Veterans stress the importance of service while preserving legacies

·6 min read

In the midst of COVID-19, Carl Bedal had a bit more time than usual on his hands.

When he was seated in the dining room of his Chartwell Hollandview Retirement Residence home one day, a woman from a neighbouring table tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘Do you know what we need? A good news newsletter,’” – and the mental gears began to turn.

“Hey, there’s an idea!” he said, recalling that lightbulb moment. “I have to latch on to that.”

Mr. Bedal quickly set to work, preparing an app on his smartphone for the purpose, and joined the publishing game at the age of 97.

The focus of this month’s edition of Good News Only is Remembrance Day and within its pages, Mr. Bedal profiles five of his fellow residents, each of whom served King, Queen and Country. In doing so, he is preserving their legacies as the number of Second World War veterans still able to tell their stories inevitably and sadly declines. As a navy seaman from the Second World War himself, he is ensuring the stories that only he and his colleagues can tell are not forgotten by future generations.

“I came [to Hollandview] eleven years ago and at the time there were at least 30 veterans here,” he says. “There are seven of us now, six of whom are mobile and only two of us are from World War Two.”

Mr. Bedal joined the Royal Canadian Navy in 1943 in a move that was maybe a bit rebellious as his parents had lived through the horrors of the First World War and did not want their two sons to be placed in harm’s way. Nevertheless, he and four friends piled a car in their native Belleville bound for Kingston to enlist.

“My parents were quite surprised I signed up and I have to ask myself why,” he recalls. “There are several reasons, one of them being when you’re a teen you kind of go with the crowd. Coming from a family farm, it didn’t make any sense at all. There was no model for that. When I was growing up, there were two boys in the family. I was the elder of the two. They were really concerned about what was happening in Europe, but it had no influence on me at the last minute when I joined.”

Following Mr. Bedal’s time in the Navy, during which he missed seeing active service by mere weeks, he forged a career as an educator. This passion for education has endured into his retirement and not just through Good News Only, but in passionately speaking to students in both elementary and secondary school about the realities of war.

“I try to encourage students to first think of their health because they are not much use to the Armed Services if they don’t have their health,” he says. “I encourage them not to do stupid things in their youth. I try to emphasize that all these people like ourselves who served, we served to ensure that folks back home, the kids growing up, will be safe and secure. I guess that was also part of the reason why I joined. People have to know what service meant. When we go and speak [to students], they want to know the facts – how big was the ship? How big a gun did you have? How heavy were the shells? How did the depth charges work? Were you ever scared?”

He doesn’t mince words when he answers those questions but in more recent years he says he has noticed many schools emphasizing peace – a noble effort, to be sure – above and beyond the concept of service, but he’s far from alone in trying to emphasize this theme to younger generations.

“A number of years ago, I qualified for my pension as a veteran and they persuaded me to get a licence plate with a poppy,” says Blake Williams, 90, who served with the Canadian Armed Forces between 1949 and 1952 during the Korean war, a neighbour of Mr. Bedal’s. “I thought with this license plate, Remembrance would be consistent every time I see pedestrians and traffic – and that is the only reason why I got the licence plate. The first day I put it on, I was driving towards Dr. G.W. Williams Secondary School to go to No Frills and you would not believe how many kids recognized the plate, gave me a big whistle and a big wave.”

Mr. Williams believes that more veterans – particularly younger ones from more recent conflicts – should participate more in letting the younger generation “know what we did.”

He was once in their shoes.

A native of King Township, growing up on a large farm on what is now Bathurst Street, he was inspired into service not only by his elder brother and cousin, but also by fellow local Robert Turp.

“We used to ski and do things together,” says Mr. Williams of Turp, the future airman who served in the RCAF in the Second World War. “He was a spitfire pilot and he and I wrote back and forth until one day he stopped writing. He was shot down and killed. A nicer human being never lived than Robert Turp. It was absolutely senseless that his good life had to be taken from him.”

Despite this sad memory, Mr. Williams nevertheless decided to do his part, following his brother and cousin to Aurora to serve with the Queen’s York Rangers and, from there, the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery where he received paratroop and gunnery training.

Given a discharge upon his father’s death in 1952, his experiences with the Forces and the realities of war are as vivid within him today as ever before.

“We have got to learn from one another, and we have to care about each other, and we’ve got to set an example for kids in doing so – whether we’re 90, 97, or whatever age. You need to set an example for your children and your cohorts,” he says.

Adds Mr. Bedal: “When my medals arrived from Ottawa, I put them in a drawer and that was it. I never really thought about them until I came here [with other veterans and became involved in speaking to students]. I was a teacher for more than 30 years and there were service people who were also teachers, but never once were we invited on November 11 to do anything but sit in our seats like everyone else. [Now sharing my stories in schools] they want to know what it feels like. They want to know what it is to rattle around on a ship at sea and what it is like to know there are invisible Nazi subs in that water. They want to know more than what is in the textbooks.”

Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting