CPR Section House

CPR Section House

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 254

When we lived on New Street , Dad  and Mum , who were both veterans of WWII , were able to become actively involved in the Legion . Through our whole childhood , the Legion was ever present (next to the CPR).

Many people frowned on the place thinking it to be just an excuse for veterans to get together , talk war and drink . Yes - it was that sometimes and some vets drank more than others . But , there was no real support for soldiers returning from war . They suffered all the symtoms of what now is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder . Many ended up in the veteran's hospital far from home or in the OH (Ontario Hospital) near North Bay- husks of the viable seeds they once were . Getting together was their group therapy and 'beer tears' simply a coping method .

  The Legion was their answer to helping fellow vets adjust to 'home' life . It organized and worked to get pensions for those who suffered permanent injury . It worked to establish programs to help vets get loans for re-education and mortgages for homes using the pensions as collateral .

 Dad and Mum were especially active on behalf of Displaced Immigrants who had fought in the underground/home armies against the common enemy . And they wrestled for a place for female vets , like Mum, to have the right to participation as full Legion members - not just a members of the Ladies Auxillary. And they worked to have Aboriginal Veterans who had fought side by side with other Canadian Soldiers to be allowed to be part of the Legion , entitled to the same respect and services offered to all other Vets .

Another Aboriginal Vet

The most decorated soldier from Mattawa was an Algonquin who , as with hundreds of others , was abandoned by the laws of the land despite his sacrifice . Aboriginals were not considered citizens by the Government therefore unentitled . Just the act of volunteering meant that these people had to sign a paper relinquishing their right to be 'Indians' in order to become soldiers . Even if they did sign , they were not easily accepted by the public at large as equals-but as lesser beings by virtue of race and negative stereotyping .

Vets on KP
 Totally unacceptable in my parents
opinion . They worked with other like-minded people to convince reluctant vets to support all soldiers who came home and those who had lost their homeland to war . Eventually ,  many Legions across the country pressured a rule change to include the right of any soldier who had fought with the allies to join the Legion , entitled to full participation , assistance  and

Another donation to the hospital

The Legion expanded to include doing what they could to help address needs in the community . Baskets of food for needy families at Christmas , many of whom were Vets .
  Fundraising purchased wheelchairs and other equipment for the hospital and individual vets . The annual Christmas party was always a hit for the children...that was the first time I had seen Santa Claus and heard people singing whole-heartedly in full voice ( led by the Vets of course) .

Tomb of the Unkown Soldier ,Ottawa
  November 11 Services closed the town and schools so that all could attend to pay respect to those soldiers who had made the ultimate sacrifice . As well , the townspeople stood along the streets and watched the Veterans march silently to the cenitaph ...fighting an internal struggle to hold back the tears and do what decorum dictated . I remember the stillness of the onlookers and the quiet rhythm of marching Vets . How could so many move so softly ...stepping gently yet courageously through difficult memories .

For many years , Dad was Sergeant-at-Arms for the Legion and his voice could be heard in many services , including veterans funerals , calling the veterans to duty and keeping the established rituals moving as they should .

After , the gun salute shattered the silence and the single bugle played , their echos continued to roll from hill to hill along the Ottawa River .
I would think of soldiers' spirits who had hovered invisibly around during the service , now reluctantly following the disappearing echos back to where they came from until next year . And I would cry. How does a child picture a concept so difficult as this ?

Dad's voice would bring the Vet's to attention for the march back to the Legion . The local marching band would strike up the marching song and all the Veterans , revitalized by having done what was right , lifted themselves to full youthful stature and proudly slapped their feet sharply on the pavement of mainstreet . The townspeople clapped for them . Smiles occasionally broke through decorum in appreciation for the recognition .

 When they reached the Legion and were dismissed from formation , comrades would shake hands and slap each other on the back for a job well done . Then they would enter the club room where none but Veterans were allowed , order a beer and cry .

1 comment:

thepowmill said...

Just to clarify ...Aboriginal soldiers who were enfranchised did become citizens in the process so were entitled by law to all the rights of all citizens ...on paper . But most of those veterans received no pensions or assistance until a few years ago . Despite the fact that all Aboriginal people became citizens in 1966. In many cases no one in local legions was willing to open their doors to them .Old predudices could not be overcome easily...it was as if one life didn't have the same value as another . There was nothing legal that prevented acceptance from happening a long time ago .