During the Millbrook Remembrance Day Service, Reverend Lynda Hodgins shared the story of the WW II experience of one of our long time Cavan residents, Clarence Munroe. Clarence would prefer that his story be seen for what it is: not one of valour and patriotic flag waving, but a real story of war; its horrors and its costs.
In 1939, the Depression was still raging across the country. Those lucky enough to secure a job earned $1 for ten hours of work. The Canadian Armed Services offered $30 per month as well as meals, shelter and clothing, with an extra $.15 per day for those like Clarence who chose to forgo their rum ration. He was an orphan of 16 years of age living in Halifax at the time, and the offer of a job, regular meals and some adventure made signing up an easy decision. Like other young men who joined, he had no idea what lay ahead.
Clarence spent the first two years of the war serving in the navy, travelling the North Atlantic between New York and Newfoundland. In his words, it was hell. Travelling in converted fishing boats, which were not built for this type of travel, they faced shortages of food and water and an abundance of cold.
Escape from the North Atlantic arrived in the form of a transfer to England for which Clarence eagerly volunteered. He participated in the battle at Dieppe, which he recalls as one of the worst of the war, where five thousand troops were reduced to fewer than 2000.
When the US entered the conflict, Clarence helped escort team the American ships to the North African campaign. On their return, his ship was struck by a torpedo and sank. Clarence was rescued from the ocean and was put on a ship headed south around the cape of Africa. He spent the next few months holed up in a tent in the desert in the Suez Canal. From there he was sent to Sicily to join the Italian campaign, and ended his time in the war in Malta, battling malaria and dysentery. After six years of service, the war was over, but Clarence was called back as he boarded his return vessel to spend three weeks in hospital before he was cleared for transport back to Canada.
While history books tell us that we won the war, Clarence does not share this view. He should know – he was there for the war’s duration.
We often see war heroes portrayed as brave, strong young men choosing to fight a distant foe for our freedom, instead of naïve, hungry young men doing what they could to survive and finding themselves in positions of horror they can never shake. This does not make them less heroic. When they were asked to serve, they went. They fought, they persevered and thanks to them we live in a very different world than we might otherwise. We enjoy freedoms that include the right to choose leaders to govern our great nation; the freedom to speak out and to work for the values that people like Clarence helped to secure. With these rights also come responsibilities: to continue to build a world of peace, tolerance and acceptance and to hold sacred those rights and freedoms that were secured at such terrible cost.
In our Remembrance Day Service we offer thanks to members of our Armed Forces including local veterans Clarence Munroe and Bill Bellinger, as well as the many who stood beside them and to those who serve today so that we may live in freedom. KG