Published in The Great North Arrow, November 2019: Wartime Bullies

- jim Young 

“The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” - Douglas MacArthur

I remember as a young boy I would often prevent my father from taking an afternoon nap by laying beside him and barraging him with questions or begging him to tell me a story.

My father never turned me away in favour of the nap he had been looking forward to.

One such afternoon while he was relating some of his stories about his service in the RCAF during World War II, I asked my father why, when knowing he might be killed, he joined the air-force anyway.

My father had a way of simplifying complicated issues and breaking them down to the core of the problem in a way that a young boy such as myself might better comprehend.

“Hitler was a bully,” my father told me, “and he needed to be stopped.”

That satisfied my curiosity for the time.

Later I was proud to learn that my father had a history of standing up to the proverbial school yard bullies in defence of some of his classmates that were often picked on.

I’m certain some of these school yard battles were fresh in his mind when he enlisted at the age of 18.

As a member of the Royal Canadian Engineers in Croydon England, my grandfather, William had already been overseas for 2 years by the time my father joined the war effort.

In a letter dated December 13, 1942 my grandfather wrote to my father, “Well George I must close for this time. Now take care of yourself and look after the rest as I know you are and maybe next year around this time we will be able to go and get a Christmas tree and maybe fix up the train around it.”

My grandfather didn’t make it home that following Christmas nor the Christmas after. Three years later, however, the train was once more set up under the tree when the family was reunited in 1945.

I still have my father’s train and it serves as a memory for me of the 5 Christmases that my Grandfather sacrificed spending Christmas away from his family in his attempts to help “stop a bully”.

When my Uncle George Chalmers enlisted to join the Governor General’s Horse Guards in 1941 he was battling two bullies - both Hitler and Mussolini. While fighting in Mussolini’s Italy in 1944 Uncle George was wounded in battle when one of Hitler’s tanks fired 88 mm shells at the tank he was commanding. 

Against doctor’s orders, Uncle George left the hospital he was convalescing in, learned where his regiment was and hitch-hiked to catch up with them. The following year, 1945, he was in Holland to take part in the liberation of Holland.

60 years later, 2005, The Year of The Veteran, Sgt. George Chalmers and his wife Mary whom he met while overseas, served as delegates from his Regiment in the celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Netherlands.

I never met my Great-Grandfather Thomas John Dickson who had given his life fighting another bully, Kaiser, Wilhelm II, long before I was born.

Along with other members of the British Expeditionary Force during World War I, Great-Grandpa Dickson earned the distinction of being known as one of the “Old Contemptibles”.

Although intended as an insult the BEF proudly accepted the moniker making a mockery of the Kaiser’s orders to the German Army Commander to “walk over General French’s contemptible little army”; an order the commander was unable to accomplish. 

A June entry in the 1917 Diary of 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders reads as follows.“14th-19th Bn (battalion) attacked at 7.20 am took trench and established posts on the mound and high ground. Very heavy fighting from counter attacks. Successful operation; but heavy losses. 70 killed, 160 wounded, 27 missing.”

It was there in Arras, France on June 17, 1917 that my Great-Grandfather’s story came to an end along with 69 of his comrades. Although he never lived to see it, his bully, the Kaiser was defeated the following year.

Great-Grandpa Dickson was the only one of these four men that made the supreme sacrifice, but they all made sacrifices of their own; Great sacrifices. Those who didn’t give their lives in battle gave a part of their lives and their futures were changed forever.

It is the faces of these men that I will see in my mind this Remembrance Day as I remember the many faceless others, not just those that made the supreme sacrifice, but all those that made, and those that continue to make great personal sacrifices to fight the bullies past, present and future.

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