Monthly Archives: November 2018

My Grandfather never talked about The War

I never really knew my grandfather[1]. I’m sure some of this is because men[2] of his generation were not expected to interact with children in the same way as they are now, and some of it is because he was extremely old when I was born. Near as I can tell, he was born before the turn of the century in or near Ternopil[3], during the time it was Polish, but occupied.

Sometime during this time, he was conscripted[4] into the Polish army on the side of the allies, which likely means under Russian control.

After the war, he somehow managed to escape to France[5], and perhaps seeing that war was brewing again, he moved to Canada, where he met my grandmother.

My first, and perhaps only memories of him are of him being extremely old, in his late eighties, and seemingly upset with the infirmities that age thrusts upon a person. I regret that I never knew him when he was younger, or ever heard his stories.

My mom said that he never talked about the war, nor apparently much about his time before he moved to Canada. Apparently, he wanted to make a fresh start, and/or there was too much hurt or trauma back there.

As you’re reading this, it will have been 100 years to the day since the Armistice of November 11th, 2018, which is still remembered in Canada as Remembrance Day. This armistice was largely between Germany and the Allies in the West, though. The situation on the Eastern Front was significantly different. The war had taken a turn with the collapse of the Russian Empire, followed by two revolutions and civil war, which raged for four more years after the armistice in the West.

I don’t know what part he played in all of this. I don’t know how he managed to survive all of the chaos of war and revolution and civil war, never mind the subsequent Polish-Russian war. I do know that he worked as an orderly at Sunnybrook later in life, perhaps working with veterans, to what end I’m not sure. I like to think he gained some measure of peace from it.

This spirit of remembrance and peace that we celebrate today is based on a very important moment in history, where the guns fell silent for a time in one part of the world. We should also remember though, that despite this, a related war still raged for years afterwards, not very far away.

[1]My mother’s father.

[2]I have great memories of time with my grandma, interestingly, the most acute ones seem to revolve around food. Her delicious cabbage rolls, fresh-picked strawberries or corn from her backyard garden, fruit (bananas?) and Neapolitan ice cream, she even managed to make boiled peas a fond memory for me.

[3]Interesting things from this article: “In 1544 the Tarnopol Castle was completed and repelled the first Tatar attacks. On 20 January 1548 Tarnopol was granted legal rights by the King of Poland Sigismund I the Old which allowed the town to hold three fairs annually, and the weekly trades on Mondays.” I think we don’t fully understand the extent to which peoples’ lives were regulated, where a town had to be granted to right to hold a fair.

[4]Given what I know of politics in the area and at that time, I think conscripted is the best guess.

[5]I know there must be interesting stories here, some of which I have heard parts of, but they are outside the scope for today.