Remembrance Day 2016 observed by sailors at the Naval Museum of Québec

LINK - April 2017 / May 31, 2017

By Samuel Venière, Naval Museum of Quebec

On 10 November 2016, the day before Remembrance Day, the Naval Museum of Québec welcomed several members of the Royal Canadian Navy and many from the Naval Reserve Headquarters for one of many commemorations dedicated to veterans. The Director of the Naval Museum, André Kirouac, and its historian, Samuel Venière, were present to comment on Heirs of Wars, an exhibition dedicated to the memory of Second World War veterans.

Even if very few of those who fought for the free world in that bloody conflict are still alive to talk about it, we have to ask ourselves, once those last veterans are gone, what remains of their stories, their experiences of war, the objects they used, and their day-to-day lives. It is their descendants (children or other relatives) that carry this tangible and intangible heritage which is the true legacy of those who served.

For example, that day was an opportunity to feature a sailor named Émile Beaudoin. Shortly after enlisting in the Navy, he was torpedoed twice. The second time, in 1944, while he was on board HMCS Athabaskan, he was rescued by members of the German crew that had sunk the ship. Beaudoin spent the rest of the war in a Nazi concentration camp, but he did not hate his jailers. Instead, he used his time in captivity to teach French to other prisoners and learn about German culture. When he returned to Canada, he created the Cercle Goethe, a discussion group focused on cultural exchanges between Canada and Germany. He was one of the people who, after years of turmoil, worked to bring people together and restore peace after the war.

Even today, little is known about the role of women in the war. The story of Germaine Perry, a woman from the Gaspé region who left home to join the Navy as a WRENS (the nickname for the members of the Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service), sparked lively discussion. She became a nurse, then a radiologist, travelling from base to base, from one military hospital to another, caring for sailors in need. But at that time, radiologists taking X-rays of other people were constantly bombarded with radiation themselves, because somebody had to hold the broken arm or shattered leg in place under the projector. When Germaine Perry died, she was very sick and almost blind. She really had given her life to help others.

The heirs of those veterans offered the stories of day-to-day lives, stories which were carefully recorded by the team of the Naval Museum of Quebec. Their stories reveal the people behind the uniform, their wartime memories, their souvenirs, the effects of war on their daily life after the war, their family stories, their habits, their personalities, etc.

All of us, in some way, owe a debt to these veterans, who fought so that we could enjoy the world we live in today. By learning about them, especially on this day, we also become bearers of our common heritage and history. We too become Heirs of Wars.

On Remembrance Day, we still need to know what we are remembering, and so many stories and sacrifices have yet to be told. By taking the time to listen to those featured in Heirs of Wars, current members of our Navy upheld one of its oldest traditions: honouring the fallen heroes.