“They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.”
— Laurence Binyon, Ode of Remembrance
One by one, the brave men and women who fought and triumphed in the Second World War are passing away, leaving behind a precious and enduring legacy for all Canadians to enjoy and hold dear — freedom.
Dan Hennessey had a unique opportunity a decade ago to sit down with 18 Lunenburg County veterans — 16 men, two women — to listen to their fascinating and often heart-wrenching stories about their experiences.
Sadly, the last of the group, Mike Ciz, died in 2018, predeceased by Alvin Wentzell, Frank Hammond, Doug Crowell, Bert Eagle, Bert Wallace, Doris Joudrey, Doug Cox, Leon Whynot, Mary Nixon, Merle Wentzell, Perry Veinot, Pierre Allaine, Ralph Hebb, Ron Mosley, Shorty Rhodenizer, Albert Scott and Len Harmes.
The one-on-one interviews with the veterans were immortalized in a video entitled Time to Remember. On the 10th anniversary of the video’s production, a screening in honour of the veterans’ lives and service will be held at Government House in Halifax on Tues. Mar. 26 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
When Hennessey completed the video, he launched it at the Bridgewater theatre complex, where he treated the veterans like Hollywood actors, complete with a walk down a red carpet flanked by local Army and Sea Cadets. The Bridgewater Fire Department band played background music reminiscent of the wartime years.
After signing a Time to Remember poster, the veterans filed into one of theatres where they were greeted by 250 guests. Following introductions, the “movie stars” and guests viewed the video on the big screen.
The signed poster was later given a place of honour on a wall at the Bridgewater Legion Branch No. 24.
“When I first joined the Legion, there were some Second World War veterans still around. It was almost like finding an old picture book and reading it from the inside out,” said Hennessey, who is entering his fourth year as Honorary Colonel of 14 Construction Engineering Squadron in Bridgewater.
Hennessey said he was amazed how many Lunenburg County veterans played a significant role in the D-Day Invasion of Normandy in 1944. “Oh, my gosh, I was among historical royalty. They all wore their medals proudly,” he said.
“Their average age 10 years ago was mid-80s, some older. I thought it would be great if I could convince them to speak with me, given that most veterans don’t really like to talk about their wartime experiences.”
Hennessey told the Legion president what he wanted to do and asked for a list of all Legion members who served in the Second World War. Eventually he came up with 18 veterans who agreed to be interviewed.
“When the veterans arrived for the interviews, family members often accompanied them and sat off-camera listening to the conversations. When we were wrapping up, the family members would say to me, ‘you know, dad (or mom) just told you that interesting story and that’s the first time we have heard it,’” said Hennessey.
Some of the veterans needed to be prompted to open up, while others talked openly. Merle Wentzell, for example, talked candidly for more than 45 minutes.
“Frank Hammond was the first veteran I interviewed,” said Hennessey. “Frank told me he was a signalman on a landing craft transporting Canadians to Juno Beach while under enemy fire. As they approached the assigned landing zone, they passed bodies of Canadian soldiers who never made it to the beach.”
Rev. Ron Mosley, a front-line combat chaplain with the U.S. Army’s 106th Infantry, was wounded twice in the famous Battle of the Bulge.
Pierre Allaine joined the French Resistance at 13 and served his country admirably, saving many lives.
Mike Ciz, who enlisted in the Royal Canadian Navy and rose to the rank of commander, was involved in many naval engagements during the Battle of the Atlantic.
The two female veterans played very different roles in the war, but each was just as important as the other.
Doris Joudrey served with the British Land Army in rural England. She was assigned to farm work, raising cattle and growing crops essential to the Allied war effort.
Mary Nixon was a radar plotter in the British Army. She was stationed at gun emplacements along the English coast, tracking incoming German bombers.
Most of the veterans Hennessey interviewed were in their late teens or early twenties when they served.
“Their experiences left indelible marks on their souls and, for me, there is no expiration date on remembering their sacrifices,” he said. “Sharing their stories is important and that’s why I produced Time to Remember.”
Known throughout the South Shore for his commitment to community and charitable initiatives, and his unwavering support of the Canadian Armed Forces, Hennessey is also executive director of the Bridgewater and Area Chamber of Commerce and regular contributor to the South Shore Breaker.
His notable accomplishments include the organization of a successful Yellow Ribbon campaign, and a memorial to the memory of Corporal Paul Davis, a casualty of the Afghanistan mission. He also organized memorials to Privates Rick Green and Nathan Smith, and Signalman Philip Crouse.
A recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, Hennessey regularly visits local schools, youth groups and others to raise awareness of the sacrifices Canada’s veterans made and continue to make today.
For details on the video screening at Government House, email Hennessey at email@example.com.