Poppies: Symbols of remembrance

November 3, 2016
Canada's National War Memorial, Ottawa commemorated by stamp.

Canada’s National War Memorial, Ottawa commemorated by stamp.

“In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.”

Lieutenant John McCrae, 1915

When Canadian John McCrae wrote these lines over 100 years ago he wasn’t doing it to glorify war or battles, but to remember the sacrifice of his comrades who had been killed in the service of their country. These men who now lay dead and buried in Flanders Fields of Belgium. He himself would not survive the war.

I’ve actually heard people saying that poppies and Remembrance Day itself on November 11th are meant to glorify war. There couldn’t be anything farther from the truth. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to speak with many veterans including my grandfather and my father. Not one of them has ever glorified war, but they’ve always spoken highly of their fellow veterans and especially of those who served with them.

Remembrance is critical. If we don’t remember those who served and sacrificed in some way, many with their lives, we as a society will make the same mistakes. We remember war not to glorify it, but to remember its horrors so that we make peace wherever possible, and only enter war as a last resort. Unfortunately sometimes it takes our military to fight for and defend our freedoms and values. Evil is alive in the world

We owe a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid to all those who stepped up to defend freedom and especially those who lie still in Flanders Fields where the poppies grow.

Bless them and remember them always.


The Greatest Generation

November 5, 2015
One of many cemeteries in Europe where Canada's war dead lie.

One of many cemeteries in Europe where Canada’s war death lie.

On November 11, 2015 it will be 70 years since the end of the Second World War 1939-1945 and over 100 years since the beginning of the Great War 1914-1919.

Tom Brokaw’s  famous book, “The Greatest Generation”, is in my opinion one of the best reads on war and sacrifice. It is a collection of stories from veterans and their wartime experiences. It’s not about generals and strategy, but rather about ordinary people and how they stood up and fought for our freedom against the evil forces seeking to destroy and conquer the world. Although American it applies to all who were of that generation. These people grew up in the Depression of the 1930s and did what had to be done in the 1940s. They made it possible for us to have the society we have today. The following quote from the book says it all

“They came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War and went on to build modern America – men and women whose everyday lives of duty, honor, achievement, and courage gave us the world we have today.”

These men returned from the horrors of war to short-lived celebration and then resumed their lives as best they could. For years they never talked about their experiences. All that changed after fifty years when they realized age was killing them off at a rapid rate. They didn’t want to tell their stories to glamourize war, but so that we would never forget. Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to know some older vets who told me of their experiences. It is incredible to see a vet tear up when he remembers a buddy from all those years ago. They remember the friends they lost like it was yesterday such was the horror of it. To all the vets who tell the stories thanks for letting us know what it was really like.

To younger people if you want to know about wars don’t read the accounts of generals and politicians, read the stories of ordinary people, the soldiers who went through the mud, the fire, and the blood. For Canadians there is “Testaments of Honour: Personal Histories of Canada’s War Veterans” by Blake Heathcote which I highly recommend.

Other books to read are Stephen Ambrose’s “Citizen Soldiers” or Cornelius Ryan’s “The Longest Day”. These books are far more interesting and enlightening then some general’s memoirs. The movie “Saving Private Ryan” which revolves around the D-Day landings is one of the most realistic war movies of all time. Director Steven Spielberg screened it for veterans of D-Day to get their input. To a man they liked it, but said it lacked one thing, the smell. They told him the smell of blood, gore, death and cordite from shells was overpowering during the combat. They also told him the noise level pierced them to the very soul. These were the things they still remembered all those years later.

When you attend or watch the Remembrance Day ceremonies and you see all the old vets close your eyes and visualize them as young boys and men in their late teens and early twenties preparing to charge off the landing craft into the hellstorm of machine gun fire and shelling. While you’re contemplating that image ask yourself if you could stand up and do what needed to be done.


America’s First Female President

August 12, 2015
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President Woodrow Wilson-photo Library of Congress

With all the talk of the possiblity of Hillary Clinton becoming the first female President of the United States here’s a look back to 1919. Many historians believe that from 1919 to 1921 the United States had an “Acting President” who was a female. Her name was Edith Wilson. She was the wife of President Woodrow Wilson. Here’s how it happened and the circumstances leading up to it.

Background:
Thomas Woodrow Wilson (December 28, 1896 – February 3, 1924) served as the 28th President of the United States from March 4, 1913 to March 4, 1921. Wilson served during the World War I period. When the war began he declared the U.S. to be neutral keeping them out of the war. Isolationism dominated American politics and society in the early 20th century. Eventually events forced the U.S. to enter the war in April 1917. Wilson focused on diplomacy and financial considerations during the war letting his generals plot strategy and run the day to day operations.

