When I wake up each morning here in Canada, the thought never crosses my mind that I might be killed by enemy gunfire or taken as a prisoner of war that day. Or I might be tortured or killed because my views are different from that of my countries leader. I enjoy something very special, and that is the word “freedom”. From the Oxford dictionary the word freedom means, “The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” Throughout history, various dictators have undermined these freedoms by pushing their own agendas and ideologies. The 1930’s saw massive atrocities with the rape of China by Japan, Mussolini’s Fascist Italy had invaded Ethiopia and Hitler’s Nazi Germany regime was seizing one neighbouring territory after another.
Here in Canada, life would continue on as normal as much as it could be. The dictators were thousands of kilometers away, and we had that 5,000 kilometer Great Atlantic moat between us and them. Plus Canada had a friendly and powerful neighbour to the south called the United States. It would have been so easy to have a hypnotic complacency. After all, the dictators were thousands of kilometers away. That complacency can so easily creep into our own lives. In my own lifetime there has been horrific atrocities from the hands of other dictators in various parts of the world. There was Idi Amin, widely known as “the butcher of Uganda”. There was Muammar Gaddafi, an authoritarian dictator for more than 40 years in Libya. And most recently there is Bashar Hafez Al-Assad who is continuing the legacy of his father’s brutal rule of Syria. These are only 3 of a long list of dictators in my own lifetime. Their regimes were (and are) thousands of kilometers away. And we become numb that fellow humans around the world are greatly suffering while we are enjoying freedom. A 2020 update from the NGO website Planet Rulers mentions that there are 50 dictators currently ruling countries in the world today. They define a dictator as the ruler of a land rated “Not Free”. According to their research 36% of the world’s population lives in an oppressive country that is not free (based on the definition of freedom). In my own free world, sometimes it does not sink in how privileged I am to live where I live.
Great Britain on the other hand was far closer to that Hitler Nazi Germany threat in the 1930’s than Canada was. Instead of a 5,000 kilometer Atlantic moat, the English Channel at it’s narrowest is only 34 kilometers from France on mainland Europe. Two days after Germany invaded Poland, both Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. The date was September 3, 1939. After Parliament here debated the matter, Canada became allies with Great Britain by declaring war on Germany a week later. The date was September 10, 1939. Encyclopedia Britannica mentions by the end of World War 2, more than one million Canadians (about 50,000 of who were women) fought for our country. What blows me away, is that from that vast number, only 60,000 men and women were conscripted. Only 12, 908 of those conscripted soldiers were sent to fight abroad. Such a small number compared to hundreds of thousands of Canadians who volunteered. Out of the 1 million plus who fought for Canada in World War 2, some 45,000 were killed or died in service, and 54,400 were wounded.
These men and women paid the ultimate price for our freedom. So when I opened an e-mail from VR Pro about a virtual race called “The Remembrance 21k“, with proceeds to the Juno Beach Centre, I told my wife I really wanted to take part in this. Directly taken off the Juno Beach Centre website, it mentions the “Juno Beach Centre is Canada’s Second World War museum and cultural centre located in Normandy, France. The Centre pays homage to the 45,000 Canadians who lost their lives during the War, of which 5,500 were killed during the Battle of Normandy and 359 on D-Day. Opened in 2003 by veterans and volunteers with a vision to create a permanent memorial to all Canadians who served during the Second World War, the Centre’s mandate is to preserve this legacy for future generations through education and remembrance”.
I decided to do my run locally, and part of the “fun” of the event was a voluntary scavenger hunt from a list drawn up by the organizers. I was able to complete several things on the list such as run to your local cenotaph, run past a legion, wear a poppy, run past a Canadian flag on the route, and observe a moment of silence after I completed my run. I will never be able to complete the complete list as I don’t have media on my phone. One of the items on the list was to run using the RaceJoy app.
