The 2014 Royal Canadian Legion Branch # 205—Warburg Remembrance Day Service was held in the Community Hall with Legion President Ralph van Assen, Pastor Glen McBride, Pianist Caroline McDonald, Service Officer Frank Moar, and Sgt-at-Arms Tom Moar presiding.
Remembrance Day is a time to reflect on the courage of ordinary citizens in time of war.
Many who have gone through the hell that is war, veterans and citizens, find it difficult to talk about their traumatic experiences. We respect their right to privacy and thank them for their courage to share these stories on Remembrance Day.
“We are uncomfortably aware,” said van Assen, “that with each passing year people who experienced World War 2 firsthand are no longer in our midst.” He then shared a vignette about this year’s Warburg Silver Cross Mother, Ada Broadbent.
In 1944, Ada was a teenager living in a small village along the Thames River, not too far from London. Her father had been injured in WW1 and unable to work. To help the family, Ada took a job at a factory manufacturing mouldings and fittings for machinery required in the war effort. Her family provided lodging for an extended family member and a young Canadian, Hilton Broadbent, who would become her husband following four years of active service.
There were 500 employees in the factory where Ada worked. One day in November, 1944, the workers were outside finishing their lunch. Suddenly, there was an explosion—dust and shrapnel flew through the air. A deadly stealth V-2 rocket had exploded above the earth. Without seeing or hearing its approach, those on the ground did not protect themselves. The rocket killed 48 people and seriously injured over 100 others but did not damage the factory. A 1.25-inch piece of iron shrapnel lodged in Ada’s thigh but it took doctors two weeks to find it.
Tina Van Ommeron Tollenaar
Phyllis Schnick presented the story of a family of seven who dared to made a dangerous, but heroic choice. Warburg resident Tina Tollenaar was a 12-year-old girl living in Nazi-occupied Holland when her father hid three Canadian airmen in their attic.
In 1944, the German Nazis occupied her village of Amerongen. The commanders used the main floor of the Van Ommeron family residence for sleeping and morning and evening meetings and parties. The family was relegated to the second floor sleeping area and were not allowed to use the main floor kitchen or bathroom while the Nazis were present in the house.
Not far from her house, the Rhine River was used by the Allies as a navigation guide on their bombing flights into Germany. One night, Tollenaar’s father heard a noise in the shed. Under cover of darkness and before the Nazis returned, he went out to investigate and discovered three Canadian airmen whom he hid in the attic. The family fed them and escorted them to the bathroom during the day. It is hard to imagine living under such conditions, even concealing them from the neighbours—where you fear for your life lest a glimpse or sneeze give you away.
Their secret was kept safe for two months. Then, one day in 1945 all the Nazis left the village. The next day, the village heard of the surrender. A couple of days later, the airmen were reunited with their troops.
A video tribute was played where Carstairs, in an interview, recalls highlights of his active duty service during World War 2. Carstairs received a military medal and explained how it came about:
“We were supposed to get into a certain area on flame throwers and we were getting shot at by small arms, you could see the bullets glancing off. When we got in, I was curious. There was a railroad track with a field between where we were. I decided to have a look to see where that was coming from. So I ran across this little field, there were slip trenches so i jumped in one, I was getting kind of tired. When I looked up, there was a Jerry helmet coming up out of the trench next to me. I got the draw on him and motioned for him to get up. He took me up to a machine gun post so I just smashed everything I could up there, kicked ‘em over and did what damage I could in case anyone else came by, took command and took them back into headquarters. It was all in a days’ work. I got back to Canada and some of the boys getting back from overseas had kind of a riot there, damn near demolished the camp! Got out at parade square next morning and they called my name. I had nothing to do with this riot, but I thought, ‘Oh, oh!’ They’re going to blame me. And here it was they were awarding me this military medal! It came as a shock because it was all in a day’s duty. In fact, I had to think of what it was for. But the Captain was there and told me it was for capturing that machine gun post single-handed.
“In that same place, one or two of them surrendered and one of them was quite high up in the German Army. When he first came in, he spit in the Captain’s face. After he was questioned for a while Captain wanted someone to take him back to headquarters. I said, ‘I’ll take him!’ Captain said no. He wouldn’t let me take him. He didn’t trust me. They figured they needed him for a little talk, and after he spit in the Captain’s face, I know he wouldn’t have gotten back. There was a canal there and he could have disappeared!”
He had numerous close calls. One Christmas, Carstairs had been taking turns on surveillance of the Rhine River through this little window His relief came into the room and as he talked to Carstairs, “he stepped up to the window and was shot between the eyes. He just dropped right at my feet. I’d been there for three hours!”
Another time, “it was dark when we got into an orchard. I was the platoon corporal—I was a runner and we always seemed to get that. We just started to dig a slip trench and I heard this pick, pick, pick. I yelled, ’Hit the ground!’ and fell on top of a nearby fellow.” Unfortunately, the bullet took his life. Carstairs was unhurt…only took dust.
Carstairs is a former Warburg Mayor and active participant in many community service groups. He has been a Legion member for 70 years and was presented with a plaque, a watch and a 70-Year Service Medal.
Pastor Glen McBride closed with this thought: Remembrance Day is not just a time to mourn, not just a time to remember those who died, still less a time to say that war is good or honourable. Rather, it is a time to recall those who gave themselves for us in order for us to vow ‘never again,’ to not break faith with those who died to bring peace, and to commit ourselves to the struggle against evil—the very things that lead to war.
Pictured: Comrade Walter Carstairs (middle) is presented with a plaque, a 70 Year Legion Service medal and watch. Presenting the awards are Treasurer and Membership Chair Allan Gruninger (L) and President Ralph vanAssen (R). Photo by Linda Steinke