November 10, 2005
Remembrance Day in the Year of the Veteran
by Jeff Green
Remembrance Day is being marked this week in ceremonies at schools and Cenotaphs throughout the country. Always an opportunity for young and old to acknowledge the price paid by those who have served as soldiers in combat and peacekeeping missions around the world, Remembrance Day has special significance this year. It is the United Nations Year of the Veteran, and the 60th Anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
The numbers of veterans from WWII is dwindling as the years pass, since even the youngest surviving veterans from that war are now in their early eighties. Once such youngster is Gordon R Wood of Flinton.
When Gordon Wood signed up for the Canadian Army in Kingston he was barely 17 years old. After training for two years at Camp Borden he was finally sent to England in the early spring of 1944. Three months later, Private Gordon Wood, by then an infantryman with the Regina Rifles of Saskatchewan (which he had joined while in England), took part in the landing at Juno Beach on June 6, 1944.
“We had a rough landing,” Gordon recalled this Monday from his home in Flinton as he was celebrating his 81st birthday. “We came out of the landing craft in water up to our chests and had to run to shore with our rifles held up in the air.”
Gordon’s landing craft was among those in the middle of the pack of craft that came into shore that morning. “By the time we hit the water, it was red with blood,” he recalls. He doesn’t remember being particularly frightened, however. “I was too young to know I wasn’t invincible,” he says, “even though we lost a pile of men on that beach.”
After hitting land, Gordon and the other soldiers who had survived pressed forward, shooting as they went. “The first 24 hours were probably the most dangerous, but then things did settle down,” he said.
Gordon Wood spent the next nine months fighting through France, Belgium and Holland. He became a Lance Corporal and a Section Leader.
“We would advance for days and then stop, and then we would take a rest for three or four days when the supplies arrived, and let another bunch push ahead. Then it was our turn again,” he remembers.
At one point Wood and three other men were captured. Since the war was in its dying days and the German army was in a state of disarray, the men bade their time until one night when there didn’t seem to be anyone guarding them, and then they made a run for it. They kept down, hiding in ditches and wooded areas, and eventually rejoined their comrades.
Again, Gordon does not recall being particularly frightened during the time when he was a prisoner, even though he says that “we knew that if we didn’t escape the Germans would have eventually killed us, but you don’t think about dying when you’re 20 years old.”
After the War ended, Lance Corporal Wood stayed on in Europe for a year as a member of the Cameron Highlanders of Ottawa, spending some of that time as a guard in a prison camp just inside of Germany.
In 1946, Gordon returned to Canada and was discharged. He returned home to Kaladar Township, where he soon met Wilma Bryden, a schoolteacher who was a day less than one year younger than him. The two married, and built a house in Flinton in 1947, where they raised 5 children, three boys and two girls. The now have 13 grandchildren as well.
Wilma taught in most of the schools in the district over the years, and Gordon worked at Sawyer Stoll Lumber for a time, before taking a job with the township road crew. He eventually became the road superintendent and retired in the late 1980’s after 21 years.
Although the Gordon and Wilma have lived for 58 years in the same house, they have travelled extensively, particularly after retiring from the work force. They have returned four times to Holland, most recently in 1998, and have travelled to every province and territory within Canada over the years, “except for Labrador,” Gordon said, “but we have gone five times across the Prairies.
This Sunday, at the Remembrance Day Ceremony in Flinton, Gordon Wood was surrounded by family, as all the Wood children and most of the grandchildren descended on Flinton for the Remembrance Day Ceremony and Wilma’s 80th Birthday party.
“We’ve had a good life,” Gordon Wood said, “a pretty good life.”