Today on November 11, 2020, as the lemon yellow Harvard Training W.W. II planes make their annual fly by for the Veterans at Sunnybrook Hospital, thoughts of sacrifice are ruminating around in my mind. Sacrifice as defined by my late father’s Webster’s dictionary as an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy: we must all be prepared to make sacrifices.’ All humans undergo some sacrifice, some a great deal more than others as it is part of the human existence, we live through both darkness and light, such is the journey of life.
A man whom I never knew experienced much sacrifice over a hundred years ago. Born on November 2, 1897 in London England, my grandfather Cecil Holden came to Canada with his family by ship to settle in Toronto in 1910 for a better life. A few years after his arrival he would be returning home likely to experience the most traumatic events of his life, leaving his parents and grandparents behind in Canada. In his accession papers, he joined the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force at the age of 17, along with all three of his brothers. My great grandmother, Mary Holden sacrificing her four sons and most of her children to the Great War, a sacrifice so monumental the Toronto newspaper wrote about the story. The four sons of Mary Holden of Merton Street were off to the Great War is how the article read.
To imagine my grandfather’s experience as a young man is impossible, unthinkable sacrifices happen in times of war for both soldiers and their family. My grandfather’s sacrifices and that of the Holden family began before setting off by train and then ship as he lost one brother Clifford before the war when he succumbed to a viral infection whilst in basic training in St. Catharines, Ontario thought to be from drinking water. Another brother Harry died on the front lines as a bombardier in Battle of Passchendaele fighting as allies against Germans in France just before the Great War came to its end. One brother Norman came home with mental health issues, a young man he simply experienced to much in his young age fighting in the Great War, he lived much of his life in the Queen Street Mental Institution here in Toronto. My grandfather arrived back home in Toronto after having the right side of his face blown off by a bomb, undergoing plastic surgery and recovering, sacrificing half of his face in the Great War.
This young war veteran went on to become a decorated Toronto Police Officer/Detective, to marry Hilda Louise Thompson and create a family with two sons Richard and Jim, only to die in the line of duty in 1950, when he was off duty making an arrest of a youth shooting a BB gun throughout the neighbourhood endangering children and families. He made it to the Police Station at the north west corner of Montgomery Avenue at Yonge St with the young offender only collapse on the steps of the police station of a heart attack. Our family sacrificing a husband and father.
Today as I watch a sea of red poppies and Canadian flags to remember the sacrifice humans made in the past, are making current day and will continue to make in the future I sit in reflection and ponder. Sacrifices made for the freedoms of today. I am brought to the red poppies covering lawns, memorial sights and school hallways, as of today the City of Toronto being declared a ‘red zone’ for the Covid 19 pandemic. With frustration and sadness I ask what it will take for people to make the sacrifices necessary in order to put the pandemic behind us? For those of us who have been living in quarantine for the past 8 months, the severely immune compromised such as myself living without socialization as it is a threat to our very life, we have been and continue to sacrifice greatly every moment of everyday. When will common dignity, decency and respect to come back to neighbourhoods and we begin to heal from our traumas caused by Covid 19?
My grandfather passed down to me many character traits deep within my being, although we never met, I reflect on his sacrifices he made in order survive the Great War. People like my grandfather were strong, both physically and mentally as am I. I wonder where has that strength gone? Humankind has shown weakness after weakness in 2020. I thank my grandfather, men and woman like him as this is where my strength to survive during challenging times of Covid 19 as a immunocompromised high risk disabled person who has become invisible and forgotten by the community around me. I look forward to the days of people gaining their strength and becoming dignified again, demonstrating respect towards others and showing care and compassion. A task that can be accomplished in as simple of a thing as wearing a mask, appreciate that you have a face to put it over.