By Martine Jansen
Few Dutch can say that their father, grandfather or great-grandfather fought in one of the two great world wars on the European continent. But ask the average Canadian and he will tell you to have someone in the family who fought in Europe during the First and Second World War. And not as a professional soldier. No, as a draftee or even as a volunteer. Cyril Hare (71) is such a Canadian.
Cyril Hare’s family has 18 veterans and they know their family’s war history well. That is not uncommon for Canadians. Every family has its own story about the war. And so, commemorating is a recurring ritual for them, both nationally and locally. “Every year we lay a wreath at the war memorial here in Mississauga. There is also a parade. In Canada, we do this on November 11, the end of the First World War. Then we commemorate all the wars Canadians have been involved in. But there is attention for the victory over Nazi Germany in May as well. Canadian television will then broadcast commercials about, for example, the liberation of the Netherlands.”
Back in time
Cyril Hare’s father, John, like his two older brothers Alan and Cyril, was born in the early 1920s. They grew up in the town of Port Credit, Ontario. Originally a settlement of the Mississauga Ojibwe First Nations (original inhabitants of Canada) and a fur trading post. When the three brothers lived there, it was no more than a hamlet.
It is 1940 when Alan and Cyril volunteer to fight in the war against Nazi Germany. Like many Canadian young men at the time. It almost goes without saying. You go because your father went during the First World War. You go because it is the right thing to do. You go because everyone goes. Cyril even adds a year to his age when he signs up.
John, the youngest of the three, does not get involved in the war until 1943. He ends up on the war frigate “The Chebogue”. Near Londonderry, the frigate is torpedoed by the Germans. John survives the attack and is allowed to go home. But after a short leave of absence, he registers again to continue his service at sea.
Alan and Cyril land on the beaches of Normandy in June 1944. There, on Juno Beach, in the chaos of D-Day, the two brothers find each other. From a distance, but close enough to wave to each other. Alan is left on the beaches of Normandy to make repairs. Cyril and his platoon continue into France, on to Germany. It will be the last time the two brothers see each other.
Cyril is killed on March 5 1945, during heavy fighting in Germany. 22 years old. He is buried at the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek. In 1945, John and Alan return home as liberators. To a world where nothing seems to have changed.
Back in Canada
Cyril pauses and his eyes get misty. Even now, 75 years later, it is difficult for him to tell the story of his father and uncles. With “yes, I was indeed named after my uncle Cyril,” he picks up again, “and apparently I take after him,” he laughs.
In Canada too, of course, they had felt the effects of World War II. But that was nothing compared to how things had been in Europe. And the boys who came back had to learn to deal with that. According to Cyril Hare, this is one of the reasons his father has come to play a prominent role in the Port Credit Legion, an organization dedicated to the welfare of war veterans. After Alan Hare’s death in 1953, his father felt responsible for keeping the family history alive as well.
Cyril Hare’s father has regularly returned to Europe and the Netherlands to visit the places that are so important to him and his brothers. Also, around 4 and 5 May. Cyril Hare accompanied him a number of times. “Together with my brothers and sisters. Each time I go, I find it is impressive to see how many people still come out to honour the liberators.”
John Hare passed away on December 12, 2018. The last veteran in the family. But the commemoration does not end here. “In May last year, I travelled with my brothers to all the memorial sites in Europe. And my son, Jeff Cyril Hare, in turn, visited the grave of his great-uncle Cyril in Groesbeek. Of course, in times of Covid-19, everything is different. And we have yet to see how long this all will last. But we will commemorate either way.”
The Dutch version of A family of veterans has been published in JvA Magazine and on VersPers.