Today, Wednesday, November 11, 2020, I spoke with my students about why Remembrance Day is a special day to honour those who lived through war.
I recognized that my words had little meaning as they were just words. We watched videos about people who had been in war; but these images had little context and meaning to my students who were sitting in a classroom in 2020.
I grasped that, in order to put Remembrance Day into context, my students needed to hear real stories about real people.
Fortunately, there are many stories I can draw from, in my own family history. Here are a few …
George Wilbert Henry Ebert (1920 -1943), navigator in the British Canadian Airforce from Cache Bay, Ontario (now North Bay).
Will was my half uncle. He survived the death of his siblings and mother from Tuberculosis (TB). My grandfather, George Wesley Ebert, met my grandmother, Permilla Ann Coulthard (nurse) in the Muskoka Tuberculosis Sanitorium. George may have contracted TB from his work as a mining electrician or as it spread through the Cache Bay community. Will and George were the only family members remaining.
Will, a school teacher, was eager to explore the world and to learn how to fly. He became a pilot/navigator after only weeks of training and was sent to fight WWII. He was 22 years, 3 months, and 2 days old when his plane was shot down over Iceland. Will would never see his family again and would never have a family of his own. I never knew Will but I have read his letters to my grandmother and grandfather. He always sent his best wishes to my mother, who would have been around 5 years old at the time.
George Wesley Ebert (1897-1957), sniper in the British Canadian Army from Cache Bay, Ontario.
George was a sniper in WWI. My mother told me he loved the wilderness. George’s mother was aboriginal. He was a skilled hunter and fisherman. He was also a perfect person to take to the Canadian National Exhibition as he always won the very large prizes in the shooting galleries. While fighting in the trenches, he was gassed several times which caused significant damage to his lungs. His health never was the same after war and upon contracting TB, it only worsened. George was a troubled person who relied on alcohol to sooth his trauma. This would lead to his end in an early death.
Lewis Henry Weston (1910-2008), British Navy, Lieutenant Commander born in Plymouth, Devon, England, last stationed in Northern Ireland. Lewis pictured below aged 12, 45, and 96.
Lewis joined the navy at the age of 12. This was not unusual as most children from working class families did not go to school past grade 6, instead working as an apprentice or in service. My grandfather had many tales to tell about his 30+ years in the navy. Lewis was a navy engineer meaning he built bridges and roads with his hands. He was also a navel diver, wearing very large metal helmets and heavy metal shoes while men pumped air into his helmet to keep him alive. Lewis stayed alive by his commitment to duty, as well as his wits and his faith in God. At the age of 45 years old, he retired from the British Navy and collected an indexed pension until the age of 98.
While Lewis was away at war, my grandmother, Iris Doreen Turpin Lawrence Weston, was in London, England during the German bombing raids. At the time, my uncle was at boarding school in the countryside. Iris and my father, David John Weston, sought safety every night in the London Underground (i.e. subway). My father shared stories of the terror he and my grandmother experienced as bombs fell every night, destroying the City of London. Even though my father never went to war, I believe that David never got over the terror he experienced. Iris never talked about the war.
In sharing these stories with my students, their understanding of the impact and loss due to war was grounded in real stories about real people, my people.
I encourage teachers to share their own family’s stories. War needs context as this will bring a deeper meaning to the courage displayed and loss experienced. This will help our students understand and remember the terrible cost and loss of war.