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Vets lament lost D-Day sense of purpose

OTTAWA - Some Canadian veterans of D-Day and the Normandy campaign say they have mixed feelings about the world that emerged from the bloodshed of the Second World War.

"I'm proud of what I did, and what the Western world did. It was something that needed to be done," says Larry Wulff, 92, a former Royal Canadian Air Force leading aircraftsman and radar operator, who went overseas in the early 1940s and served until the end of the war in Europe.

But Wulff says he misses the strong sense of purpose that the war gave his generation, whether social, economic or political.

"Purpose now seems to be to get a faster car, or other material things," he said in an interview.

Wulff says the politics of division that has emerged in the last two decades in Canada, the U.S. and other parts of the world especially grates.

"The political morass we seem to be in all of time and the infighting and the negative advertising between all of the parties" are dispiriting, he said, also citing modern episodes of ethnic cleansing he had hoped would be stopped by the Allied victory.

A number of veterans interviewed by The Canadian Press about their Second World War experiences expressed similar misgivings, which historian Desmond Morton says is understandable.

For a time following the war, the veterans got the world they had been fighting for, at least in the economic sense. There was widespread poverty prior to the postwar boom and by the end of the 1950s, the higher standard of living meant only 15 per cent of the population in Canada could be classified as poor.

But Morton, an emeritus professor at Montreal's McGill University, says the old soldiers rightly feel that the gains they made won't be enjoyed much longer by their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

"They feel it's slipping away and it may be because most people today don't understand what they should be fighting for," he said.

"The ability to live; to eat; to put a roof over your family's head, which are pretty important, basic, basic needs. And we weren't meeting those needs in 1939. I think the world is better than it was in 1939 in all sorts of ways. It's also got some pretty horrible features."

Cyril Roach, 89, a former Royal Navy engineer who served on a tank-landing ship all over the world, including D-Day, says he had hoped for a more stable world.

He says the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union, brought with it great hope that the world his comrades fought for was finally at hand.

But he says there is more even more instability today.

"We've got issues in Israel, Iraq, Iran — you name it," said Roach.

"We fought for freedom in this world. We're still free, but look at our previous ally (Russia) stirring up trouble that need never be."

The Russian annexation of Crimea has taken the world back to a time when international borders were redrawn by force, he says.

Both Roach and Wulff participated in the Historica Canada Memory Project, where thousands of veterans have shared their stories. For more information: http://www.thememoryproject.com/

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