This article was updated on November 26, 2016
Once again, in an official capacity, I have been given the honour of participating at the Remembrance Day service at Toronto’s Old City Hall where I will be laying wreaths on behalf of the Jewish War Veterans of Canada and CIJA, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
I have a debt of gratitude in attending this significant event honouring our military war veterans. During WWI, my grandfather, Louis Cohen, served in the British Army fighting in the trenches in Belgium. He somehow managed to survive, never to speak of his ghastly experiences until a few hours before he died in the 1970s.
My great uncle David Wienburg, born in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, served in the 1st Bn. Border Regiment. Uncle David died aged 23 on Thursday, April 11 1918. He is remembered with honour at the Ploesgsteert Memorial, Hainaut, Belgium.
During WWII my father served in the Royal Air Force. His brother served in Europe and North Africa where he was a tank driver. Both survived.
My sister’s partner, flew the Hampden, known as the flying suitcase, which alongside the Whitley and the Wellington was the backbone of Bomber Command at the outbreak of war in 1939 . He was shot down on three separate occasions over enemy territory and captured. As a POW he escaped three times, was sent to Peenemünde, Stalag Luft III, where he played an active part in Operation Escape 200 (The Great Escape), Oflag IV-C (Colditz) and finally he was sent to Bergen-Belsen. He survived.
Many years later he found a photo of the Hampden at an aircraft museum. My sister had it framed after her partner wrote on the back of the photo:
The last of 20 bombing operations over Germany. Operation Wilhelmshaven. Delayed action pencil slim armour piercing bomb, a Barnes Wallis experiment. We didn’t make it. ‘Jerry’ was waiting for us with flak and a Me 109.
With exception of my uncle David, they all withstood the horrors of war, all in their own way, all with their thoughts and memories remaining shut to their family and friends for most of their lives. Our heroes.
Lest We Forget.
As a young boy living in London, England, I always accompanied my father and his brother to the Remembrance Day Service and Parade held each year by AJEX, The Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen & Women. Literally thousands. Proud Jews. Proud to be British. Proud of serving their country. There they were, all together, men and women of rank and file, with the VC, the GC, the DSO, the MM and DFM as well as a plethora of Croix de Guerre and Légion d’Honneur recipients.
Lest We Forget.
Today in Toronto, when I lay the two wreaths on the steps of the Cenotaph, I will not only be thinking of my family members who served their country proudly and with distinction, but I will be honouring all of our vets and civilians in gratitude for their sacrifices.
Lest We Forget.
I will also be thinking about our grandchildren. Those far too young to have personal knowledge of the ravages of war. Elie Wiesel once said: “Mankind must remember that peace is not God’s gift to his creatures; peace is our gift to each other.”
As we remember today, on November 11 those who died for us, let us reflect on Elie Wiesel’s message and recognize that all our children and grandchildren are part of our innermost self. Lest We Forget.