On November 11th, 1918, in the region of Picardy, France the armistice between Germany and the Allies was the first step to ending the First World War, even though the fighting continued elsewhere. The armistice was signed at 5:45 am but the agreement took effect at 11:00 am, thus officially ending the war on the Western Front.
Today marks 105 years since the signing of that armistice and the official end to WWI, and we continue to acknowledge the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month with the two-minute silence where we quietly reflect and honour those who gave their lives that many years ago; those who lost their lives and those who survived but carried the scars, for our freedom.
Over the years, Remembrance Day evolved into a day to honour all veterans who served in conflicts around the world, including World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, and the conflicts in the Middle East that our Canadian soldiers are still involved with. In this way we remember and pay respect to the countless number of men and women who sacrificed their lives for the sake of freedom and peace in our beloved Canada, as well as to liberate countries around the world.
Remembrance Day serves as a solemn reminder of the tremendous sacrifices made by veterans.
Brandon resident and veteran, Al Dunham, is a retired member of the Canadian Armed Forces. Master Warrant Officer (Retired) Dunham served for a total of 37 years with the Regular Forces and with the Army Reserves (26th Field Regiment and 38th Service Battalion).
Dunham followed the path of his father and grandfather who both served with the Canadian Military. "My grandfather was in WWII and my father served during the Cold War," he explains. "Myself, my brothers-in-law and my uncles, we all served. So, I've seen a lot of what is required of a soldier and an airman, and I think that everyone who goes into the Armed Forces is looking to do some good."
"Now, did they go into service, to go to war? I don't think so," he says. "All the folks who I've served with, all we wanted to do is do what we're told and help Canadians do what needs to be done."
"We're trained to do certain things and we go about our training as realistic as we can," explains Dunham, "but then you put the soldier into the real-life situation where he has to use that training, and sure the training kicks in, but so does your upbringing, and your morals come into play."
"It's more than just being a soldier and doing what you're told," adds Dunham. "That's a big part of it, but you have to bring everything else with it, and after the fact it can cause some pretty big hardships."
For the soldier who has had to pull the trigger or launch a missile or be part of an offensive attack or defensive response, those memories can haunt them for the rest of their lives. I've heard of navy men who in their 80's were still haunted by their part in blowing up enemy submarines right up until they took their last breath.
A great uncle of mine served in WWII and his unit was coming up over the top of a hill. He was overladen with the radio equipment and had a difficult time keeping up with his troops. Before he reached the top of the hill, he heard the gunfire. Everyone from his unit was killed at the bottom of the hill on the other side by enemy forces. He had the radio equipment and after laying low till he felt it was safe to do so, he radioed for help. Uncle John passed away only a few years ago. How many times did he replay that scene over and over when left alone with his thoughts?
"When all the training is done and the operations and military tours are done, and you're alone with your thoughts, those thoughts keep creeping in, that pretty tough. That's really, really tough," shares Dunham.
"Do you know who hates war the most?" asks Dunham. "The soldier, because he has to pay the highest price. There's no soldier, sailor or airman out there who wants to go to war and shoot at people, and the ones that have I can tell you from listening to them, they don't want to ever do it again. They want peace."
The red poppy that we wear building up to Remembrance Day acts as a reminder of the importance of peace and unity in a world that is in the throes of violence and hatred in so many countries. The recent wars of Israel and Hamas, and Ukraine and Russia, remind us of great violence, but also of great acts of heroism. And we need only open the pages of history to see the incredible acts of heroism reflected in our Canadian soldiers in the past, and in the present.
Master Warrant Officer (Retired) Al Dunham continues to serve his community as the Dominion Vice President of the Army, Navy, Air Force Veterans in Canada Unit #10 in Brandon (A.N.A.F Unit #10).
Please listen to more with MWO (Retired) Dunham in the audio clip below.
"If you could take time out of your day and go down to your local Legion, or A.N.A.F today, on November 11th and just sit with a veteran, or a serving member and just listen to them, and talk to them, and see how their day was," says Al Dunham, "or if they know of anybody who was in the military or is in the military and is sitting at home, pick up the phone and give them a call and say, 'Hey, how are you doing today?'
"It will make a huge, huge plus for the people that you talk to," he adds. "It will really go a long way."
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