Before their innocence was taken….
Recently my mom and her cousin Eleanor got together to catch up. Of great surprise, Eleanor brought with her a bunch of old photos, and amongst these were some of my Gpa Mike that we had never seen before.
The picture that I found most fascinating turned out to be a photo of my grandfather with his two older brothers, Jack and Bill. His eldest brother, my great Uncle Bill holds in one arm, a kitten, and in the other my Gpa. To his right, is my Uncle Jack. How young they are… It is the first time I have ever seen a photo of my Gpa as a child. This photo is a stark reminder that the all the men and women of war were once innocents, protected from the ugly spots of the world and the horrific actions of people in it.
Before the outbreak of World War II, the hardships of life had already hit my grandfather: the reality that his social standing meant schooling ended at grade 7 and a life of labor began. Money was tight but he did what he had to so he could help out the family and support himself. He had at least one Uncle (Ellary Thomas Whittleton) that fought in the Great War, but I don’t know if he was aware of this as a young boy or as a young man in September 1939.
In 1940, his older brother Jack volunteered for the Army and would then transfer to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). In May 1941, their mother passed away suddenly only five months before her 50th birthday. Three months after, on August 21, 1941, my grandpa made his way to Toronto to an enlistment centre so he could volunteer for the Royal Canada Army. Uncle Bill would be drafted to the Army and the youngest Brown boy, Uncle Jimmy, eventually volunteered for the Royal Canadian Navy – you only had to be 17 to volunteer for the RCN instead of the obligatory 18 years of age for the Army and Air Force.
So in the end, all four Brown boys went to war. All four came back. But I still find myself coming back to this picture, realising that an entire generation of young men and women were robbed of their innocence. But the loss of innocence surrounding WW2 and subsequent conflicts isn’t exclusive to those that fought in the wars. It extends the the families that lost a son or daughter, husband, wife, parent, uncle, aunt. It extends to entire villages that were destroyed and the people within them that were exterminated. The list is devastating and it is long. Because of my family’s military connection, I naturally focus on the solider – what they sacrificed, what their families sacrificed and how the physical, emotional and psychological things they lost, leaves a lasting (haunting) impression on their lives. And I think about how this sacrifice has cycled through every decade since WW2, carried on by Veterans of the ongoing conflicts that continue even today.
We who have seen war, will never stop seeing it. In the silence of the night, we will always hear the screams. So this is our story, for we were soldiers once, and young.
With Remembrance Day being a week away and as I prepare to write small pieces on my grandfathers and great uncles who are WW2 veterans, I think of the above poignant quotation from Joseph L. Galloway. “We who have seen war, will never stop seeing it.” Lest we forget and remembrance to all generations of our Veterans.