Navy vet hosts Remembrance Day observance at Toronto Zoo

Jack Fortnum, a veteran of the Second World War, hosted the Toronto Zoo's 25th Annual Remembrance Day Ceremony on Nov. 11. (TASHEVA_FORTNUM2)

Jack Fortnum never forgets to honour Canadian veterans at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month each year. He commemorates Remembrance Day and knows about the sacrifices that Canadians made for their country in time of war.

“The servicemen – army, air force, navy – from Canada (in the Second World War), had the highest percentage of volunteers of any … country,” Fortnum said.

From 1939 to 1945, more than 40 per cent of the Canadian male population between the ages of 18 and 45 enlisted; 1.1 million Canadians served in the Second World War. More than 44,000 died and never returned home. Fortnum said they fought for a dream of hope and love, life and liberty.

Born and raised in London, Ont., Fortnum served in the Second World War as a petty officer in the Royal Canadian Navy. Now 84, he enlisted in 1943, at age 17.

“Everybody in the navy and the air force were all volunteers; there was no conscription there,” he said. “We thought it would be … an adventure and a lot of our chums had joined.”

Fortnum found himself at sea sailing the Triangle Run – Halifax, St. John’s, New York and Boston – escorting merchant navy ships in convoys across the North Atlantic.

“Those trips were just as bad as – well, they weren’t as long – but you were in just as much danger as you were on the long convoys,” Fortnum said.

The navy later stationed Fortnum in St. John’s, N.L., and posted him onto a seagoing tug assisting ships in need of aid. Fortnum could not return home until February 1946 – nine months after the war had ended in Europe – when the navy finally discharged him.

Although the Second World War ended 65 years ago, Fortnum knows the importance of continuing to honour Canadian veterans. As he has for the past 15 years, on Nov. 11 Fortnum commemorated Remembrance Day at the Toronto Zoo.

Fortnum, the master of ceremonies at the event, paid tribute to three veterans who had laid wreaths at past ceremonies; they died earlier this year. It portrayed the stark reality that Remembrance Day commemorates real people and not merely events.

The reader at the ceremony recited “Requiem for a Soldier,” written by Michael Kamen and Frank Musker. For Fortnum, the last three lines of the poem stand out above the rest:

“We are all one great band of brothers / And one day you’ll see – We can live together / When all the world is Free.”