Joan Reichardt

COLUMN: Don’t forget civilians killed in war

On Wednesday we will observe Remembrance Day, standing at the cenotaph and honouring those who fought and sometimes died in war.

On Wednesday we will observe Remembrance Day, standing at the cenotaph and honouring those who fought and sometimes died in war.

Last year was the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. This year has some significant dates as well. It is 75 years since the Battle of Britain and the beginning of the Blitz, and it has been given little recognition.

Yet if we had lost the Battle of Britain or caved in to the sustained, nightly bombing of the Blitz, the war would have been lost, and our world today would be a different place.

After France fell in June 1940, Britain and the Commonwealth (or Empire, as we called it then), stood alone, separated from the might of the victorious German army by 20 miles of the English Channel.

The British Expeditionary Force had lost almost all their equipment and many men in France, although Dunkirk managed to get as many troops to safety as possible.

The only intact force in England were the Canadians. When the Luftwaffe started the air onslaught they thought it would be a piece of cake, over in no time, a brief prelude to the invasion.

They did not bargain for the few, the brave fighter pilots of the RAF, including many Canadians, as well as boys from countries already overrun by the Germans.

The Battle of Britain was the first time the Germans lost a battle since they started the war, and it was the battle that saved us. We stood outside in the summer sun and watched the fury being fought out over our heads.

We cheered when a German got shot down and the Hurricane or Spitfire did the victory roll. We kept track of the numbers of losses. We even had our own fighter ace: local Richmond boy Paddy Finucane shot down 21 German planes before his 21st birthday. He did not live to see his 22nd.

When the Germans started the terror bombing of London, every night from September 1940 to May 1941, we were supposed to surrender, but not so. I was a schoolgirl. I never missed a day of school!

We spent every night in the air raid shelter, listening to the scream of falling bombs, often the days as well. The rule was if we were closer to school than to home when the air raid siren sounded we went to school. It seems to me we always were closer to school. I remember the day when our headmistress stood at assembly and told us three of our schoolmates and their mother had been killed the night before. The same incident cost us all our windows and left our front door halfway up the stairs. And we were outside London, not in the thick of it!

So just give a thought to the thousands of civilians, including many women and children, also war dead, but with no cenotaph to commemorate their sacrifice.

Joan Reichardt came to Canada from England as a war bride in 1945. She has lived in Nelson since 1968.

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