September 20, 2021. Over the past years, Pieter has researched the stories behind the names on the Cenotaph outside the Borden-Carleton Legion. As well, he’s researched the stories of other Island soldiers and veterans, and soldiers from across Canada buried in The Netherlands and Belgium.
“…It’s important to tell each individual story…” Pieter always says. “…The sacrifices made and the service in the cause of freedom should not be dismissed or forgotten, particularly if a soldier was not able to return home, but lies buried overseas….”
On a recent trip to Ottawa, he met with historian Dr Tim Cook, Director of Research at the Canadian War Museum, and found that Dr Cook shares a similar point of view on the importance of remembrance. “…In Canada, we have not done a good job in telling the stories of our veterans…” he said.
Dr Cook went on to explain that “….every community in Canada has a memorial for WW1 soldiers, but generally, memorials for those who served in WW2 were not done. We didn’t create films and books at the time. We weren’t good at telling the stories….”
…. Canadian veterans at the 50th anniversary events in The Netherlands were treated like heroes…
I thought back to the films, novels, and memoirs that came out of WW2 and Dr Cook is correct. Much of what many of us know about WW2 comes from American and British films and books. Dr Cook agreed. “…It wasn’t until 1995, on the 50th anniversary of WW2, that people woke up after they saw the huge reception our Canadian veterans got in The Netherlands….”
Pieter can’t understand why people in Canada didn’t realize how special the veterans were. “…In The Netherlands, where I was born, they were our liberators, our heroes. Definitely they have never been forgotten….”
….Many WW2 veterans were reluctant to tell their stories when they returned….
Dr Cook thought that reluctance on the part of veterans to tell their stories, particularly in the aftermath of war, contributed to the silence. Returning veterans simply got on with their lives and rarely spoke about what they experienced. Pieter has found this to be the case for several of the soldiers he has researched. “…Many times, very little about the actual service of a soldier is known by the family….”
“…There has been a change in sentiment over the past 75 years, helped by the research and participation of ‘champions of history’ like you and ever-increasing interest by the general public…” Dr Cook noted. His most recent book ‘The Fight For History: 75 Years of Forgetting, Remembering, and Remaking Canada’s Second World War’ reflects on the way that WW2 has been remembered, forgotten, and remade by Canada over the past 75 years.
Dr Cook told us that his “… newest project is in overseeing an oral history program to interview, record, and archive the stories of veterans, starting with the remaining Second World War veterans and reaching to the present with veterans of the Afghanistan War….”
A dedicated and tireless researcher, he is also working on an edited book related to Canada’s involvement in the Korean War. This war between North and South Korea was fought from June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953, and has yet to be resolved.
We’re especially looking forward to Dr Cook’s upcoming book on war and medicine in the First World War, which will be published in September 2022.
We very much enjoyed meeting Dr Tim Cook and thank him for taking the time to share his insights on not forgetting our Canadian military history.
There are many more stories still to be told! Pieter encourages blog readers to contact him if they have a story to share about Canadians who served. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, comment on the blog, or send a tweet to @researchmemori1.
…More about Dr Tim Cook….
To watch a short video from TV Ontario about WW1 and reflections 100 years later, see Tim Cook: Canada’s Great War | TVO.org: https://www.tvo.org/video/tim-cook-canadas-great-war
For a brief summary of the many books and articles published by Tim Cook, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Cook_(historian)
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© Daria Valkenburg