“What does Remembrance Day mean to me?”
This past summer, my sister and I spent the month of July traveling Western Europe. We sat Center Court at Wimbledon (a dream come true for two tennis freaks), we swam in the Mediterranean, we hiked the Alps, we drank countless espressos, we feasted on (too many) baguettes, croissants, pizza and pasta, we got lost for days in Venice (with a million other people), we wandered through the rolling vineyards of Tuscany. We carved many fantastic memories together. There was one day, though, that stands alone. It impacted us in a way that the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, or the Michelangelo could not.
After growing weary of line-ups and long days of walking in Paris, we decided to make a spontaneous trip to the small, coastal town of Dieppe, in Normandy. Our Grandma’s brother, Fred Tromburg, was a Sergeant in the South Saskatchewan Regiment. This group of Canadians suffered a great loss on August 19, 1942, during the Dieppe Raid. Uncle Fred was one of the men who died during that battle.
You can feel the traces of Canada’s impact as you wander through the town of Dieppe. The Canadian War Cemetery speaks to the gratitude of the French people: perfectly manicured, quiet, peaceful. Cows grazed in pastures just beyond the cemetery, fields of poppies lined the dirt road leading to the cemetery. Birds sung. My sister and I
walked slowly up and down the rows and rows of tombstones, and observed, as one visitor to the cemetery noted,“They still have each other’s backs”. We found Uncle Fred’s grave at the front of the cemetery, and we lingered. We honoured him as best we knew how, and we remembered for our dear Grandma, who has never had the chance to sit and weep at her brother’s grave. We thoughtabout how much it would hurt to lose one of our brothers. That moment of remembering has changed the way I remember today.
When we were there, we had a brief encounter with a Belgian couple. They spoke little English. After inquiring about our coming, and learning that we were Canadians, they looked at us with such intent and said “thank you” in a way that I won’t forget. I was humbled. I received their thanks on behalf of those that lay in the grave behind me, and for those, like my Grandma, who lost their big brothers. On our train ride back to Paris, we met Yvonne and Christiane, who we now refer to as our “French Grandmothers”. It was the most memorable train ride of our journey. These two sisters were quite the pair! We laughed with them most of the way back to their hometown. Through very broken French, we also (somehow) learned about the pain of living through the war. They told us about living underground with gas masks, with very little to eat. Seeing war
through the experiences of Yvonne and Christiane also changed the way I remember today.
I’m thinking of my crazy French grandmothers, the Canadian War Cemetery, Uncle Fred, and that Belgian couple this weekend…as I remember.