like to talk about it. Although he survived without injury and was never shot down, he must have lost many of his friends and comrades and been dreadfully aware of the potential injuries that could be incurred. I know that the bombing of towns in Northern Europe and the likely deaths of innocent people, weighed heavily on his mind.

As we approach November 11, our day to remember those we have lost, I'm sure my father's hope would be that we never forget the sacrifices that have been made by others so that we may live our life in freedom today.

By David Rushbrook

Each fall my family and I attend the Remembrance Day ceremonies at the Whistler Cenotaph by the Fire Hall. On this day we lay a wreath in memory my Grandfather John W. Rushbrook, who served in World War I with the 42nd Highland Blackwatch Regiment.

He and his fellow soldiers fought in several engagements, Amiens, Arras, Monchy, Canal de Nord, Bourlon Wood, Valenciennes, and Mons. This series of battles also known as Canada's Hundred Days was part of the allied forces Hundred Days Offensive, which ended in Mons on the final day of the war, November 11, 1918.

We are fortunate as my grandfather who served overseas in the later part of this conflict (1917 – 1919) survived the "War to End all Wars." He was able to share the rest of his life with us and led us down a prosperous path in love and good health.

I remember, as a boy, that my grandfather in his final years spoke almost exclusively of the war as if it left an indelible stamp on his mind that could never be erased. This made me think how difficult his wartime experiences must have been, although he never let on.

My father, Robert J. Rushbrook, son of John, is a veteran of the Second World War. He served mainly in Holland from 1939 to 1945 for the 1st Canadian Division Carleton and York Regiment (New Brunswick). He was a Trooper and later became a Dispatch Rider, ferrying communications and orders back a forth from the front lines to military headquarters by motorcycle.

As a boy, I remember asking him of his wartime experiences, especially as a dispatch rider, since this sounded so exciting. He would usually give some tidbits of information, but often the answers would be vague and many times I heard him say, "it (the war) was the best and the worse time of my life." I know at that time the words were carefully chosen not to scare me or glorify war.

Now that I am older, the stories are more about the overall accomplishment of the Canadians and allied forces that he served with. He has always been proud of the role they played in the Liberation of Holland. Still he doesn't go into great detail about his individual experiences. However, he does say, "there was a cost," and that cost was the lives of the many soldiers that died in the battle.

My father tells me today that the Dutch people were so thankful to be liberated that, "they treated us like gods," as Canadian soldiers entered and gained control of each town. The Dutch people suffered terribly under the occupation of the Nazis, and in the later stages of the war there was mass starvation. So thankful were they to be liberated, my father told me, "that they would also lay flowers on the graves of allied soldiers who where buried in the battle fields."

Liberation Day was May 4, 1945. From that point onward the Dutch people have made it tradition to remember the Canadian Soldiers (and other allied soldiers) who are now reinterred in Canadian and Commonwealth War Cemeteries in the Netherlands. As my father discovered in 1998, the Dutch people living near these cemeteries hold their remembrance ceremonies on this day and children from local schools lay a flower on the grave of every soldier. These soldiers are further honoured on Christmas Eve, as local children will also place a candle by their gravestone.

These act of appreciation and kindness stirred my father, as he felt that not only was this a fitting way to remember the liberators lost but also a way of giving peace to his lost comrades. This inspired him to find a way to recognize those children who remember these soldiers that fought for their freedom

In recognition of placing flowers on the graves of Canadian soldiers, my father sees to it that each child receives a Canadian Maple Leaf Pin, and their schools are given a Canadian flag to fly on Liberation Day. In doing this he created what he calls Project Maple Leaf (http://www.come.to/wavholten). To launch this project he also wrote this poem to capture in verse the essences of this project.

Remembrance, Never To Forget

Silent Stones

This is a quiet place at the end of night

long dim shadows appear before the dawn

row upon row at the coming of the light,

this is our place of rest and we do not hear

not a voice or a gentle breeze or a raindrop

on the soil above.

But, if we could see, we would know side by side

Our Brothers lie, our souls released by the hand

of fate, for it is here, upon this earth the

moving shadows cast by light, mark our place

in these vast fields of standing stones.

For some who will never see our final place

and those who have lost their Sons in war,

only they can feel the pain they bear,

Yet, there is comfort and they know the gentle

hand of a caring child, at a special time,

will always place a flower on his Grave

and he will never be alone.

These Children, just like You, they know Our

Names and who we were, it is carved there

on the stones, and also here, a special place

where no name is there to see, there is a cross

and a time and the words unknown, it is here

in this far land a Child will gently place a rose

upon this Silent Stone.

Robert Rushbrook,

September 1999

When I read the poem, I know that this is one of my father's ways to remember and honour his fallen brothers in arms.

