with Our Boots On
The Walkerville Collegiate Cadet
Corps Inspection 1947
every good horror movie, theres always that scene where the
heroine opens the door to the basement and, despite the screams
of everyone in the movie theatre shouting, Dont go down
into the basement! she goes down into the basement. In our
1881 home in Bowmanville, I have one of those Silence of the Lambs
basements that gets my complete attention every time I descend.
was rummaging through some stuff in that basement last week, looking
over my shoulder the whole time, hearing unusual sounds that have
never been present before. While eyeballing possibly the worlds
biggest spider blocking my return up the stairs, I discovered the
box marked 1945 Amiens. This box has been present for
the last three moves of the Liddell clan along with several other
containers that continue to sit unopened collecting dust and cobwebs.
As I picked up the overstuffed box, a large canvas container popped
out and I instantly recognized my Dads war kit that included
a gas mask. The moment I saw his metal war helmet, I was suddenly
transported back to my childhood.
wish all children of the world could have been born when I was in
a country called Canada. I am part of that lucky and spoiled generation
of Canadians who never had to go to war. However, I was born one
year after WWII ended which made me very aware of its impact. My
Dad and Uncle Norm served in World War II as did many of my friends
fathers. Several of my teachers at Walkerville Collegiate served
as well. We even called some of them by their war rankings: Major
Allison, Captain Bunt and Colonel OBrien, for example.
teachers who had returned from that war wanted to forget it and
move on, so the subject generally remained hidden from everyday
events. But it would surface in the form of the Walkerville Collegiate
cadet corps or in the stories men would tell at the Air Force Club
when kids were invited at Christmas.
wars were innocent mock events. And we had endless battles
of cowboys and Indians. I was Hopalong Cassidy complete with the
full outfit including the Hoppy watch given to me by my Aunt Claudia
and Uncle Jack for my sixth birthday. As I rode Topper, my faithful
white steed (actually a five foot piece of wood) into an ambush
I always felt superior and knew no arrow or tomahawk would pierce
one ever wanted to be an Indian and since the tribe always lost
to white superiority I guess it can be argued that this childhood
pastime was our first hint of racism. (It would take the Meech Lake
Accord and the follow-up First Minister Conferences to make me fully
understand the native issues in this land. White superiority
I also came to know for what is was: greed, arrogance and racism.)
to a young boy packing two colt pistols, life couldnt be better.
Our cowboy reverie was only cut short when our mothers called us
home for dinner or to bed when the streetlights came on. (We went
to sleep with our boots on.)
Disney was one of my generations greatest mentors and his
Wonderful World of Disney TV show was constantly pushing
our imagination into new lands and new ideas. We learned an Americanized
version of the western frontier from the saga of Davey Crockett.
I remember our music teacher, Mrs. McKinnon teaching us the Ballad
of Davey Crockett and unfortunately for any species of animal
that resembled a raccoon, the coonskin hat craze ran
rampant throughout North America every kid had to have one.
Daveys last stand at the Battle of the Alamo also was intriguing
to the boys of Hugh Beaton, so after the Christmas trees were placed
in the alleys for garbage pickup, we would collect them to make
our own Fort Alamo and fight with neighbouring street
gangs. The Turner Road gang of Dave Holden, Bob Stewart, and Tim
Lamberton, with help from Don and Bob Halstead and Chuck Bannich,
were skilled at not only destroying our Amiens fort but also carrying
away the trees to make their Alamo even larger. Although snowballs
are safer than musket-fire, I can still recall how much they hurt.
up on Amiens Avenue taught me several World War I battles because
all the east-west one block streets were named Somme, Arras, Amiens,
Ypres, Verdun, Alsace, Vimy and Loraine. For a short time, while
two homes on the east side of Kildare between Ypres and Amiens were
being constructed, we used to play war using my helmet and gas mask
plus other memorabilia our dads had brought back. George Kidd had
a great communication radio that was loaded with tubes and neat
stuff. We would hurl dirt at the enemy pretending it was a bomb
that had just exploded.
all wars there were casualties; once Mike Dewars nose took
a full load of dirt and instantly started bleeding. After my Mom
patched him up, she suggested perhaps we stop this game. Then our
fathers were called into action that night and we were all told
war is not a game that was the end of that.
one very hot day in May 1962, a fellow Walkerville C. I. Cadet asked
why we had to march. Major Allison screamed, Because my brother-in-law
marched for you and hes dead! Ashamed the boy quickly
responded, Then I will march too, sir. May we never
forget those who sacrificed.
Grade 6, Miss Ford introduced us to a poem that continues to haunt
me. It was written by a soldier in the trenches of World War I and
although it is specific to a time and a place long ago, John McCraes
words in the poems middle verse could be etched on any memorial
for any war:
are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.