War memories haunt veteran

Were German troops his soldiers shot near end of hostilities preparing to surrender?

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OTTAWA --Days before the war in Europe ended on May 8, 1945, Lloyd Swick was leading his platoon of Calgary Highlanders on patrol in the Netherlands when he spotted about 200 German troops striding along a railroad track.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/05/2010 (4594 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA –Days before the war in Europe ended on May 8, 1945, Lloyd Swick was leading his platoon of Calgary Highlanders on patrol in the Netherlands when he spotted about 200 German troops striding along a railroad track.

The Canadians were on a high embankment. “We had them in a perfect killing ground,” Swick, 87, recalled this week.

He told his troops to hold their fire until the Germans were within 50 metres or so. But someone started shooting when the enemy troops were still 200 metres away. The Germans scrambled for safety, but the Canadians cut them down with their machine-guns.

“Talk about the fog of war,” says Swick, who was born in Winnipeg but has lived in Ottawa since 1965.

“It always bothered me because now, on reflection, I’m not too sure those troops weren’t coming towards us — recognizing that it was the end of the war or close to it — to surrender. It always bothered me,” he repeats.

Swick was supposed to lay a wreath during a ceremony Saturday at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, marking the 65th anniversary of VE-Day — Victory in Europe Day.

But when the master of ceremonies called on him and fellow VE-Day veteran John Oliver, Swick remained seated. He later ruefully explained that his hearing is poor and he missed his cue.

Swick isn’t alone in his physical frailties. Many of the 170 or so Second World War veterans invited to Saturday’s ceremony in Ottawa leaned on canes or sat in wheelchairs. The youngest are now in their mid-80s; the eldest, 90 or more.

The weather was bone-chilling. Steady rain and single-digit temperatures scrubbed a planned flypast by three Second World War vintage aircraft and limited public spectators to a few dozen.

Yet the aging warriors came, clad in clear plastic rain ponchos and shielded by umbrellas handed out by Veterans Affairs Canada.

They stood to salute Veterans Affairs Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn and Vice-Admiral Dean McFadden, chief of the Canadian Forces’ maritime staff. They rose again when the Governor General’s Foot Guards band played O Canada, and when Cpl. Travis Mandel played the Last Post. They stood for two minutes of silence, lost in private thoughts.

They listened as Canadian Forces Padre Howard Rittenhouse invoked the vast crowds that gathered in Confederation Square 65 years ago to celebrate victory in Europe.

“They sang and danced in a spontaneous display of relief and joy,” Rittenhouse said.

But the War Memorial marks “those who would dance no more, who would sing no more, who bled and died in the fields and hedgerows and streets… We gather to remember them.”

John Garrioch, who served as a Royal Canadian Air Force aircraft mechanic during the war, read the Act of Remembrance. “They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old,” said Garrioch, who turns 86 later this month.

Garrioch was 21 when the war ended. He’d been in England for 14 months, helping to keep Allied planes airworthy. “It was a lot of hard work and a lot of long hours.”

Realizing the war was about to end, he went to Scotland, where his family’s roots lie, and spent VE-Day in Glasgow. “There were just thousands and thousands of people in the square.”

“My leave had actually expired the day before VE-Day,” Garrioch explains, “so I sent a telegram off to the base that I wanted to stay a couple of more days. I got a telegram back saying I could stay till the 10th. I still have the telegram.”

While Swick was waiting for transport back to Canada after the war, he visited the Dutch town of Groningen, which he and his troops had helped liberate. He was sitting on a bench and smoking a cigarette when a Dutch man pointed to his military shoulder patch, then to a nearby bed of tulips.

Swick understood that the man wanted to send some tulips to Canada. He gave him a couple of packs of cigarettes, scrawling his mother’s address in Vancouver on one of them. “I never thought anything would happen with that,” he says.

But about a month later, he got a message from his mother saying she’d received some tulip bulbs. “They were certainly a precious item at the time,” Swick says.

She sold the bulbs for about $125, “just enough to pay for my books when I returned to university,” Swick says.

— Canwest News Service

STUDENTS GET WARM WELCOME BERLIN — They arrived at Second World War battlefields 65 years later, carrying bookbags instead of bombs, iPods instead of artillery.

But as they tramped the same roads as the soldiers who came before them, a group of Canadian students in Europe had the same warm welcome that an earlier generation from Canada received more than half a century ago.

“We’ve been welcomed with open arms,” said Adina Lambersky. “Everyone was very happy to see us.”

The 17-year-old from Sinclair Secondary School in Whitby, Ont., is one of some 2,400 students in Europe on an educational tour crafted to commemorate the 65th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day.

“It’s been very emotional, I’ve cried a lot,” she said. “But it’s been happy tears and sad tears.”

The students are currently in Berlin, where they draped flags over the graves of war dead as Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited the 1939-1945 Berlin Cemetery for downed Commonwealth air crews and laid a wreath at the monument.

— The Canadian Press

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