YARMOUTH, N.S. – From her home in Barton, Digby County, Louise (Doucette) Gillespie would write letters to soldiers serving overseas, wishing them peace and protection, and letting them know how much their efforts were appreciated.
She died in 2013 but one of her letters, written in September 2006, was read at this year’s Remembrance Ceremony at Maple Grove Education Centre, which was organized by the Maple Grove and Yarmouth High Memorial Club.
“I am sure there are times when it is very difficult being where you are,” read an excerpt of her letter that was shared during the ceremony. “I hope all you soldiers know how very proud and grateful we are. You show such courage, dedication and love for the country. I pray for God’s love for you and that he will surround you with his protection.”
Among those seated in the gymnasium listening to Louise’s words was her daughter Joy Hatfield of Yarmouth. Louise’s husband and Hatfield’s father John ‘Jack’ Gillespie served with distinction in the military during the Second World War. It’s one of the reasons why her mother felt it important to reach out to soldiers, Hatfield said.
And, of course, there was sacrifice for the family.
“Mom was pregnant with their second child when dad went overseas,” said Hatfield. “I don’t think he knew because he would never have gone.”
But gone he was – for four years.
Later in life, much in part to the work of the Memorial Club, he became active with the Veterans Association and spent time speaking in schools to students about his war experiences. Hatfield says in the final days of her father’s life, students from throughout Digby County wrote letters to him to show their thanks for his efforts and his service.
At the age of 94 he died on Remembrance Day 2012. At the age of 92, Louise died almost a year later on Oct. 2.
The couple were married nearly 73 years.
Family connections to wars and conflicts were a theme for people who spoke during the Nov. 4 ceremony.
“Honouring our veterans is important to me and my family. We also think of my youngest brother who served 19 years in the Royal Canadian Navy and continues to serve in our Royal Canadian Air Force as captain at CFB Trenton,” said Maple Grove principal Sean Kenney, talking about his brother Jeff. “He has served four tours in Afghanistan, and one in Haiti. Each of those tours presented worries and anxiety for his safe return and those of his troops. Our veterans’ families experienced those same worries and many more.”
WORDS TO FOLLOW IN LIFE
The guest speaker at the ceremony was Chief Petty Officer Ben Broome, a Weapons Engineering Manager with 36 years service in the Canadian military. He is currently at the fleet maintenance facility in Cape Scott where he serves as trial coordinator for ships preparing to deploy into operations theatres. He is also the proud father of four children, and, at the time, soon to be nine grandchildren.
“What do you believe brings us together? If I asked each of you to offer one word what would it be? Is it pride? Patriotism? Grief? Honour? Sadness? Hope? There are so many choices to pick from and none are any more correct than any other. The important thing is that you came,” he said about those who gathered for this event of remembrance.
“And even though your may not know it, your presence here today may just have a saved a life.”
He said there are many people who never came back from the cold bitterness of conflict and others who were afforded the blessing of coming home, yet we often lose them to suicide.
“This is because they were only taught how to go and defend their county. But sadly there was no training that could prepare them to return and integrate into society or, at times, with their own family and children,” he said. The terrors of conflict continue for years. For some they never stop.
We call it shell shock, he said. Operational stress. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And the triggers for each of the tormented people, he said, can be very different.
“So how can my statement of you being able to save a life be true?” he asked.
Broome commented on how he had just recently attended Nova Scotia’s first benefit gala for PTSD. Each speaker who recalled their hardship of war also shared a similiarity in their words – how the gentleness of words can also go a long way.
“Such as, ‘Thank you.’ ‘Are you okay?’ ‘Would you like to share a thought?’ ‘Can I get you a coffee?’ These things make a world of difference for their sorrow and give them the strength to face yet another day,” Broome said. “The mere presence of you being there for someone, and your eagerness to listen and want to understand can make people feel cared for. This is what makes a difference.”
He said we never truly know the emotional struggle someone is dealing with.
“You kindness might be the day’s cure for someone to make it through the turmoil,” he said.
Meanwhile the Remembrance ceremony, as it always does, ended in music and dance. As Britthany Pothier serenaded Second World War veteran Jim McRae, who, incidentally, turns 100 years old this month, members of the Memorial Club danced with the invited guests.