One of his chief accomplishments was endorsing the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution. This gave women the right to vote when it was ratified in 1920.

In 1918 near the end of the war he issued his Fourteen Points a proposed framework for peace. After the armistice he went to Europe in 1919. There he signed the Treaty of Versailles. A key part of the treaty was the formation of the League of Nations. This forerunner was an attempt to ensure peace on a go-forward basis.

Edith_Wilson-nBolling=PublicDomain

Edith Wilson-photo Library of Congress

Incapacity:
He returned to the United States and began a nationwide tour to promote ratification of the Treaty of Versailles by Congress. In the end Senate Republicans rejected the Treaty. The U.S. never did ratify and didn’t take part in the League of Nations. Wilson’s power dimished as a result of this defeat.

This tour and the effort to get his proposals endorsed exhausted him. On October 2, 1919 in Pueblo, Colorado he collapsed and never fully recovered. He’d suffered a serious stroke. It paralyzed his left side and left only partial vision in the right eye. This left President Wilson bedridden in the White House effectively incapacitated.

His fitness for the presidency came into serious question. No one, not even his wife, his doctor or personal assistant was willing to start the process of certification of fitness for office as mandated in the Constitution, his “inability to discharge the powers and duties of said office”. Vice President Thomas Marshall was ignored and not even considered to take over until Wilson regained his health.

Wilson`s wife and first lady Edith (nee Bolling) took over many routine duties and details of the Presidency. Edith decided which matters of state were important to bring to the bedridden Wilson. In her biography she wrote,

“I studied every paper sent from the different Secretaries or Senators and tried to digest and present in tabloid form the things that, despite my vigilance, had to go to the President. I, myself, never made a single decision regarding the disposition of public affairs. The only decision that was mine was what was important and what was not, and the very important decision of when to present matters to my husband”.

This sure sounds like she was “acting” as president. Many in Washington began referring to her as “the Presidentress”.

Even though Wilson was secluded in the White House in 1920 due to his stroke he still formulated a strategy for reelection. This attempt at a third term deadlocked the 1920 Democratic Convention. The party ignored his reelection attempt and he withdrew. Eventually the Democrats nominated Governor James Cox of Ohio. The general election was won by Republican candidate Warren Harding and Edith Wilson’s quasi-presidency ended.

Obviously not officially recognized Edith Wilson was “Acting President” from October 1919 until 1921, the end of her husband`s second term. Eventually this complex example formed part of the argument for passage of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment clarifies the incapacity issue and provides a clear mechanism for certification of a president`s ability to discharge his duties.

References:
McCallops, James S. Edith Bolling Galt Wilson: The Unintended President, New York: Nova History Publications, 2003

Wilson, Edith Bolling Galt. My Memoir. New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1939


Remember Their Service Always

November 11, 2014
KEN_JAP

Uncle Ken with my grandmother. Although the youngest he was the tallest at well over 6 feet.

November 11, 2014 another Remembrance Day.

I always think of the young men and women who have given so that we can live in freedom and happiness today.

As a history buff and genealogist I’ve discovered so much to appreciate about these people, especially those who were my relatives.

World War I (The Great War)

Grandfather Bert Sendell

My grandfather on my mother’s side served in World War I. He was in the Canadian Army Service Corps (CASC) from 1915 until 1919. He drove ammunition trucks loaded with shells and ammo for the troops from behind the lines to forward positions. Most times he was under shell fire from the enemy who were attempting to stop supplies from reaching the troops in the trenches. He told me one time that many of his friends were killed when the trucks were hit. Although he didn’t talk about the war much but occasionally he would. One of my heroes for sure.

World War II

My Father – Mike (Lloyd) Davis

MikeDavis with RCAF in Eng 1945

My father with the RCAF in England.

Dad served in the RCAF. He was posted overseas to London, England for several years from 1944 until 1946. Dad told me he served in military intelligence. His group set up phoney airfields around England to fool the Germans. While in London he was subjected to the V-bombs that fell almost daily near the end of the war. He was a newly-wed when he shipped overseas.

My Mother – Helen Davis

Mom served in the RCAF in head office in Ottawa. It was while there she met my Dad and eventually they were married. Because she wasn’t allowed to fraternize with officers she had to resign to marry my father. Ironically after her resignation they hired her back in the exact same position as a civilian.

Uncle Glen Davis

Glen served in the RCAF mainly on the west coast of Canada keeping watch for enemy subs and such. He survived the war and lived a good and long life.

