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Remembering D-Day

Trail leading to the cliffs of Pointe-du-Hoc, France. BIGSTOCK PHOTO

Jennifer Gaudreault recalls her grandfather’s contribution, and urges that World War II not be forgotten

BY JOHN CHICK
Special to the VOICE

Do the math. Any veterans that saw action in the Second World War— if they are still alive— are now, at least, in their 90s. So, even with the increased life expectancy Canada has enjoyed over the decades since, there are fewer and fewer of them among us every day.

Most wars since that horrific conflict between 1939 and 1945 have been second-guessed by all manner of politicians, academics, and activists. Even if the root intention is noble, there is just about always a contrarian viewpoint— sometimes quite valid—against a given war.

This was not the case in World War II. In the last several centuries of global conflict, the stark choice was as black and white as a war will ever get, unless you are a watching a “Star Wars” movie. To boil it down to the most simplistic term, good triumphed over evil.

So as Canada and the allies it fought alongside in the Second World War— the United States, Great Britain, India, Australia and New Zealand among them — continue to lose members of what U.S. news anchor Tom Brokaw once called “the greatest generation,” people like Jennifer Gaudreault are fighting to make sure we don’t forget them.

“I’m finding that generations are losing that connection to the Second World War, and it’s now becoming more like video games,” said Gaudreault, a supply teacher who also works part-time at the Pelham Street Grille.

“War is real and men and women coming back forever changed, and I want to get that message across.”

Gaudreault’s late grandfather, Cpl. Douglas Morrison, served in England from 1940-44. As the free world observes the 75th anniversary of D-Day this Thursday, Gaudreault will be at the HMCS Haida in Hamilton as part of an event to honor the amphibious invasion of the Nazi-held beaches of northern France, a landing that swung momentum in the Allies’ favor.

While Morrison was not on the beaches for the assault on Normandy, Gaudreault will have on hand evidence of his contributions, specifically his medals and morse code key.

Morrison was a specialist with the 1st Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, based in England. In the lead-up to D-Day, it was his job to send morse code signals to the Allies, while at the same time deciphering enemy signals. Part of that, according to Gaudreault, included posing as a Nazi with morse code, running interference and directing German troops away from the beaches ahead of the Allied assault.

“Grandpa was trained to decipher whether or not whether it was a German [morse coding] or one of the Allies,” Gaudreault said. “He could decipher if they had an accent by the way they tapped on the key. I was blown away when he told me that.”

While his part in history was secure, Morrison’s experience in the European theatre did not end easily.

Around the time of D-Day, a German V-1 “buzz-bomb”—one of the earliest cruise missiles— exploded 150 yards from where Morrison was standing at his base in southern England. While he ultimately recovered from most of his injuries, the blast rendered him near-deaf for the rest of his life.

The cost of living

Most have seen the black-and-white film reels from the end of the war, and it appears like a joyous time: Troops returning home, impromptu partying in the streets, and confetti raining down on Times Square. What’s often forgotten is the toll many of those veterans paid for the rest of their lives.

While time and progress have enlightened society to the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder in the wake of subsequent conflicts, it simply wasn’t a thing people considered at the time for Morrison or his fellow heroes.

In fact, Gaudreault said her grandfather underwent shock therapy in the wake of the bombing incident. He returned to Canada later in 1944, settling in Hamilton with his war bride and young son, Gaudreault’s father.

“My grandpa came back a changed man, even though he lived a long and great life,” Gaudreault said of Morrison, who died in 2009 at the age of 88. “But he suffered because of it.”

It wasn’t until the 1990s—when he was in his 70s— that his family convinced him to seek out some counseling.

“He finally started to open up to someone about the war, and his nightmares, and his PTSD,” Gaudreault said.

She added that despite the baggage he carried, he was still a fairly happy person who loved his family.

“He was the best,” she said, tearing up. “He wasn’t a harsh man, he was a fun-loving grandpa. He was a modest guy. I would call him every Remembrance Day and say, ‘Thank you grandpa,’ and he’d say, ‘For what?’ He thought it was his duty to go. I just hold these men and women in such high esteem.”

As a supply teacher, Gaudreault now uses Remembrance Day each year to talk to her students about her grandfather’s story and those from the generation of soldiers that essentially saved the world from itself.

And because Pelham is still home to several veterans, she’s happy when she runs into some at her other job at the Grille. Talking to them over the years has helped her find out more about her grandfather’s unit and the Canadian war effort in general.

“A lot of veterans come in, so if I throw somebody a carrot, maybe they can help me uncover more information,” she said.

“I don’t want that history to be in vain.”

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