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. In a special online conversation, he talks about the many veterans in his family and how important commemorating is to them.
A frozen screen and an ominous silence. It suggests that we are back in the early years of the internet. Or even worse, that we are in an inhospitable area somewhere during wartime. But nothing could be further from the truth. It is an attempt at video calling in 2020. The place of action: a comfortable living room in peacetime. Then again, one in Arnhem, Netherlands. The other in Mississauga, Canada. It’s about 11:00 am Canadian time and the zoom connection with Cyril Hare is slowly coming to life.
Cyril knows his family’s war history well. That is not uncommon for Canadians. Like many Canadian veterans, Cyril comes from a small town where everyone knows each other. 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’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 Mississauga Ojibwe First Nations settlement (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 Cyril’s uncles, Alan and Cyril, volunteer to fight in the war against Nazi Germany. Like many Canadian young men at the time. It is almost self-evident. You go because your father went in World War I. You go because it is the right thing to do. You go because everyone goes. Cyril even added an extra year to his age when he signed up.
John, the youngest of the three, did 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 moves further into France with his platoon, on to Germany. It will be the last time the two brothers see each other.
Cyril dies on March 5, 1945, during heavy fighting in Germany. 22 years old. He is buried at the Canadian War Cemetery in Groesbeek. John and Alan return home as liberators in 1945. To a world where nothing seems to have changed.
Back in Canada
Cyril pauses and his eyes get misty. Even now, as a child born after the war, and 75 years later, it is hard for him to tell the story of his father and uncles. With “yes, I am named after my uncle Cyril,” he continues, “and apparently I take after him,” he laughs.
Of course, they had also felt the effects of World War II in Canada. But that was nothing compared to how things had been in Europe. And the boys who came back had to deal with that. According to Cyril, that’s one of the reasons his father took a prominent role in the Port Credit Legion, an organization dedicated to the welfare of war veterans. After the death of Cyril’s uncle Alan in 1953, his father felt responsible for keeping the family history alive as well.
Cyril’s father has regularly returned to Europe and the Netherlands to visit the places that were so important to him and his brothers. Also, around May 4 and 5. Cyril went with him several 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 died on December 12, 2018. The last veteran of his family. But the commemoration does not end there. “Last May, 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. In Covid-19 times, of course, everything is different. And we have yet to see when all this will be over. But we will commemorate either way.”