Al Howse has been an active Royal Canadian Legion member for more than 40 years.
He comes from a family of veterans. His grandfather, Bill Staines, fought in the First World War, and came home deaf, says Howse.
His father, Percy Howse was hit by shrapnel after the liberation of Bergen op Zoom in the Netherlands, and came home with what was then called shell shock, now known as PTSD, says Howse. As an adult, he realized his father suffered from a nervous condition as a result of the war.
He has uncles, cousins and brothers for whom the military is part of their family history, and their desire to serve their country and their community.
“It always seemed natural to be involved, with so many of my family members, and generations, involved.”
Howse, an infantry captain and staff officer who spent some time in the Ipperwash Crisis land dispute, took over the job of Parade Marshal from his father in the 1990s, when Percy was slowing down and unable to continue. He’s been the poppy chair, the president of the legion, is still a volunteer with the Poppy Campaign, and at 62 has attended his share of Remembrance Day ceremonies.
“This is a time to reflect,” he says.
To those with no direct connection to the world wars, Remembrance Day “is an overview of the history of Canada at war, from Confederation to the present. Our country has stood up to oppressive regimes that would take away our rights and freedoms. We are safely across the oceans from where wars have been fought, and the devastation is not first hand.”
Those who have come to Canada from those places have a different sense of that history, says Howse. “They remember with thanks that Canadians came to their rescue.”
The point of remembrance “is the personal losses,” says Howse.
“Twice between 1914 and 1950 there was a call for a general enlistment of all the able-bodied men and women to enlist in the military, and fight with allies overseas,” he says.
“Families saw their sons and daughters put on uniforms and leave home to learn to shoot guns, sail warships, and fly armed airplanes somewhere else. Many died there, and were buried where they fell.”
They have no graves here for families to visit, only the Cenotaph where their names are carved, says Howse.
“There were so many lost, that the individual heroism of the dead was not properly recognized.”
There was no Highway of Heroes for those who were killed in the First and Second World Wars, says Howse, only a letter or cable note informing the family of their loss.”
There is another type of loss too, he adds. “Those who return do not come back as they left. All those who fight and kill to protect others are changed forever. The personal effects of fighting stay with a person long after the fighting ends.”
Those who have returned, lost friends and family too, he says. “Many come back with what we now call PTSD. Families are affected by changes in returning men and women. All of our military is affected by the conflicts we ask them to become a part of.”
Approaching Remembrance Day, Howse says, “we remember the ongoing troops being deployed. We have men and women in harm’s way today. There are many troops overseas, or training to go. We remember the ongoing threats, and Canada’s readiness to respond. There are local sons and daughters following in the same tradition of putting the country above themselves, and fight for the greater good.”
Imagine, he adds, your best friend is travelling overseas, and may not come back.
On Monday, Nov. 11, the Old Town Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph begins at 10:45 a.m., with a moment of silence at 11 a.m.
The service at the Queenston Cenotaph begins at 1 p.m.