I’ve been dealing with Achilles issues on the right foot, so I ran a very slow pace. It gave me lots of time to reflect and be thankful for the freedom I have here in Canada. I stopped many times along the way for photos. My route started at the Elmvale, Ontario library (where there was a cenotaph). Then I ran past the local legion, through some side streets, until I got on the North Simcoe Rail Trail. A few kilometers north of Elmvale the trail changed names to the Tiny Rail Trail. At the village of Wyevale I turned around and ran back.
Interesting enough, I did not run this section of trail at all during my 4 month long Great Virtual Run Across Tennessee (which ended up totaling 3,214.4 kilometers). No it wasn’t because of the rooster. It is because there is a section of the North Simcoe Trail that goes on a very busy road, which has narrow shoulders in places. I have always felt uncomfortable and vulnerable on that section of road with cars coming at me and going just an arms length past me at 80kph, 90kph, 100kph. Or more. But I figured if a fellow Canadian World War 2 soldier, gray from seasickness from bucking boats in a stormy English channel can bravely disembark down a ramp into the waist deep water of the heavily mined Juno Beach, I can do it. The Canadian soldier exited that ramp while the German defenses were anchored in with their machine guns, mortars, and artillery. Often positioned in concrete bunkers, overlooking the likely Allied landing areas, the enemy would be firing at these Canadian soldiers as they desperately tried to get their bearings on a place they have never been to before. Surely I can run along this scary stretch of road to honour and remember them.
I made it through that road section unscathed, but sadly not every Canadian was as fortunate at Juno Beach. The Juno Beach Centre website mentions “There were 21,000 troops (this is how my run called The Remembrance 21k was named) who landed on the beach on D-Day, of which approximately 14,000 were Canadians from 3rd Canadian Infantry Division and 2nd Canadian Armoured Brigade. The final third of the troops who landed on Juno Beach were British. On Juno Beach and the inland advance of it 340 Canadians were killed, 574 wounded, and 47 captured for a total of 961. There were also 243 British Army casualties in the Juno sector.
Another item on my scavenger hunt was a finish line photo. Since this is a virtual race with no official race photographers, I set up my camera on timer on a picnic table that was right near my 21.1k finish. Backtracked a few dozen metres, and took a photo of me coming in to my virtual finish. Then I walked back to my car. On the way home I stopped at a little village called Waverly.
There is a very beautiful war memorial/cenotaph located there in Waverly. It is only a 9 minute drive from my home, and in my 45 years of driving I have honestly never stopped there. Highway 93 is a busy road, and like most people, I just keep driving. I have likely driven past this war memorial hundreds of times over my 45 years of driving. Which I feel very ashamed of. Waverly is at the crossroads of 4 different townships, Flos, Medonte, Tiny and Tay. The main monument lists the names of the lives lost during World War 1 (each side represents a township). There are 4 separate corner monuments. Each corner monument for a separate township of the lives lost in World War 2.
Amidst the constant background traffic noise of busy Highway 93, I lingered and audibly spoke each name engraved on this hard, solid rock. It was extremely moving. These were real people who lived up and down these country sideroads, concession roads and small villages in these 4 townships. They were the ages my sons and daughters are now when they left this peaceful countryside (many were also much younger) to fight for my freedom. And they didn’t make it home. We will remember them. Lest we forget!
There was 1 last question on the scavenger hunt. And that was to send a photo of who I was running to remember. His name was Delmar Kelly. He was a Canadian pilot who flew with the RAF over North Africa, Burma and India. The most incredible thing was that Delmar was shot down 3 different times during World War 2. And survived. I never met Delmar, but as a Pastor have had many wonderful Pastoral visits with his dear wife Isabel, (who has now sadly also passed on). In this article written in 2016 titled Missing in Action I wrote more about Delmar and his dear bride Isabel.
With declining membership in the Royal Canadian Legion across the country, they are struggling for funds needed to provide vital support for our veterans. Off the Legion website, it introduces a video titled Two Minutes of Silence with these words, “The most sacrosanct and central element in Remembrance is the Two Minutes of Silence. During this time of reflection, Canadians pause to honour, thank and remember our Fallen.”