I had two uncles who fought in World War II with the Canadian Army. My father, the eldest, was needed to stay and work the farm but his two younger brothers enlisted.
Louis Dautremont was with the Canadian Scottish Regiment as they pushed their way through Holland in the spring of 1945 and he took part in one of the battalion’s last actions of the war, the clearing of the Dutch village of Wagenborgen. The regiment had taken part in the D-Day landings, and had advanced farther inland than any other unit of the British Second Army. As they continued operations in April of 1945, the commanders became somewhat complacent with their long and easy advancements through the Dutch countryside. A feeling had developed that the war was almost over. They were wrong.
“D” Company was sent forward on early on the morning of April 21st toward Wagenborgen. The terrain was flat, unobstructed by dense foliage, and criss-crossed by numerous canals and drainage ditches. Over the previous nine days, each encounter with the German forces had met only token resistance and a quick withdrawal of the enemy troops. On the 21st, things were different.
The men of “D” Company found that the roads leading in and out of Wagenborgen had been blocked, and covered by machine guns and 2.0cm anti-aircraft guns. The Germans also had support from mortars and artillery. The morning attack bogged down but was renewed just after noon with support from sections of the anti-tank, carrier and mortar platoons. The Germans had been reinforced however and they met heavy resistance and suffered numerous casualties. Among the fallen, was my Uncle Louis.
The next day, the Canadian Scottish attacked once more, but this time with three companies as well as tank support. Wagenborgen was liberated on the 22nd despite heavy counter attacks and declared secure on the 23rd.
Louis Dautremont died on April 21st, 1945 and was buried in the Canadian War Cemetery at Holten, the Netherlands.
My other uncle, Rene, survived the War. He had served with a different unit as a forward artillery spotter. He never spoke of the War and never shared what he had seen or done. He wasn’t the same man who had left Canada in his early twenties. Today he would have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He would have been treated and he might have gotten better. He did not.
Uncle Rene lived in the old farm house with my grandmother until she died. He had been hospitalized for a time on a psychiatric ward but with little benefit. He would come to family functions but seemed to spend the rest of his time alone in the old house. He never married and he never travelled. He seemed to have few if any friends. I used to go over to play chess with him and while he let me see some of his things from the War, he never shared anything of what he had gone through.
In many ways, both of my Uncles were killed in the War, it just took longer for Uncle Rene to die.
Lest we forget.
“In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” Isaiah 2:2-4
A very poignant story re: Lest We Forget. It instantly brought to mind a story my friend told me. His father went down with his ship in the last weeks of the war and my friend never knew his father. His uncle served with the Canadian infantry and went through Europe, undoubtedly witnessing many horrors, or having to do terrible things. When he returned home he turned to drink. One day he walked into the woods, sat down and drank himself to death. He was not counted as a casualty of war but he was, just like your uncle.
Thanks for sharing, Bill. Our vets today struggle with some of the same issues but at least we now know PTSD exists. Hopefully, we as a society can do something about it.
I lost my grandfather at age five because exposure to mustard gas in World War 1 shortened his life. He was Private First Class Sandford Dobson. He lied about his age to become an infantry soldier at age 17 in the Canadian Expeditionary Force, the forerunner of the Canadian Armed Forces. When visiting my grandfather I would hear him coughing before he started his day, Mustard gas damaged his respiratory system. I would cry inside and sometimes away from him. I didn’t want him to see how sad his coughing made me. I didn’t understand then the darkness that exists within humankind. I thought how wrong it was — this slow death of my grandfather a little bit each day. I would ask God when I prayed why my grandfather had to suffer so much. As I grew older I came to understand that there will be things about the injustices of this life I will never fully understand. What I have learned is where there is ignorance, greed, injustice and intolerance there exists the ingredients for conflict
Physical wounds can often heal, but the internal ones fester and dig deep within the mind and spirit.
I wonder how many walking wounded we meet each day. Like your Uncle Rene they wear their own battle scars from post traumatic stress disorder. There needs to be much more help given to those who suffer from it. The silent judgment of those with it needs to stop. There still exists in society this macho attitude of suck it up. Be strong. What is really the case is they have been strong for far too long.
My grandfather and so many like him sacrificed their health and life so we could live as a free people. Nothing we could ever do could fully repay the cost these heroic souls gave and continue to give. What we can do is honour their memory by advocating for the rights of all veterans to get the treatment,life and career rehabilitation they need.
Thank you, Louis and Rene, and all soldiers, officers and those behind the front lines, for serving your country. I’m proud of you. I have no doubt my grandpa would be too.
I share these pieces with you reflecting on memories of my grandfather. They are my agape love gifts to you and your readers.
Thanks so much for sharing this. It is so vital that we keep these memories alive for the sake of our children, our grandchildren and ourselves.