Like 50,844 other male Albertans, my father served for six years overseas in World War 11. He saw action in North Africa, Italy, France and Belgium with the Royal Canadian Artillery. He spent his leaves London, England. And like many other men, he enlisted by insisting he was 18 years old, although he wasn't. He was a raw farm boy from eastern Alberta and had ventured no farther than Edmonton to work on a dairy farm when war broke out.
This is a snapshot of my father, Aleck Trefiak, taken in, according to the pale, penciled note on the back, 1940. He was 18 years old.
The second son of Ukrainian immigrants, he was Canadian by birth because they chose Canada over other countries where they would live under the rule of the King and Great Britain. He had no idea what he had signed up for. For six years, he fought. He learned to drive in the army and he learned how an engine worked. He learned to drink. Once, in France, a shell fell right beside him but didn't explode. Another time, after a night of drinking, he staggered across a field to get home, only to discover the next morning, that the field was heavily mined.
He was one of the lucky ones because he did come home with a British war bride in tow. And then he was on his own. There was no military support, no support for veterans, no matter how flawed. PTSD was called shell shock and there was no treatment, only some sad head shaking. My father never talked to me about the war. I think he wanted to forget and I think he wanted to protect me. The few things I know are second hand (such as the anecdotes above.)
The war took its toll, however. My father returned to farming and worked very hard. He tried to leave the war behind but he often drank to forget. When he was 56, he died of a massive heart attack. Like so many other veterans, his service was a thing he was very proud of but never mentioned. Very few Canadian WW11 veterans are left and each year the numbers are less. I am telling my father's story as a tribute. He was an ordinary soldier who did his duty for King and Country. I will remember him and the thousands like him who left as innocent youth. Some never returned and those that did were forever marked. He was an ordinary soldier.
I've been writing on and off for years and this is where my more serious pieces will be.