I think of my father every Remembrance Day. George Anger was a WWII veteran. In December of 1942 he went overseas and he returned home in October 1945. He was a mechanic in the RCEME, a Lance Corporal. He was not a willing soldier, he didn’t leap up to volunteer as soon as Britain, and Canada, declared war on Germany in 1939. Twenty-two in that year, he was old enough. But soldiering had not been a part of his family for many years. They were farmers and they, and the government, thought they could do the best for their country by feeding it.
The Second World War became one of conscription, and in 1942 Dad was drafted. At the time, he was recently married with a brand new baby. He knew what happened to conscriptees, or Zombies as they were called. They became cannon fodder, front line infantry. He had his papers as a mechanic* and knew his skills were more useful to the Army than his body alone. So he got to Wolseley Barracks in London and voluntarily enlisted before the due date on his draft papers. He was assigned to the Electrical and Mechanical Engineers Corps (RCEME). He was stationed in England at Camp Borden and Scotland at Motherwell.
Dad came home and met the 3 year old son he’d last seen as a 6 month old and left the war and the military behind him. He rarely talked about the war, other than funny stories about “test-driving” Jeeps in ways the Canadian Army hadn’t thought of. He never joined the Legion and never, to my knowledge, went to the Cenotaph at Remembrance Day. “Old farts jingling their medals,” was his description of remembrance ceremonies. But he was “an old fart” himself with some medals. And every November 11th he was a little quiet, a little far away, a little sad. His own remembrance.
He hadn’t wanted to go to war, but he was proud of his service and, I think, glad he went. He knew the right thing had been done by Canada and the Allies and felt good for having contributed. I never knew what his thoughts on the Korean War were.
I did know his thoughts on the Vietnam war. He didn’t agree with America’s actions, but he also didn’t agree with those young men who refused to honour their country by going when required. At least that was his initial stance. At the time, I was dating a draft dodger. “Yellow-bellied coward” was the mildest of what Dad called him, and he meant it.
But with another year of that war, the protests and getting to know more about why young men were coming to Canada to avoid the draft, it seems Dad’s opinion was changing. I found out about his change of mind, and heart, on a trip to the States with him and Mom. Dad, the dog and I were walking along a riverbank in Ohio. The dog and I were dilly-dallying behind when Dad began talking with two teenage boys.
I caught up to them just in time to hear Dad say, “well, if you cross at Detroit, just look for the 401 signs in Windsor. Stay on it past London and you’ll see the exit for our road.” He then wrote down his name, address and phone number for these two kids who he’d never seen before in his life. As we walked on, he called back to them, “remember you’re welcome at our place if you have to come.” I asked him what on earth he was doing. “They’re trying to decide what to do next year. They’ll be done high school and if this war’s still going on they don’t know what to do about the draft. I told them they could stay with us until they get sorted out.” Well! Nothing more was said about it. Those kids never called. I’ve often wondered what they did.
When I was old enough to look at my Dad dispassionately, as a person instead of just my dad, I realized his outlook on war and his own service was a good model for life. He didn’t seek war out, he saw no benefit in people lining up to get themselves blown to bits. But when such duty is asked of you, think it through, make the best choice of action, and do what is necessary to get the job done. Then leave it behind you and move on. But never forget the sacrifices made by so many.
*My brother corrected me. Dad did not have his mechanic qualifications, just ability. An officer he met suggested that might be enough to get him enlisted as a skilled tradesperson.