By Rob Ficiur
The days leading up to Remembrance Day had many documentaries honoring the
veterans who risked and gave their all for our safety. Who were the Unsung
Heroes and victims of the war?
On Remembrance Day afternoon, an episode from “Wind at My Back” brought to
life the real heroes and costs of war. Wind at My Back is a fictional
Canadian TV drama set in the Great Depression. The episode that I watched
on November 11 was entitled Remembrance Day. It was set in 1935, seventeen
years after the end of the Great War (which we call World War 1) and four
years before the start of World War 2. Though the show is fictional, the
characters in this episode gave me insights and appreciation of the
sacrifice Canadians made to keep our country safe.
Henry is a fourteen year old boy who has been assigned to read a poem at the
town’s Remembrance Day service. During the episode, Henry displayed a
youthful enthusiasm for war. When he talked to Alden Cramp, a World War 1
veteran, he asked, “Did you kick some German butt when you were in the war?”
Mr. Cramp offered to kick Henry’s butt if he did not go one with what he was
suppose to do.
Alden Cramp is a minor character in the show’s five year run. Everyone in
town knows that Alden fought in World War 1. However, for unknown reasons
he always refuses to participate in the town’s commemorative ceremony. When
his wife pushes him as to why he won’t participate, he snaps at her. For
more than a week leading up to the service, he barely spoke a word to
Mrs. Whitney was asked to be Silver Cross mother, as the town unveiled its
new cenotaph. Mrs. Whitney, who lost three sons in the Great War,
Karl visits his home town for the first time in twenty years. While the
rest of his classmates were marching off to be in the Great War, Karl
refused to go saying that he was a Conscientious Objector. Pressure was so
intense that Karl had to move away.
As the time for the ceremony approaches, Mrs. Whitney finds Alden alone in
his basement, drinking and remembering. She again asks him to participate
in the ceremony. Alden finally opened up to someone. Though he had
received several medals, Alden said he was no hero. As a commanding
officer, Alden still agonized because 29 men under his command were killed
in battle. Alden risked his life to save three of his company. Alden ran
out into no man’s land (open space between two fighting armies) and dragging
the three back to safety; hence the medals. One of his men died an hour
later. The second had to have both legs amputated. He was furious that
Alden had saved him. What kind of life was he going to have? Alden had
lost 29 of his boys in the Great War.
Now that Mrs. Whitney understood Alden, she shared her story. She was there
to see her boys off with the train. Everyone knew (thought they knew) that
the war would be over by Christmas. As time dragged on and one by one her
sons were lost. She prayed, pleaded let one come back. Now nearly twenty
years later she wished her sons had not gone to war. She did not feel like
a war hero.
As the Bailey family prepared to go to the ceremony, Mae Bailey looked at
the bugle and scarf one of her son’s used during World War 1. Though Mae
appreciates the sacrifice that Mrs. Whitney made losing three sons, no one
understood that the sons that came home alive from the war were not the
same. Now we are beginning to understand post traumatic stress syndrome.
At this time, all this mother knew was that the war had taken away something
from her sons.
Each of these fictional characters are heroes and victims of the Great War.
These fictional characters represents a generation of families that were
torn apart by what people called the War to End All Wars.
The episode ends with Mae’s grand kids playing a game in the family room.
Mae is half listening to the radio news of the day. There had been a
protest in Toronto because the Hitler Government had representatives in
Canada promoting the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In Italy one million troops
parading before dictator Biento Mussolini. The audience knows that another
generation was only a few years a way from being torn apart an even more
As we honor those who gave their lives for the freedoms we have; there are
more people who sacrificed than we sometimes realize.