Uncle Ken Davis

My father’s youngest brother Ken served in the RCAF and trained in the British Commonwealth Air Training Program. The day before he was to get his wings as a pilot he was killed in a training accident along with his best friend. He was 20 years of age.

Modern Era

Cousin – Robert (Rob) Davis

Rob served in the Canadian Forces. He was on the frigate HMCS Calgary and based on the west coast of Canada.

Thank you all veterans for your service to my country Canada.


The Great War 1914 – 1919 – Centennial

January 2, 2014

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The year 2014 marks 100 years since The Great War, better known as World War I began. The war to end all wars in fact spawned the even more destructive Second World War. This year will mark 75 years since its violent forces swept the world.

As a genealogist and historian I have long been fascinated by the cause and events of these two conflicts. Both these wars changed the world forever in many ways.

What caused this war of 1914? Europe at the time consisted of many ambitious countries who were allied through treaty with many other nations. All these nations had dreams of grandeur through expansion and imperialism. The British, French, Germans, Russians, Italians, and Ottoman empires were all competing economically and militarily. When the Archduke was assassinated one blamed the other. Foolish pride and inflexibility carried the day. Military forces were massed on borders, ultimatums were issued, and finally attacks took place. The domino effect resulted in a world war. Kings, dictators and politicians had their war into which young men were the fodder to fuel the fires.

My grandfather like most Canadians enlisted in the Canadian Army when war was declared in 1914. Young men rushed to serve King and country and to do their duty. To many it was a great adventure. When they discovered the terrible reality of modern warfare the adventure turned to survival. These young men did their duty and served valiantly, but at a horrible cost.

Has mankind learned its lesson? Much as I’d like to believe so it has not. Wars constantly rage throughout our world today. Fortunately none have escalated into a worldwide conflict, but we have had our near misses, Korea, The Cuban Missile Crisis and the Cold War to name a few examples.

We must understand our history and learn from it, otherwise we are sure to repeat our mistakes. Nations like human beings are driven by foolish pride, nationalist goals, racism, jealousies and ambitions of domination.

The major difference in this world of the 21st century is that mankind possesses the means to make itself extinct, nuclear weapons and weaponized diseases being two major methods of mass destruction.

This centennial year should be a challenge to all of us to learn more about our human history and to open our eyes to the mistakes of the past.

More posts to follow on World War I.

 


Remembrance Day – Letter to my grandfather

November 9, 2011

Grandpa in France

Dear Grandpa Sendell,

I am writing this letter as a Remembrance Day tribute to you and all the others that served our country so unselfishly.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to talk to you about your experiences in the Great War of 1914-1918. I was too young and not very knowledgeable about such things at the time. I certainly did not appreciate your sacrifice, nor did I have any concept of the conditions in France where you served.

I am now in my early sixties with children and grandchildren of my own. I have researched my family roots including the military side of it. Through my research and readings on your military experience I have come to have a deep connection with your experiences. My only regret is that I can’t speak with you directly about this period of your life. This letter is my attempt to do that in a public way.

I discovered you enlisted in the 3rd Division of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in 1915 to go overseas. You were assigned to the Canadian Army Service Corps within this division. There you drove munitions trucks from the rear areas to the front lines under heavy enemy fire. Now I realize why you were such an excellent driver.

Even though these trips were made under cover of darkness, the enemy could hear the sounds of the truck engines and rained heavy artillery fire down on the roads approaching the frontline trenches. Many of your fellow drivers were killed instantly when shells ignited the explosives in the trucks. The stress of driving under these conditions must have been unbearable.

When I compare your military record with the timeline of battles fought in the Flanders area of France during the time you were serving, it is obvious you experienced most of the brutal encounters of that time. It is fortunate you survived and returned to us here in Canada, so many of your friends and fellow soldiers did not.

Grandpa I value greatly this historical connection you gave our family. We treasure it with tremendous pride. Frankly I and others of my generation wonder how you did it. Your country and King called and you gladly gave up years of your life to serve under dangerous and dreadful conditions.

It’s shocking and sad to realize how young the soldiers were that went to war. I can only imagine what it was really like, but at least now I have a true appreciation for your experience. Bless you and all the others for your service to our country. We will never forget.

Your loving grandson,

Steve B. Davis


We will remember them.

November 8, 2010

One of many cemeteries in Europe where Canada's war dead lie.

I will be leaving this up all week as a reminder of the cost of suppressing tyranny and keeping the peace.

No one likes war, but sometimes it is necessary to kick the bullies out of the schoolyard. Hitler, Tojo, Mussolini, the Kaiser, and other despots had no respect for peace, human rights, and international law.

May we never forget the young men and women who gave their service and their lives for our country,

They shall not grow old
as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
and in the morning
we will remember them.


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