With no Canadian World War I veterans left and the number who served in the World War 2 dwindling, the late Frank Pinder of Mount Forest would be more than surprised to see how attendance at Remembrance Day services across the region are attracting larger and larger crowds every year.
If you’d asked Pinder 40 years ago, when he was president of the then Holstein Legion, he would have predicted that Remembrance Day would soon be a thing of the past.
In fact “Remembrance Day will probably die” was the headline on a story I wrote back then. I was newly graduated from the journalism program at Ryerson University. One of my first assignments for The Mount Forest Confederate, where I had been hired straight out of college, was to interview Pinder about Remembrance Day. The story was published in Crossroads, a supplement to the Mount Forest, Listowel and Wingham papers alongside stories about veterans in two other communities.
It was with great trepidation I drove to Pinder’s home to interview him while he had lunch, taking a break from his farm work. I was ill-prepared as I had grown up in a family with no connection to the wars. All I knew about World War 1 and World War 2 I had learned in high school, and that seemed sadly lacking. Remembrance Day, for me, had always been simply a “holiday” from school.
Pinder was only 18 when he joined the Royal Canadian Army. He served overseas with the 86 Bridge Company Service Corps from July 1943 to 1946.
“War veterans, like everyone else, are getting older each year and Holstein Legion President Frank Pinder expects that Remembrance Day will probably die when they do,” was the lead of my story. “It doesn’t bother him at all that the day set aside to honour the war dead and others, like himself, who risked their lives to fight will probably disappear.”
Pinder went on to tell me about seeing his buddies killed in action. He reminisced about seeing prisoners of war so thin they couldn’t lift their heads. He told me about shaving with a cup of tea because it was at least warm. And, he told me he remembered on Remembrance Day.
He also surprised me by saying he didn’t think the younger generations should be forced to remember something that was in the past.
“Why should you want to remember someone who died in 1944?” he asked, talking about his cousin who was killed in France. “I remember him because he was a cousin…. I can hardly remember the guy. Why should you?”
Back in 1977 Pinder maintained that Remembrance Day only meant something to the people who
were overseas or who had close friends and relatives killed. He couldn’t see how it could mean anything to anyone else,
even reasoning that a grandfather killed “is too far in the past to really matter as you can’t remember someone who hasn’t been around for 30 years.”
“It just doesn’t mean anything to you,” I quoted him as saying in the story. “It’s like the twelfth of July. It’s over and in the past and not important anymore. When you’ve never been in the theatre of war you have no idea.”
Or maybe Pinder wouldn’t be surprised at all by the large Remembrance Day crowds. He died in 2015 at the Saugeen Valley Nursing Centre in Mount Forest in his 93rd year.
Pinder lived long enough to see the Mount Forest Public School renamed the Victoria Cross Public School in honour of two local men who were awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military award for gallantry in the face of the enemy given to British and Commonwealth forces during World War 1.
Captain Frederick William Campbell was born in Mount Forest on June 15, 1867. A militia soldier, he won the Victoria Cross for his actions near Givenchy, France on his 48th birthday, dying a few days later. The Mount Forest Legion Branch 134 is known as the Captain Fred Campbell VC Branch.
Samuel Lewis Honey was born in Conn on Feb. 9, 1894, and died on Sept. 30, 1918. He was a soldier in the Canadian Expeditionary Force and a posthumous recipient of the Victoria Cross.
In his later years Pinder saw Remembrance Day no longer a school holiday but a focus of lessons as November 11 approached. Legions across the country held essay and art contests for students. Crowds at annual Cenotaph services ballooned, among those attending were school children. In Mount Forest one group annually places white crosses at the Cenotaph, one in remembrance of each person who paid the supreme sacrifice. Pinder saw school children from neighbouring St. Mary’s School in Mount Forest attend the annual service en masse, along with students from Victoria Cross and Wellington Heights Secondary School attend the services. Many communities, such as Harriston and Arthur, put up banners with pictures of their veterans in the fall. Mount Forest is joining that group this year.
Pinder had no idea, 40 years ago, that Remembrance Day would continue to grow in importance over the years, even though only a handful of veterans remain. Although numbers are dwindling, legions still have an important place in their communities and people. And people, while not being forced to remember, are remembering.
Lest we forget.