One visit that will remain with me always was to the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek, Netherlands. We went looking for the resting place of a neighbour, unsuccessfully. The people of the Netherlands keep the cemeteries immaculate. The grave stones are lined up in precisely straight lines, on the vertical, horizontal, diagonal in every direction you look. The engraved ages that characterize the names of the men record there breaks the heart, thirty — twenty-two — eighteen — fifteen. Cannon fodder, priceless sacrifices. The first time it really struck me what a waste it all was, was my first year in highschool, at a Remembrance Day assembly and they began to read the names of students that had gone to serve in the Great War and then WWII. Kids my age. And later, kids my sons’ age.
Remembrance Day is a difficult day to get through. My mother was born in the Netherlands the year the war began. My grandmother will share memories of the occupation, my grandfather shared little. He was involved in the underground in some way, a friend of his was shot in the back while riding his bike as he tried to avoid a German roadblock.
My husband’s mother was a refugee in Siberia, Russian troops came into the towns of Poland in the middle of the night, loaded the residents onto cattle cars and sent them east. She has a lingering distrust of the government, and ordered me never to post scans I made of my father-in-laws papers and documents on the internet. If you knew the name, you would find his death notice at the on-line publication of the Legion’s magazine.
They seem so young, idealism and the quest for glory and honour shining in their eyes, eagerness to go and fight. Looks that were left overseas, dissolving with the growing realization of what war actually involved.