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Retired brigadier-general offers plenty of cause to reflect

Retired Brig.-Gen. David C. Kettle gave a presentation Monday as the guest speaker of The Rotary Club of Charlottetown Remembrance Ceremony. (JIM DAY/THE GUARDIAN)
Retired Brig.-Gen. David C. Kettle gave a presentation Monday as the guest speaker of The Rotary Club of Charlottetown Remembrance Ceremony. (JIM DAY/THE GUARDIAN)

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Retired Brig.-Gen. David C. Kettle offers Canadians plenty to think about for the entire two minutes of silence during Remembrance Day ceremonies.

Sure, he notes, most people paying their respect to veterans have a few general thoughts – such tremendous sacrifice, what loss.

“People are very good at generalities, but what specifically do you remember?’’ asked Kettle, who is the secretary general of the Canadian Agency of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

“And after you think of the generalities, don’t you have a minute and a half left of dead time?’’

Well, Kettle came to the Rotary Club of Charlottetown Remembrance Ceremony Monday armed with plenty of stark images to help fill that extra 90 seconds or so of silence.

Think how 619,000 Canadians, from a country of eight million at the time, served in uniform in the First World War.

“That’s quite a contribution,’’ notes Kettle.

Reflect too, as silence surrounds the cenotaph, on the 1.1 million Canadians who served in the Second World War. Consider how 42 per cent of all men in Canada between the ages of 18 and 35 served in that global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945.

“These are staggering numbers,’’ suggests Kettle.

“You can’t even comprehend them today, really.’’

Clicking old black and white battlefield images onto a screen, Kettle says something else worth remembering during those two silent minutes is the horrific life in the trenches endured by Canada’s brave soldiers.

“You would be traumatized simply by living in a trench: the water, the mud, the unsanitary conditions of trench life,’’ he says.

Imagine each soldier infested with lice. Think about large rats chomping into their flesh.

Then, adds Kettle, there was No Man’s Land, which he describes as “a moonscape where you are totally exposed to artillery fire, to machine gun fire.’’

Throw in barbed wire, mud, even quicksand, to increase the hardship and challenge of forward advancement, not to mention survival.

Survive all that, Kettle continues, then diseases like typhoid fever would take a good crack at knocking the soldiers down.

Still have any time left in those 120 seconds of silence?

Spend a few moments, urges Kettle, to consider the immense grief of parents, who felt they pressured their children into joining the war effort or felt they could have done something to prevent them from joining.

“They had to live with that guilt,’’ he says.

“So you remember those people during that two minutes of silence.’’

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