By Laurent d’Entremont
When I was growing up, my grandfather spoke about the Boer War. He spoke about Canada sending more than 8,000 soldiers, from Lord Strathcona’s Horse of the Royal Canadian Regiment, to fight for the British cause.
The people from my village, people like my grandfather who could read English, were following the events of this conflict 100 or more years ago. Often one man, at the country store, would read the news from a month-old newspaper, the same as a news anchor does on TV today.
My grandfather was born during the old wars, my mother was born during WWI and I was born in the middle of WWII. When my mother was born, Canadians were right into the thick of it, having just captured Vimy Ridge at Easter of 1917. Vimy was a fierce battle in Northwest France. This was more or less the beginning of the end of the first World War—the war to end all wars.
The old war started when Germany was building a huge fleet of war ships, and this was threatening British control of the high seas. On June 28, 1914, Prince Franz Ferdinand, the nephew of the Austrian emperor, was shot along with his wife while driving through the street of a town near the Serbia border. Soon, after a series of events, this turned into a full-fledged war. About 8.5 million people died or were wounded during this war, which lasted from 1914 to 1918.
Time goes by, and if we may, turn the pages to 1945. I was four years old and one of my earliest memories is of the day the Second World War ended. I still remember lots of commotion and celebrations in my French-speaking village. Some of the bigger boys marched in a parade that was led by one of the old timers from our neighbourhood. Being very young, I could only watch as some of my older cousins went by, taking part in this great event. The second World War (1939-1945) lasted six years; it started on Sept. 1, 1939, when the German Army invaded Poland from the west. Two days later, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany, and Canada was once again in the battle. It was the Canadians who liberated much of Holland and Belgium and we are still held dear in the heart of the Netherlands population to this day.
More time goes by, and it is now the early 1950s. Some of us are standing in front of De La Tour Co-op, in Lower West Pubnico, when my mother’s first cousin, Isaac d’Entremont arrives to take the mail truck to Pubnico Head. The 20-year-old is carrying luggage and he is wearing army boots, he tells us he is going to serve in the Korean conflict (1950-1953); this was the start of his military career, which spanned more than 30 years.
In June 1950, North Korea attacked South Korea, and Canada soon agreed to join the American-led United Nations force, serving as part of a Commonwealth Brigade. The United States awarded a distinguished unit citation to the Canadian troops who proved their worth as great soldiers. This war lasted three years before the armistice was signed in July of 1953.
Time doesn't stand still and now it is the mid-1960s and I am at work. By now, most people have television sets; every evening we get news bulletins on the Vietnamese War, a war that none of us understand or even know who the enemy is. There is no Kaiser or Hitler in this war…
In the last 50 years, Canadians have served on peacekeeping missions from the Congo to Kosovo, and from Egypt to East Timor, as well as the Gulf war and war on terrorism in more recent times. Wars make the news on most days. To be honest, military conflicts have dominated the evening news ever since we have had television sets. As most readers will agree, time goes by rather too fast, and a century of warfare has gone by since the days when my grandfather listened to news on the Boer War.
We all remember Sept. 11, 2001, a day darkened by terror. On this day, my four-year-old great-nephew Jacob Jones is sitting in front of the television set at home on Cape Sable Island, Shelburne County. He sees, unfortunately, history in the making as two airliners, hijacked by terrorists, crash into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York. Later, when his mother explained, the child says he had seen “bad men doing bad things,” which is mostly what war is all about.
And on this war on terrorism, unlike earlier wars, there will not be an Eastern or Western Front; there will not be an 11th-hour of the 11th-day of the 11th-month. There likely will not be any battle heroes like Canadian Billy Bishop or the American General Dwight D. Eisenhower. There may not be folk type hero commanders like George S. Patton, or the British Bernard Law Montgomery of Alamein fame.
The big difference here is that war came to us instead of the other way around. There is absolutely nothing good about this new kind of war or any war for that matter. And to quote my grand nephew “bad men are still doing bad things,” and there is nothing good or new about that either.