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 A Christmas Story of Remembrance The   initial   stillness   of   Christmas   day   is   broken   only   by   the   gentle   falling   snow   that   begins   to   cover   the   trees   of   the surrounding   forest   and   as   time   passes   the   roadways   and   the   open   ground.      The   woodlands   create   a   protected   place   of   reflection and   peacefulness   dedicated   to   the   sacrifice   of   many.      Within   the   woods   and   surrounding   trees   is   a   cemetery   where   one   thousand, three hundred and ninety four are buried.  This is the resting place of the men who died during the liberation of The Netherlands. As   the   daylight   fades,   the   entrance   gates   are   open   for   the   arrival   of   children,   each   carrying   a   lighted   candle.      Footsteps   pass between   the   snow   covered   grave   markers   and   each   child   quietly   moves   throughout   the   vast   cemetery   to   place   a   glowing   candle before   a   grave.      Before   long   the   landscape   glows   in   a   brilliant   golden   hue   across   the   snow   laden   ground   and   reflects   upward   on   the names   of   the   one   thousand   three   hundred   and   fifty-five   Canadians,   the   thirty-six   British,   the   two Australians,   and   the   one   Belgian, men who have rested here for some seventy years. In   the   distance   there   is   the   sound   of   bagpipes   that   fades   once   again   to   the   stillness   of   the   night.         It   is   now   that   the memories of the fallen can be felt rising in the cool air of the night to be remembered, lest we the living forget.   Each   one   has   a   story   to   tell   of   life   and   death,   of   tragedy   and   sorrow,   during   wartime.      The   candle   symbolizes   their   lives   as husbands,   fathers,   brothers,   and   friends,   and   the   need   to   be   remembered   even   though,   like   the   candle   that   burns   for   a   time   and flickers out, they too left us, the living, to continue without them, except in memory. This   Christmas,   I   will   remember   one   of   these   young   soldiers.      I   didn’t   know   him   personally,   but   rather   through   his   family,   his letters, his journal, and his official war records. He    was    born    on    July    25,    1920.   At    the    age    of    nineteen    he    had completed   three   years   of   high   school,   had   taken   a   night   school   business course      and   was   employed   as   a   clerk-salesman   with   a   furniture   company. His   hobbies   included   stamp   collecting.   He   enjoyed   skating,   hunting   and target   shooting.      He   played   left-wing   in   hockey,   half-back   in   football,      and a pitcher baseball.  He also played drums, piano, and could sing.  He   enlisted   on   June   14,   1940   in   the   Nova   Scotia   town   of   Truro   where he   lived   and   worked.   At   that   time,   he   was   five   feet,   ten   inches   in   height, weighed   136   pounds,   had   a   medium   complexion,   gray   eyes,   and   light   brown hair.  Taken    on    strength    with    the    North    Nova    Scotia    Highlanders,    1st Battalion,      at   Amherst,   Nova   Scotia,   he   held   the   rank   of   Private   and   given the   Regimental   Number      F50171.   He   was   a   member   of   the   Highlanders band,   playing   drums   in   Canada   and   in   the   United   Kingdom.   However,   in 1942,   while   he   liked   the   band   well   enough   he   didn’t   feel   that   he   always wanted   to   be   in   it,   but   would   like   to   drive   and   was   eventually   assigned   to that position. He   arrived   in   England   on   July   31,   1941   and   served   there   until   July   9, 1944    when    he    embarked    for    France.        He    was    appointed   Acting    Lance Corporal but reverted to Private, as his request in 1943.        In August   of   that   year,   the   North   Nova   Scotia   Highlanders   were   billeted   near   Steyning,   in   the   South   Downs   of   Sussex.      Here he   would   meet   and   fall   in   love   with   a   girl   from   Steyning.     They   met   whenever   he   had   leave   and   when   apart   he   telephoned   or   wrote letters. In early  May of 1944 they were married and began to make plans for after the war.  