Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Soldier Remembers

When I was younger, I suppose like many of my generation, I had a difficult time relating to those men that I’d see stiffly marching by on their way to the local cenotaph on so many cold Remembrance Day mornings.

I’m not sure when that all changed .. when it got personal.

It could have been one day as I was watching my sons playing basketball at the local field, perhaps that day as I sat on my son’s deck and watched my grandchildren play, grateful for the wonderful life that had made this all possible and confident of the future that lay ahead.

At some point I realized that had it not been for the courage of those old men that I had watched on so many of those cold mornings, my life would have been so much different. If those men had not taken up a rifle as Canadian soldiers, in a struggle that was for nothing less than the survival of civilization, then the horrors of war would have fallen to me and perhaps my sons.

So, I have many people that I have to be thankful for. Some of those men are Bill Humphrey of Brampton and his brothers.

Bill was raised in Toronto’s inner city during the depth of the depression, the hard times, the times of food stamps, of scrimping to have just enough for an especially meaty soup bone.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Bill just barely into his teenage years watched as his brothers Robert and John enlisted in the Canadian Army, much as their Dad had done in the First World War.

All this was too much for Bill, and his mother, already heart sick with worry over the safety of Bill’s older brothers, relents to his pressure and signs papers that attest - incorrectly - that young Bill Humphrey is of military age. In fact he was only 15 and a half.

Before long Bill is wearing the uniform of the Royal Canadian Infantry Corp - the RCIC. His sweetheart Bernice, later to become his wife of 63 years, has a war time job in a cigar manufacturing plant and manages to keep Private Humphrey in smokes, much to the envy of his army buddies.

Bill received the full training of a Canadian combat soldier. From the grueling forced marches, to rifleman and bayonet skills. With his fellow soldiers, he was even dropped into the forests of the Parry Sound district to fight the inferno of the August 1945 bush fire.

Bill, along with his company was set to be shipped overseas, when news was received that some of the troopers were underaged. Bill along with several others were left at the barracks while their comrades leave.

Bill remained in the service but his war would be fought in Canada.

Bill has his Father’s and brother John’s medals - along with his own - in a wooden display case in his basement recreation room. He says that he’s very proud of his family, but he needn’t have said that, the hint of water in his eye’s and the slight cracking of his voice, as he talks about those war years, says volumes.

So today, like every other November 11th, Bill has freshly polished the family military medals and taking the case upstairs, places them near the family television. As images and sounds of the Remembrance Day memorial from Ottawa fills the room, Bill Humphrey remembers.