The pain of most war wounds dull over time and leave a scar. Emotional wounds never fully heal.
On Remembrance Day those that have never experienced war can see the physical scars left on veterans, but to truly empathize with their pain requires more than wearing a poppy and sitting in on a Remembrance Day ceremony.
For many, their invisible heartache still lingers from their wartime experiences.
Mary Chadwick and Nora Curry now live in Scarborough in the Tony Stacey Centre for Veterans Care. They are two people that never saw combat, but war has certainly affected their lives in prolific ways.
Chadwick is now 89-years-old and served in the Second World War as a sick birth attendant in the Halifax naval hospital. She uprooted her quiet life working as a railroad timekeeper to serve.
“I felt that I had to do it so I did,” said Chadwick. “It was something that I felt I should be doing because for every boy that went overseas there had to be someone that would fill in and take his place.”
She was following in the footsteps of her family. Her father was a soldier in World War One and all of her siblings fought in World War Two. During her time of service in the hospital, her life would be changed by the war forever.
Early on in the war, she received terrible news.
“In October of 1942 we got word that my brother’s ship had been torpedoed,” said Chadwick. “All hands lost.”
She was devastated, but these were tough times. She stayed on at the hospital where sickness and injury were commonplace. In times of war, she says that there were still the happiness in life, but there was always a threat of disaster looming just over the eastern horizon.
The unpredictable wartime lifestyle was exemplified by a night at the theatre that Chadwick recanted.
“I remember one night I was in the theatre and they flashed on the screen ‘all naval staff come to base.’ “A Greek ship had been sunk in the harbour and we had to go treat the survivors.”
She ended her night off and rushed to the hospital to treat the injured. This was not an isolated incident.
“We were at the hospital and there was a great explosion because a munitions barge had exploded in the harbour,” said Chadwick. “It burnt all night and we had to stay on duty all night. We had to sleep on the floor in the hospital and look after all of the people that were coming in.”
Incidents like this were frequent and made living a normal life a thing of the past.
“We played it day by day,” said Chadwick. “I made an awful lot of friends in the service; many of them didn’t come back.”
After the war she went back to her job as a timekeeper, but her family was gone. She soon married and now had two sons and two grandchildren.
Painful memories from her time at the hospital remain, but she knows that sharing those memories is important for the youth today.
When she is asked about her time in the war, she says “war isn’t a good thing, but what we did was a good thing. Be sorry for the dead, but be very proud of what they did.”
War is a terrible experience for those in service, but it affected everyone in some way.
Nora Curry is 100 years old, and still remembers what it was like to be raised in England during World War One. Her childhood was vastly different than the typical Canadian experience today.
With her father serving in the British military, she was left in Birmingham with her mother and younger sister. Her father was killed in the line of duty and she was exposed to violence and destruction on a regular basis.
“During the first world war, my mother and sister and I spent our time underground, in air raid shelters,” said Curry. “Nice life, eh?”
She never got to have a regular childhood. She was robbed of that by war.
After the war ended her family moved to Canada and had to start a new life. She was only a child, but she still has strong feelings about how violence can affect everyone, even if they are not directly involved.
“Stay out of it,” warned Curry. “All you young men and girls, just stay as far away from it as you can.”
These two women can teach something about Remembrance Day. A war is not a fight between armies. Tanks, ships and guns don’t fight. It is real people that have their lives changed. Those lucky enough to survive still carry the emotional burden. Remember that.