On August 4, 1914, Great Britain, and all of its colonies and dominions which included Canada, declared war on Germany. Two veterans sat down reminiscing about family history involving the Great War, mostly about stories involving their fathers or uncles. This Remembrance Day marks one hundred years since the end of the First World War and the veterans talk on the importance of remembering those who served.
One British veteran’s story, who’s made Port Hardy his home
One veteran, George Kearey, who served in the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy, mentioned his father and uncle enlisted early in the First World War. In fact, the two answered the call to duty within the same month the war had started. The two men were sent as part of the units in what was the initial waves of Allied engagements.
Kearey, who wrote in “Tale of Two Brothers,” to the Gazette back in 1996, had said his family George and William (or Willie) Kearey immediately enlisted into the Great War. George “found himself in the machine gun regiment,” Kearey wrote, “He was in France within two months serving with the Royal Scots. He earned a battlefield promotion to lance corporal.” Kearey also recounted that George was injured and sent home within five months.
Willie, on the other hand, served in the Royal Army Medical Corps as a stretcher bearer and was sent to the front lines. Kearey’s father was only 16 at the time of when he enlisted. Willie had joined as a private and “not as a boy soldier.” Kearey confirmed that, “yes, there were … boy soldiers and sailors up until quite recently and they bled just as good as adults.”
In what could be a humorous recollection, Kearey mentioned his father “was piggy backing a wounded Jock (a soldier in a Scottish regiment) when his suspenders broke (Willie Kearey’s). This to him was funny.” The Britishman-turned-Canadian citizen also added that “it sounds like a potential disaster. Three feet of mud, shells bursting all around, dodging from shell hole to shell hole with a wounded man on your back, your pants fall down and you are not even 20 years old.”
As with many soldiers who came back from the Great War, George “never said one word about his service.” But Willie had mentioned on occasion “the dirt, filth, and horror of the trenches. It is for fellows like these that we have a day of Remembrance on November the 11th,” Kearey noted.
During his experiences serving Britain, Kearey noted, “I was in the Royal Navy and I spent two years in that. And then I went into the Merchant Navy and I sailed the world, here there and everywhere.” He pointed out there was a lot more freedom in the British Merchant Navy than the Royal Navy or the Canadian Navy during his service.
In his most notable time spent in Britain’s military, Kearey was sent to Greece during its revolution. “We got out of that mess and then I just put in the time,” until he retired, got married and was hired for a regular job. He then decided to move to Canada shortly after his service.
Another longtime local served in the Navy during the Cold War
Dennis Flannigan, who served during the Cold War in the 1960s with the Royal Canadian Navy, gave his account of what it was like to serve. Flannigan joined in 1967 and “back then they still wore bell-bottom trousers and I think what they call the round rig,” he explained.
He noted the military branches were subsequently unified during his service. He noted after the unification into what is now called the Canadian Armed Forces there were many changes. The new “green uniform … many thought we were bus drivers,” he mentioned in slight humour. “I served on two destroyers, a submarine, and a sailing vessel,” he added, “but life at sea in peacetime, we periodically had to do patrols because of the Cold War.”
“On the West Coast, we had to be on the lookout for Soviet incursions into our waters. There was a time we were recalled and there was a Russian vessel – they called it a research vessel – but it was a spy vessel I’m sure.”
He then said that radar jamming equipment was working while they escorted the vessel in the Juan de Fuca Strait into Vancouver, BC. Flannigan mentioned it was close to the end of the year at the time and “this Russian came out and waved at me and said, ‘Happy New Year Canada!’” He had chuckled afterwards having shared that story.
He mentioned one of the many things he did during his service: “We were chasing drug smugglers. Of course, back in those days, we had to prepare for what we thought might be a conflict with the Russians,” Flannigan concluded in recollection of his days of service.
Remembrance Day, on Nov. 11, commemorates Canadian veterans, the men and women who served their country in the First and Second World War, the Korean War, and the conflicts Canadian Armed Forces participated thereafter. The ceremony in Port Hardy will be held at the cenotaph in Carrot Park near the waterfront, with the ceremony beginning at 11:00 a.m.
Correction: The Gazette would like to apologize for misspelling Dennis Flannigan’s surname, but has since updated the article to include the correct spelling.