Over the past couple of weeks, young people have been placing Canadian flags near the graves of veterans at the Field of Honour cemetery in Pointe-Claire. I am sorry more people do not visit the veterans who live at Ste. Anne’s Hospital in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. There are still many who are alone and would enjoy meeting these young people.
I have been a regular visitor at Ste. Anne’s for the last five years. I would like to tell you about a few of them.
Ernie A was a Black Watch veteran. In 1942 he took part in the raid on Dieppe. He spent more than three years in a German concentration camp. He kept a diary of those years, and I still remember the last entry. It was dated April 28, 1945. It read, “The British troops have arrived. We are free at last.” Ernie suffered a stroke in 1995 and for the last five years of his life, he needed full care. On April 28, 2000, Ernie was free again.
Willie P was a merchant seaman. He joined the Merchant Navy when he was 18, making regular trips from Halifax to India. In February 1945, his ship, the SS Point Pleasant Park, was torpedoed in the South Atlantic. Many were lost, but the others were at sea in lifeboats for 14 days before being picked up by a South African trawler. Willie suffered a stroke in 1976 and although his left arm was paralyzed, he spent his time at Senneville Lodge and Ste. Anne’s making model ships and planes. In 1985 there was a reunion at Ste. Anne’s for the survivors of the SS Point Pleasant Park, and the commander of the German U-boat that sank the ship attended.
George M was in the Canadian Service Corps. He joined the Army in 1942 and landed in France in 1944. He told many stories about bringing supplies to the front lines and coming under enemy fire. Like most of the other veterans, he didn’t think that he did anything special.
Roger M was a Navy man. He was aboard the HMCS Athabaskan, a Canadian destroyer, when it was sunk by a mine off the coast of Spain. Many of his mates died, but he was rescued by a German ship and spent the next 19 months in a prisoner of war camp. He had a pair of blue wool mittens that were always with him. He told me when they were prisoners, they received Red Cross packages and one of them contained wool that he used to knit the mittens.
These are just a few of the veterans I met. I am sorry to say they have all passed on, but I still visit the hospital every week.
Herman A is from Poland. He was in the Polish Army and later joined the British Army. He proudly displays a letter from Queen Elizabeth II congratulating him on his 100th birthday. After the war, he owned a delicatessen in the Côte-des-Neiges area. He also taught ballroom dancing, and often speaks of his late wife Anna, who was his dance partner.
Robert O was brought up in eastern Ontario and enlisted in the RCAF. He was an aircraft pilot and taught many young men how to fly. His memory is not as sharp as it used to be, but he kept a wonderful diary of all his experiences.
William L is a gentleman from Scotland who saw service with the Black Watch. Occasionally we have a little singalong and William knows all the words of My Heart Belongs in Glasgae.
I wish that other people could find a few hours to spend with these people, who gave years of their lives for us. It is nice to remember those who have passed on, but so much more important to spend time with the living.
John Paquette lives in Île-Bizard.