As for Project Maple Leaf he continues his work to recognize and help preserve the Dutch traditions to never forget those Liberators that didn't make it home.

On this Remembrance Day we will again lay our wreath to remember grandfather John W. Rushbrook. In doing so, we will also pay tribute to the men and women lost serving our country in the world wars and other conflicts. This, I feel, is the least we can do to honour them for the freedom we have always known and can so easily take for granted.

Memories worth keeping, but hard to share

By Doug, Diane, Mackenzie, Owen and the rest of the Hart family.

Remembrance Day with the Hart family has always been a day to reflect on my Dad, Norman Hart, who served with the Royal Rifles of Canada from Jan. 21, 1943 to Dec. 5 1945.

My Dad passed away in 1999, so to put together his stories of War memories I called on my siblings. The problem we all had was the same, he really only told us a couple stories over the years, we presume because it was too hard to talk about — the war itself and perhaps even the events that unfolded before him as a 23 year old. These days veterans talk about post-traumatic stress disorders; I doubt back-in-the-day any soldier had professional help to talk about what they went through or how to cope away from the battlefield. But from the stories and the war telegraphs we still have framed for our Dad I am able to tell this much:

In 1943, Norm Hart and his brother Ray voluntarily enlisted in the Canadian Army — their enlistment date was Jan. 21, 1943. My dad also told us how he and Ray left the family home in Bralorne, B.C. to enlist. They went to Little Mountain in Vancouver for some initial training and to be fitted for uniforms then at some point they took the train to Montreal and went by ship to Europe.

He was now a member of the Royal Rifles of Canada.

Communication during the war was sparse, until the first telegraph from the Canadian government arrived at my grandparent's home in April 1945.

"To Mrs. Annie Hart, April 14, 1945. Sincerley regret to inform you K9148, Pte. Norm Hart has officially been reported as wounded in action 10th April 1945, Nature and extent of wound not yet available STOP ....when further information becomes available it will be forwarded as soon as received STOP to prevent aid to our enemies do not divulge name of casualty or name of unit. From, Director of Records."

That was it, all the information they received until the next telegraph.

"To Mrs. Ann Hart, April 27, 1945. K9148 Pte. Norm Hart previous reported wounded in action nature of wound now reported. Bullet wound through and through right thigh, STOP No further information will be forthcoming unless the patient's condition considered serious or dangerous by Medical Authorities. Director of Records."

I will presume due to the volume of these telegraphs being put out by the government that the details had to be kept minimal, as a parent myself I cannot imagined what went through my grandparent's minds in those times.

The first story our dad opened up to us about was the injury.

"It was a beautiful sunny morning," he told us. "We were sent out on lookout. We were all lying in the ditches when the breakfast bell rang for us to come in to eat. As we were walking in an enemy plane flew overhead — shooting at us. I was shot in the leg from a piece of the shrapnel. The next thing I knew I was riding in the back of a jeep, on a stretcher. It was pitch black and I had no idea where I was, or where I was going! I woke up in a hospital where I stayed for a few weeks." The hospital, he also mentioned, was a converted resort sitting on the shore of the Mediterranean, the name and location, he could not remember.

It was hard to get dad to talk or tell stories of the war. He was an active member in the Legion on 49th and Fraser in Vancouver for years. We used to take him to the Cenotaph on Nov. 11, but in his later years when it was hard to get around we would watch the ceremony with him and try to get him to tell us stories — but it was difficult. I do remember the emotions on his face each year — we knew not to ask too much from him on this day.

This was the one good story he told us.

After deployment he and Ray were sent to different areas in Europe so they couldn't connect at all. About a year after arriving to fight, he was walking down a street in Holland and noticed a familiar face on the opposite side of the street — it was his brother Ray. He was so surprised and it was such a fluke to have run into each other.

This story always brought a smile to his face.

Our family today is a little more spread out, but each sibling has their own way of spending November 11 to reflect on my father, but to also to pay respect to all those who fought for our country. Having seen ceremonies on TV over the years, and attending one in Victoria, the Whistler ceremony is one that stands out — it brings together young and old to remember together the tragedy of war.

And what always gets me is the fly past with the choppers... and the silence.

Never Forget.

Doug, Diane, Mackenzie, Owen and the rest of the Hart family.

A father remembers

By Michael Hornburg

My observance of Remembrance Day has certainly changed a lot since I first came to live here in Calgary.

I made my living for my career as a courier, so if any company was open, I was expected to be working. There was always someone still open on Remembrance Day, so at best I would pay casual attention to the radio descriptions of the various ceremonies and the history of the event if I happened to be in my vehicle.

This all changed with the birth of my first child, my daughter, on a Remembrance Day long ago.

I can still vividly recall the emotions I felt as I shed the first tears of my life from happiness.

