Trevor Hnatowich submission #1: “War is a stupid thing – it’s too – it’s too wasteful. I – it’s hard to say; I – “ says Lawrence Hnatowich, 93, speaking slowly and deliberately before lowering his head into his chest.
Hnatowich was 20 years old when he volunteered with the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1941 during the Second World War. After two years of training, he was stationed near Darlington, England with the 431 Squadron as an aircraft mechanic.
“It was an eerie sound,” says Hnatowich, describing the aircraft that he worked on. “Miles down, they’d have a meeting spot where they’d circle round and round and round in the air till all the squadrons were in action, and then they’d go on bombing raids.”
Hnatowich’s duties overseas included servicing the massive Canadian aircraft that bombed German strongholds across Europe. His daily inspections consisted of fueling the planes, checking fluid levels, and spotting and repairing leaks.
“We had to wait around for the aircraft to come back after it had gone off. You didn’t want to lose your aircraft, and you wanted to make sure you were there to bring it back,” says Hnatowich, nodding his head as he recalls. “In the two years that I spent there, at the beginning, we were losing quite a few. They were young kids.”
Hnatowich remembers the hardship of never knowing if the aircraft would return after they had taken off. He was careful not to become attached to the pilots of the aircraft that he was assigned to.
“You didn’t want to make friends with your aircrew. When they would go on a raid, they would ask you to take a letter to send home if something happened to them. I think I only took one once,” says Hnatowich, rubbing his wooden cane between his fingers. “But I never did it again, because, it, it – I couldn’t do it, you know? If he’s lost, I’d have to send a letter to his parents, and I couldn’t do that.”
The bombs could be just as dangerous when they were being loaded into the aircraft as when they were being dropped from the sky, explains Hnatowich.
“They moved the bombs around on a long, big, low trolley. And the bombs would be lined up on it, and they’d have wedges in between so they wouldn’t roll. They were bringing up the bombs and one of the wedges came loose, and the nose of the bomb hit on the concrete,” says Hnatowich. “When they were notified that the bomb was dragging, they ran to the bomb, I’m not sure what they were trying to do, but the bomb, the bomb exploded.”
Hnatowich was servicing an aircraft near the explosion and was blown back by the concussive force. He says that he was lucky to walk away with his life.
“It was shock first. And then you look and you’re just kind of bewildered, you know? You don’t know what’s happening. First I’m up on the wing gassing up and then it knocked me off and it killed this one guy. Just shock, total shock.”
Hnatowich returned to Canada after Germany surrendered in 1945. He now attends a Remembrance Day ceremony every year, an event that remains emotional for him. Hnatowich takes a moment to think about the importance of Remembrance Day as he stares blankly in front of him.
“Just – well it’s always been such a huge loss of life,“ is all Hnatowich says before tears fill his eyes and he becomes silent.
Trevor Hnatowich submission #2: Men and Women fill the bright, wood-paneled basement of the Royal Canadian Legion Henderson Highway Branch No. 215 for its Remembrance Day service. Rows of bright yellow chairs sit on the linoleum floors and face a raised platform with a podium for speakers. A Canadian helmet from the First World War rests atop a large white cross beside the podium.
President Wayne Morrow says that roughly 250 people will attend today’s service, noting that attendance numbers increased dramatically in 2001 after 9/11 and have remained high since. The chairs fill quickly and the remaining people stand attentively around the perimeter of the room.
The Northwinds Community Band starts the ceremony with a performance of O Canada, followed by a salient playing of the Last Post. The room stands still for two minutes of silence, as some members of the crowd silently wipe tears from their faces. After the silence, a reading of In Flanders Fields is recited by nearly everyone in the room.
“People died on more battlefields than we can count, and we inaugurated Remembrance Day 95 years ago to remind us of what war can do to a population,” says Rev. Kenn Garrity. “Millions of men and woman gave their lives, gave their all, so we could be free enough to build a society based on love, kindness, respect, forgiveness and understanding.”
Former governor general Ed Schreyer places the first wreath as the snare drum from the band reverberates across the room with a steady marching rhythm. 14 more people place wreaths down in front of the white cross, including MLA Ron Schuler and Coun. Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan).
Garrity says that the importance of Remembrance Day is to learn from the past. “For me, Remembrance Day isn’t just one day a year. I served for 40 years. It’s something I live and breathe everyday. Those of us who are left behind have continuously under evaluated its lesson.”