Tomorrow is Remembrance Day in Canada.
At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, Canadians will join to remember the ultimate sacrifice made by service men and women aimed at protecting our way of life. My maternal grandfather served in the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II. My grandmother’s memoirs relate her personal story, a poignant account of life for families in small towns such as Chilliwack, B.C. where my mom grew up – and a stark reminder for our generation:

“To me 1942 was the most hopeless year of the entire war. There seemed no possibility that the Allies could survive as one terrible defeat followed another – on land, at sea, and in the air.

Casualty lists grew longer and more grimly personal. We read them fearfully, seeing the familiar names – friends from childhood, classmates from college, boys who only yesterday were pumping gas or delivering groceries in Chilliwack. There was something particularly dreadful about this in a small town where we all knew each other by names and by sight.

Each morning all messages received during the night awaited the McNeils, local CNR telegraph operators, at The Chilliwack Progress.” (The Progress was published by my grandparents at that time)

“By British law the family of a man missing or killed in action could not be notified by telephone. The information must be given in the form of an official message delivered by hand. As Don McNeil could not leave his transmitter the task of carrying such telegrams fell to his wife. She could drive if the bereaved family lived out in the country, but gas was so strictly rationed that in town she must go on foot.

One of my poignant wartime memories is the sight of Marjorie McNeil walking slowly, sadly, along the sidewalks of Chilliwack, postponing as long as possible the moment when she must deliver a heartbreaking telegram. When her tall slender figure was seen coming down the street it seemed that the Angel of Death was approaching. People stopped mowing the lawn or hanging out the washing; they ran to the windows and opened the front doors to see – which house? Oh, which house will it be? Oh, thank God, she has gone past ours!”
– Constance M. Newby


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