Published: November 11, 2018 8:57 am ET
In this week’s edition of ‘Rewind,’ Robert Smith talks a bit about Remembrance Day and recalls the role that Canadian harness racing played in the war effort especially during WW II back in the 1940s. He has managed to retrieve a very special old issue from the Canadian Sportsman to help tell the story.
Today is a most important day on the annual calendar; it is Remembrance Day, November 11th. It is not a time for gift giving nor family get-togethers, but rather a time to pause and reflect on some sombre times in our Country’s history. In the first half of the 20th Century our country went to war on two occasions to protect and preserve our rights and freedoms. Many lives were tragically lost in both conflicts as our young people fought bravely for the benefit of everyone. Scarcely a family was not affected in some way.
I can recall hearing the story of my uncle who later became a medical doctor heading off to war around 1914. Scarcely removed from the wheat fields of rural Ontario he was soon involved in the Battle of Gallipoli, one of the fiercest encounters of the First World War. My father, who was too young for WWI, told a story with a much happier ending. As WWI raged on many young boys were organized to train for future recruitment if the war lasted for many years. A local Army Rep. was dispatched to train these young lads but only if they owned a riding horse. My father later learned that there was supposed to be some small remuneration owing the boys but apparently the training officer kept it all for himself! When WWI ended my father was still just 13 so he was never called.
Photo courtesy of New Brunswick Museum St. John
Each year on November 11th most communities across the land pause for a time to remember those who fought and died and also the many people who survived. I believe our last survivor from WWI passed away in 2010 at the age of 109. The list of those who were involved in the second world war and still remain is now very small. If someone is still living it is quite likely they have already reached their mid 90’s. The pictures of these brave souls often are included in their obituaries, indeed a fitting tribute.
When I became old enough to work, many of the adult men I met and got to know had been in the military and a number of them went overseas. One gentleman spent several years in a German P.O.W. camp and often told of the life he endured which surprisingly was not as harsh as one might expect. To a person they all spoke of their service in such a respectful and matter of fact way. It seemed that none of them resented having to put their lives on hold for the good of their country. While trivializing or joking about serious matters is never an acceptable policy I do recall one so called “war story” that I found extremely funny.
A man from our Town spoke of his WWI military service or perhaps his “near military service.” He was called to report for basic training I believe in London, Ont., a summons he dutifully answered. A short few days later he was back home again walking down the street but with a viable explanation. He said that the Army doctors had examined him and found that he had one leg shorter than the other and it was feared that when he was required to march into battle that he would march around in circles! Yes that was Seeley’s story and it had to be true.
Blanche Bennett, right, and a friend in 1943. The two women served as telephone operators along with 14 other women in Halifax during the war. (Blanche Bennett)
The sport of harness racing was deeply affected during wartime. A large number of young men in particular were called to serve, thus removing them from their jobs as owners, trainers and drivers. Also many facilities where racing was staged were taken over as military sites during the war years.
The following full page message appeared in the July 27, 1942 issue of The Canadian Sportsman. It outlined in detail the important role that harness racing had in these troubled times.
Who Is It?
Can you correctly identify the two gentlemen pictured above? Both were part of the Canadian Armed Services during WWII, many years prior to this photograph.
The correct answer will be given during the upcoming week.