I have been attending Remembrance Day ceremonies at cenotaphs in usually chilly weather for several years now, and I love the pageantry, the solemnity, the bugle sounding The Last Post. I love standing shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers who show by their presence there that it is a good thing to remember the cost of war.
This Poppy Day, I am filled with stories of my great-grandfather who survived World War II and was liberated with his fellow Dutchmen by the Canadians. In an October post, I wrote about reading his journal that my father has diligently translated this fall.
There is a humourous twist to this story that I would like to share with you now.
My father brought Great Opa Ary’s journal to my Uncle Ary to read, help with translation, and fill in the background details.
During the last year of the war Great Opa Ary moved off the tiny island of Goeree-Overflakkee to Rotterdam. On May 23, 1945, he returned to his home, where his son’s family (including Uncle Ary) had also lived for a time. Here is an excerpt from the translated journal:
When we were ready to enter our home I saw that the door had been forced open with a crowbar and that the door post was broken. When we entered the house we saw that everything was strewn across the floor. Bookcases were broken open and books were all over the floor. Drawers of the cabinet and the secretaire were also open and contents spread out over the floor. Whatever they found useful they stole. In the cellar they emptied the jars with preserves. In return they left their excrement. In the attic they also searched and ripped things apart so that all was in ruins when we returned. The sheds were forced open and coal and briquettes plus firewood all gone. Things they liked such as pails, pots and pans even the clamps of the pressure canning pot were gone. Empty preserve bottles plus the rubber closing rings and the lid hold down clamps were gone. A laundry wringer was stolen. We saw the same mess and situation in the garage. Everything was topsy turvy and busted open and what they liked they took, too many things to even enumerate. The garden was full of dug holes, like there had been a bomb attack. Why they did that I have no idea. I do not understand how people could be so bad and mean to steal and rob from people who were forced to evacuate and leaving their home and possessions behind.
When Uncle Ary read the sentence “The garden was full of dug holes, like there had been a bomb attack…” he started laughing and laughing. Here is his explanation:
Our family lived in grandfather’s house during the summer and fall of 1944. At the end of that stay before we were forced to move to Nieuwe Tonge, I decided, I was 8 years old at the time, that we needed “bombshelters”. I dug deep holes in the garden, covered them with boards for roofs and piled dirt on top of the boards.
It seems that 66 years later, a grandson learned he had innocently played a trick on his grandfather!
So yes, Remembrance Day can be lighthearted! We can laugh with my uncle, while we remember that my great grandfather suffered.
We rejoice that so many lives were saved by the bravery of others who gave up their lives.
Good triumphs over evil.
So wear a poppy today, and smile a little!
poppy photo from fotosearch.com