‘Grandfather had better not speak Norwegian’

From our February 2013 issue

By Mary Lou Alton NordstromNanaimo, B.C.

My sister remembers what it was like on the home-front supporting our troops, and watching our neighbours board the train along with a car full of uniformed men and women going off to war.

The cenotaph sparks memories of what we were all doing during those years when we marched from school to the cenotaph. It was a very serious time with many mothers weeping and trying to maintain a stiff upper lip.

My sister’s memories are of beginning school in 1939 and radio war broadcasts; the fear in our parents’ eyes; shortages; ration books; and black framed letters and telegrams about missing and dead loved ones.

Our grandmother signed for our cousin, Joey Alton, to go to war as he was underage. When the telegram came that he was killed in Alsace-Lorraine she grieved with guilt of his youth. She lived to almost 100 years.

I’d really like to hear from our older Canadians still alive, who remember what life was like during 1939 to 1944 and then into the Korean war. We lived in Alberta, but relatives on the coast remember the Japanese going into internment camps in the interior and losing their boats,, businesses and freedom.

English was the language and our grandfather had better not speak Norwegian as it was suspect. He might be able to understand German and that was an enemy language. People speaking anything but English were stopped on the street and told to speak English.

There were victory bonds and lots of propaganda. Leaflets dropped from planes over our towns and farms. Unless you lived through those times it is impossible to envision what they were really like.

Many of the soldiers we knew kept to themselves and visited all their relatives and shook their hand as if they would never see them again. Often, that is what happened. The strain on young marriages often ended in divorce.

Teachers like my older cousin joined the Women’s Army Corp and nurses after graduation signed up for war duty.

These people are in their 80s and 90s and many still remember the sacrifices and sadness of living during the war. “Lest We Forget,” because when all is forgotten, history will only repeat itself.