Bill Blaikie joins us with a monthly column starting with this issue.
The season of Remembrance has given way to the anticipation of Christmas, and all the joys of the season. But it is precisely these joys that so many sacrificed forever when they didn’t return from wars.
My first visit to a Canadian War Cemetery was by chance, coming across the one in Bergen on Zoom in the Netherlands when cycling through that country in 1971. My friend and I were struck by the fact that so many of the Canadians buried there were around our age at the time, 19 going on 20. It made such an impact on us that we felt we shouldn’t leave until we had walked all the rows and paid our respects to all.
The second time was in 1982 when I visited the Canadian cemetery in Adagem, Belgium. I was in Belgium with other MPs visiting Strategic Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, or SHAPE as the acronym went. This time It struck me that I was already older than most buried there.
The third time was in 1992. I was part of the Canadian delegation to the 75th Anniversary of The Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917, and the 50th Anniversary of the Dieppe Raid in 1942. In the area around Vimy Ridge, we visited numerous cemeteries. My Grandfather Blaikie fought at Vimy Ridge with the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles. He was a piper, and over forty years later he gave me the practice chanter he had with him in the trenches. The rest is history as they say.
At the Dieppe cemetery I had the honour of playing the lament on the pipes. It was a special occasion for me in more than one sense. I had spent several years at Minto Armouries playing with the pipes and drums of the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Winnipeg, a regiment that suffered many killed and captured at Dieppe. I personally knew some of the survivors. The Pipe Major of the band when I first played in it, Alex Graham, had been captured at Dieppe, after playing his pipes on the bow of a landing craft as they went ashore.
The last time was 2004, at the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery near Juno Beach where the Canadians landed on D-Day. It was the 60th Anniversary of D-Day. I was there with Prime Minister Paul Martin. It was a quick trip as there was a federal election going on. A highlight for me was meeting former Manitoba Premier Duff Roblin, a veteran who had been asked by then Premier Gary Doer to represent Manitoba at the ceremonies. I was also pleased to be able to find the grave of Roger Firman, young Royal Winnipeg Rifle from Transcona, who had been executed by the Nazis after being captured.
Ten years or so passed between my visits to Canadian War Cemeteries. Each time I was more aware than the last of what had been sacrificed and lost, not just years, but all that goes into the years. All that potential for love, life, family, education, work, citizenship, service, joy, and the ups and downs of life as we go through the decades, decades that were denied to so many. Decades of Christmases.
Bill Blaikie was a Member of Parliament from 1979 to 2008, representing Elmwood-Transcona.