As they stood in silent reverence at the Aurora Cenotaph on Thursday morning, Robert and Christa Horgan did so having experienced multiple sides of conflict.
Christa, who was born in Germany, served as a translator with the Canadian Armed Forces for decades following a youth in a country still grappling with the realities of the Second World War. Robert, on the other hand, served for more than 30 years with NATO.
Their service took them to many corners of the world, some of which were no strangers to war and violence. Neither really knew what was before them when the newly-married couple took up their first overseas posting six months into their marriage – a pseudo-honeymoon, says Robert – and neither will forget what followed.
But some people, from their perspective, have forgotten where we have been and, if it is a trend that continues, history might be destined to once again repeat itself.
“Remembrance Day is quite emotional every year,” says Robert, recalling how he and Christa have regularly visited military cemeteries in Europe where Canadian soldiers have found eternal rest.
“Especially going through those trenches,” adds Christa. “A lot of people don’t appreciate what they went through in those trenches, especially right now.”
Having grown up in Germany, Christa bristles at people who compare today’s vaccine mandates to living under the yoke of fascism and has no hesitation in telling those who do, “You have no idea what it is like to live under that. These people who complain about the government making these decisions have no idea.”
Robert agrees, adding, “They have no idea what hardship is. You see documentaries about the First and Second World Wars, see some of these poor guys with shell shock and things like that, and it is very, very disturbing. Anyone who doesn’t appreciate what they did is disgusting to me.”
While Christa lived with a father who was in a Prisoner of War camp in Russia, along with aunts and uncles “who were close to being arrested because they wouldn’t fly the Nazi flag and were reported by friends of theirs,” Robert’s path to service was a little bit more bucolic.
Having grown up in Toronto, by the time Robert finished high school he didn’t quite know what he wanted to do with his life. Walking along Toronto Harbour, however, he had an idea watching the ships come in and seeing sailors hard at work painting their vessels.
“I thought it looked interesting and shortly after that I went to the recruiting office and signed on,” he says. “I only planned on staying in for five years, but again I was unsure what I wanted to do after that, so I signed on one more time and before I knew it, I was in for 32 years. I was on board ship, we travelled around, and I thank my lucky stars for that because we had only been married for about six months before I got posted overseas and that was kind of like our honeymoon.”
As Robert found his place in NATO, Christa soon found her opportunity with the Canadian Forces on their second overseas posting, putting her skills with the German language to use as a translator.
And so it was for decades before Robert retired as a Petty Officer in 1996.
Now residents of Newmarket, they have been active members of the Aurora Legion since 2017 and have been struck by how much the Legion is active in the community.
“I just wish younger people would join,” says Christa about the slightly older demographic of Legion membership not just within Aurora but across the country.
“I think over the years the Legion has got a bad rap with drinking and all sorts of stuff,” Robert continues, before pausing to let a smile cross his face, “but I don’t know where people got that impression!”
“I wonder!” sighs Christa with the slightest of eyerolls.
While they quip about the stereotypes, they are very serious about what the Legion offers the community and making sure the legacy of the servicepersons who came before them are never far from people’s minds.
“I looked around at church recently and there was just one other man wearing a poppy and I thought that was terrible,” says Christa.
From Robert’s perspective, Canadians, over the years, have moved towards “living in some sort of utopian world in their minds.”
“They have all the nice toys and everything, but they don’t follow world events,” he says. “Right now, it is pretty scary when you follow the news with the way the Russians and Chinese are acting up, everyone is in a little bit of a dreamworld. So many also think of themselves; they are comfortable with a nice house and car, they go on holiday, but people just don’t read history. That is another scary part, too. People don’t read history and it looks like it is going to start repeating itself if we’re not careful.”
“We want people to think about what they (the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces) went through so it doesn’t happen again,” Christa agrees.
Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran