My Dear Son,
Every year since you were born I am gripped with the same thoughts and feelings on Remembrance Day. I did not bear you, teach you about life in the best way I could, and guide you in how to live it, to have your life snuffed out on some distant shore at the hand of someone I am expected to call “enemy.” Or worse yet, for you to be the victim of what is euphemistically termed “friendly fire.”
I have been a most fortunate woman.
My father was never called to the military. He had three women depending on him for support and the war department accepted that. In a time when only sons were eligible to go, his father was considered too old, but his unmarried brother, my dear Uncle Ingolf went.
Ingolf lived beside us – the only person close to me who went to war. He returned from World War #II with his body whole but with little to say about his time in the trenches. We suspected the experience had taken its emotional toll on this quiet, gentle man.
The only other person I knew who served was my mother’s brother Bill. He was stationed on Yorke Island only a few miles from where we lived on the BC Coast. Japanese submarines were in the area but he says he didn’t see them and neither did we. Bill met his future wife during that war. She had lost her husband to it, leaving her young son fatherless. That son, Ron, became my cousin but also a very good friend, as we grew up together.
Your father has also been fortunate. He has lived in a time of relative peace, free to pursue his chosen career without interruption. His father did not experience military service either, but two of his brothers did. When Henry signed up he said he was twenty years old – we know he was only sixteen. Preliminary research into that side of your family shows that Charles Henry Siebert enlisted at Crystal City, Manitoba on December 28th 1915. And so did an older brother, also underage. I have the Canadian war documents.
They were in the Canadian Infantry, Central Ontario Regiment, both crack shots, well respected in war times for that ability. Henry returned, a veteran damaged by the noxious gasses used by attacking armies. Your dad remembers his Uncle Henry when they lived in Port Alberni; we have a large butcher knife in our kitchen that was his. It seems a strange keepsake.
Ever since you were of age it seemed as though I was living on borrowed time. Each year on November 11th I have wondered when it would be my turn to contribute a child to the peacekeeping effort. Each year I have agonized as the news media tell stories of a reduction in military spending. Yes, the National Budget has been balanced but at what cost?
At what cost in the lives of young women and men who volunteer for a military career and then are forced to serve using inadequate, outdated equipment, wearing shabby uniforms and are moved about in decrepit ships, falling helicopters or borrowed aircraft space? In this plentiful land their families are left at home to live on minimum wages in substandard base housing. But the generals in Ottawa are well paid and there are more of them than in the regular fighting forces.
My problem is that I don’t believe war is the answer to anything. But I also don’t believe that being a draft dodger, as many of our imported citizens were, or a conscientious objector, as some still are, is the solution either.
You are more than half the age of your father. You have had all that time to learn and plan your life, now you can use that information to continue on along your chosen path. Many young men have not had that option. I was reminded when Yasser Arafat died that young Palestinians of your age had never known any other leader of their people. Such limitations and strife they suffer.
During your life you have had the opportunity for education, not forced upon you or easily obtained, but it was always an option. In years past most young men have not had such a choice. Many brilliant young men had their career, their education, their entire life interrupted and shattered by the intervention of war. Most young Canadian men your age have not suffered that shock.
Compare any physical complaint you can think of, to that of a returning soldier with part of his body missing, or so badly damaged it may never recover. With the challenges of rehabilitation before him, he may not even be grateful to be alive. A lost leg or two, a mangled hand or damaged lungs, shell shot face, reoccurring dreams that leave him screaming until he wakes. These are my thoughts every November 11th. I think of the young men, and women too, whose lives have been altered or wasted entirely by the ravages of ‘man’s inhumanity to man.’
Our extended family has been very lucky, and we continue to be most fortunate to have escaped the horrors we hear about. Let us try to understand better other people who are not like us, who live in other places and by different standards. Perhaps in some small way each of us can find opportunities to contribute to peace. Then mothers like me may not be called upon to give over their sons to war.