November 2018 / Scarborough, Ontario, Canada

The Poppy Project

The Poppy Project:  From left, Ken Allen, Mary McIntyre-Rafter, George Leighton.  Local students and the senior residents of MCCowan Retirement Residence, together, created beautiful poppies and shared their stories of days gone by. They also had a discussion regarding the importance of peace and freedom that we enjoy because of those who sacrificed their lives for us. The students in return also had a strong message of appreciation and gratitude for veterns service and sacrifice and made a solemn promise that they would never forget to remember.
By Mary McIntyre-Rafter
The months of October and November, mark the end of the warmer months and we are left with the beauty of fall and the richest colours of the luminescent leaves that eventually fade away and fall off. Then as quickly as it left, a most vibrant colour of red re-appears as a rare, beautiful flower that symbolizes ultimate sacrifice and bravery.
This Remembrance Day, Canadians will bow their heads in unity and engage in a moment of reflection for those touched by war. For those who lived through it such as Ken Allen  – every day is Remembrance Day.
Ken, now in his 102nd year, was posted to the army Intelligence Corps and the memory of the fallen comrades is never far away for Ken. The dull ache has become part of the fabric of daily life for him.
Ken Allen grew up a resident in the Broadview-Danforth neighbourhood with  many stories to share. There were with dirt roads and wooden sidewalks and he spent his early days playing in the Don Valley.
Born during the Great War, Ken remembers little of the war itself, but he does recall the pandemic flu that took his mothers life when he was four years of age. Growing up with a father and brothers, Ken recalls missing his mother terribly as his family experienced the ups-and-downs of the 20s and 30s. When World War Two came along, Ken stepped up and was ready to do his part.  He set out to join the Royal Canadian Airforce. Unfortunately Ken’s health challenges kept him back and he ended up in the army instead, where he was posted to the Intelligence Corps. Ken dealt with issues related to the troops’ morale and he taught military courses then spent the final year of the war in Ottawa in the Records Branch. Once the war was over, Ken returned to Toronto and work as a talented graphic artist. He and his wife and his two sons made their contributions to postwar Canada. It’s veterans like Ken Allen and many others, who represent the very best of what it means to be Canadian.
Just like Ken, many of those who fought Hitler’s armies are now in their mid-90s or early 100s. It is this tangible, personal connection to war that fewer and fewer Canadians have. It used to be that somebody’s brother, sister, father, or uncle served in WWII or the Korean War. But now  fewer and fewer of these connections exist. As Canadians’ it is our responsibility to provide an effective way of teaching a lesson to today’s youth about defending values.
The changing face of Remembrance Day and the shrinking personal connection doesn’t make it any less powerful.  We must treasure and listen to the stories from our veterans so that future generations will understand the realities of war in today’s world. It is not uncommon to ask questions or be curious about the horrors of war but most of our veterans hold back the worst details of their war experiences rather than revisit a very dark time in their lives. It seems as though the smaller mundane details were among their most cherished memories and as a result, replace what they would like to forget but cannot.
Just as Ken says, “There’s nothing good about a war, it is far from glamorous and it was the direct result of greed and poor leadership and we have the power to change this one person at a time.”
Many of the veterans were thankful that the military taught them about patience, honesty and integrity. When asked “What would you like future generations to know about your experiences?” A common response to that question was: love your country, stay good, don’t hold a grudge. Above all else remember the golden rule in everything you do, treat others the way you wish to be treated and everything else will fall into place from there.
Even as the world observes Remembrance Day we must think of the bravest of hearts that died in battle; let us share the promise to reject war. History must never repeat itself. And remember the wise words of Jose Narosky, an Argentinian writer, he says; “In war, there are no unwounded soldiers. As we wear Remembrance Day poppies on our lapel, let us unite against war and bring the world closer with peace and harmony”. These are certainly wise words to live by. Please “share your peace with others and look after one another” just as Ken Allen suggests.
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