Saturday, November 11, 2006

In memoriam et gratiam.

Today, we remember. But they remember every day.

My maternal grandfather, my Bubba, John Killop was about seventeen years old when he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy. After completing his basic training, he was stationed as an ASDIC (Anti-Submarine Detection Investigation Committee) man on the HMCS Montreal (the original one, which was a river class frigate, not the new HMCS Montreal, which is a Halifax-class frigate whose commissioning ceremony my grandfather attended.)

My grandfather has always been a very bright man. Even now, after all the strokes, his quick wit and keen intelligence are frequently the sparkle in any conversation among our extended family. It's no wonder they made him an ASDIC man.

As such, it was my grandfather's responsibility to pinpoint where the ship was to drop depth-charges. My grandfather, barely out of his teens, was directly responsible for ensuring the safety of all of his colleagues on board--talk about pressure!--by sinking German U-Boats.

John Killop survived the war. He returned to Canada, married my grandmother, fathered five children (including my mother, Judith), and became the grandfather to thirteen.

But while he left the navy behind--evolving from ASDIC man to husband and father to grandfather--my grandfather carried, and still carries, the memories with him.

I've often sat with my grandfather, prodding him to memory and listening to his stories. And while he shares willingly, I can't help thinking that there are some stories he holds back, not wishing to articulate, to reanimate the occasion past.

Perhaps it's that those occasions are too painful? My grandfather has alluded to having to pull the corpses of U-Boat crewmembers from the water. But this memory received none of the detail or colour characteristic of my grandfather's storytelling (Bubba's been known to affect brogue when telling stories about his Irish immigrant parents and siblings, etc.,) I can thus only speculate as to what kind of affect this had on him. But frankly, my imagination fails me. I cannot fathom what it would be like to be barely out of high school and not only to know that you are being made responsible for the life and death of human beings, but to come face-to-face with the cold, water-logged consequences of that responsibility one evening on the cold Atlantic.

Nor can I fathom what it must be like to live with the memory of those consequences each and every day.

"The Dead"
By Rupert Brooke

Blow out, you bugles, over the rich Dead!
There's none of these so lonely and poor of old,
But, dying, has made us rarer gifts than gold
These laid the world away; poured out the red
Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be
Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene,
That men call age; and those who would have been,
Their sons, they gave, their immortality.

Blow, bugles, blow! They brought us, for our dearth,
Holiness, lacked so long, and Love, and Pain.
Honour has come back, as a king, to earth,
And paid his subjects with a royal wage;
And Nobleness walks in our ways again;
And we have come into our heritage.

I have made my pacifism no secret. But in no way does my belief in non-violence diminish my appreciation for the sacrifices made by servicemen and women. If you're Canadian and you haven't signed this petition, please do so now in memory and in gratitude.

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