Suddenly, I felt that I was no longer a stranger, an outsider looking in on society from without and living solely for my own purposes.

I felt connected and that I was now a part of a greater history.

I was so surprised and touched when relatives, friends, and strangers congratulated me with such obvious sincerity.

But, at the same time, my father cautioned me that, as a parent, I had now become a Hostage to Fate.

Two and a half years later, on Father's Day, I again willingly allowed myself to become a hostage when my son, Nathan, was born.

I never worked another Remembrance Day after my daughter was born. Instead, it became a day of joy and a little girl's birthday party even as I was reading aloud to my children on a regular basis and instilling in them notions of heroic deeds performed by innocent heroes in The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Wizard of Oz.

I was also aware that by having my children be born here in Calgary I had made them "hostages to Canada's fate" and its pursuit of peace, order, and good government.

I was still reading aloud to Nathan stories like the terrors of a young soldier in The Red Badge of Courage and the timeless nature of evil in Camus' classic, The Plague when Nathan more fully embraced his fate by joining the King's Own Calgary Regiment of the Canadian Forces the week after his 18th birthday in June, 2001.

So, exactly two months after 9/11, I attended my first Remembrance Day ceremony at the Military Museums here in Calgary to watch Nathan standing handsome, strong, and vital in his new uniform. This now meant that for several years our family routine became the service at the museums and then a birthday party.

Then in late 2006, Nathan decided to embrace his fate even more fully when he decided to volunteer for the Canadian Forces Afghan Mission and he was selected to train for nine months to operate the Leopard tanks, which Canada was first deploying into the theater in Kandahar.

On Sept. 24, 2007, the last day I worked as a courier on the streets of prosperous and secure downtown Calgary, I had been home from work only a few moments when my doorbell rang and I stepped into the moment that will now forever mark for me the boundary between what was "before" and what will be "after."

Three Canadian Forces officers, in full dress uniform, stood at my door and in that instant I knew, even before I heard the beyond-horrible news, that my beloved, only son, my perfect Father's Day gift, was lost to me forever.

The loss of any child is a very humbling experience for a parent. So many ambitions and expectations suddenly vanish.

A month after Nathan's Oct. 4 funeral, the Remembrance Day ceremony was my first without him and I went and became as one with society and a greater history in another completely unexpected way.

I had never told Nathan that when he was on parade with his regiment I had a hard time singling him out from the other soldiers despite the fact that he was always among the tallest. Now this was a strange comfort to me. He could be any one of these tall, proud soldiers standing at attention.

Green

Some people see letters in living color.

For me, A is creamy white, like inside an apple,

B, sturdy gray brown,

C, yellow like corn, crisp-edged

L is silver like water,

M, when capital, is rose damask,

when small, earthworm pink,

N is new-leaf green.

And words: Nancy - leaves moving on a pale branch,

Nathan - a brown river in June sunshine, between grassy banks.

The morning of his service I woke in the dark.

before the limos, the motorcycles,

the wall of dark green uniforms

straining over bursting hearts.

I went to my car with a flashlight

to find the envelopes that had come on the plane.

In the living room I lined them up on a stool,

sat and waited for first light

to find me ready.

I opened three:

One - his wallet, green camo,

Two - the few cards he kept in his wallet in the field

Three - American dollars, green.

Who could spend this! What would you buy?

I thought of Alena,

flown from Europe with a set of dog tags on her white neck

and his last gift on her wrist,

a tiny silver lock and key, to his heart.

On my way I stopped at a store,

and found a pale green amethyst,

many facets, like him.

He had just enough to buy it for her.

When she put it on, I said

It's green, like the light from his eyes.

She understood.

And when the sun comes down through the aspens

to dance with the shadows on the canyon floor,

the dancing light will be like his smile.

By Linda Loree, Nathan Hornburg's mother

Remembrance Day is a day of tribute and respect to the memory of men and women who served and fell so that the world might be a better place .

It used to be a once-a-year event we would share with our families and community — a time to share with our children, so they could better know why we are so fortunate to live where we live — children who hopefully would never experience the dangers of war.

But our children take their own paths in life and we can only pray that they will be safe in that journey.

Nathan Hornburg, my godson, was one of these children — a young man who made the decision to join Canada's military and serve in Afghanistan. He was the son of very close friends of mine, Michael Hornburg and Linda Loree of Calgary and Nanton, Alberta.

With Canada's involvement in Afghanistan, and Nathan's, the dangers of war became more immediate, as we watched the return of our fallen soldiers on the national news. That is how I learned that Nathan had been killed in a firefight Sept. 24, 2007. In his memory I would like to share a speech Nathan's father gave.

Now Remembrance Day is every day.

- Micheal d'Artois

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