Then   D-Day   came,   and   he   was   fighting   in   France   and   part   of   the   push   toward   Germany.      On   Valentine’s   Day,   1945   he   was blessed   with   a   daughter   and   was   given   leave   to   attend   the   Christening   in   March.      Returning   to   France,   he   would   write   each   day always looking forward to being with his wife and daughter.  In   one   letter   he   would   write,   “At   last,   I   have   seen   the   big   white   cliffs   of   England.      Boy   did   they   ever   look   good   to   me.      I must   say   though   that   I   felt   a   little   homesick   and   I   couldn’t   take   my   eyes   off   them.      When   I   look   through   the   glasses   I   could   see   a village   over   there   and   radio   location   towers.      They   were   so   near   I   could   almost   touch   them.      It   did   bring   you   very   close   to   me darling   and   for   a   moment   it   was   just   as   if   I   was   in   England   with   you.      I’ll   never   forget   the   feeling   I   had   and   how   sad   I   felt   when   I had   to   look   away.     To   think   you   were   just   twenty   some   miles   away   from   me   and   I   couldn’t   get   to   see   you.   Darling   it   isn’t   fair.      We don’t   deserve   that.      Oh   well,   someday   ….   I’ve   been   saying   that   for   three   months   now,   sometimes   I   wonder   just   how   much   longer   I will be saying it.” On   May   5th,   1945   the   war   in   Europe   ended.      He   was   in   Ihrhove,   Germany,   just   across   the   Germany   border   with   the Netherlands.      The   night   before,   on   his   wedding   anniversary   he   wrote:   “Happy   Anniversary.      I   hope   though,   the   next   one   will   be much   happier   for   both   of   us   –   meaning   I   hope   we’ll   be   together?   Just   this   minute   they   announced   on   the   radio   that   the   Germans on   our   front   are   surrendering   tomorrow   at   8.am.   Boy,   are   our   boys   ever   happy.      They   are   at   the   end   of   my   truck   making   all   the noise   they   can.      …   I   can   hear   German   shells   still   landing   and   I   suppose   they   will   continue   to   do   so   until   tomorrow   at   8:00   am.      So, tonight,   I’m   going   to   sleep   in   the   deepest   cellar   I   can   find.      The   surrender   includes   all   Germans   in   Holland,   North   West   Germany and   a   couple   of   other   places.      In   other   words,   everything   is   almost   finished   …         Darling,   I   wish   I   was   home   tonight   to   celebrate with   you.     The   war   may   be   over   and   I   can   now   sigh   a   huge   sigh   of   relief   but   I’m   not   the   least   bit   excited.      I   guess   it’s   because   my thoughts   went   immediately   to   you   and   our   daughter.      I   can’t   get   to   you   fast   enough   for   my   liking.         We’ll   be   moving   along   again very   shortly.      So,   I’d   better   close   until   tomorrow.     At   present,   we   are   all   lined   up   in   the   road   and   ready   to   continue   our   journey.     So until tomorrow … “ There   would   be   no   more   letters.      At   9:00   pm   on   the   evening   of   May   6,   1945   he   was   accidentally   shot   when   another   soldier was   removing   a   magazine   clip   from   a   Sten   gun.     The   other   soldier   had   pulled   back   the   cocking   handle   to   see   there   was   no   round   in the chamber, but in doing so the cocking handle slipped out of his hand and the action went forward firing a round.  It   would   be   ten   days   before   news   of   his   death   reached Steyning.         He    was   buried   with   full   military   honours   in   Ihrhove, Germany   on   May   9,   1945   and   later   moved   to   The   Canadian   War Cemetery in Holten. Over   the   years   he   has   been   remembered   by   his   wife,   his daughter   and   others   of   his   family.      He   has   a   grandson   and   a great-grandson who looks like him. Both play drums.    On   January   29,   2013      after   sixty-eight   years,   he   and   the ‘girl from Steyning’ were finally reunited.    The    Holten    Canadian    War    Cemetery    is    a    place    for reflection.      As   the   candle   shines   across   his   grave   marker   this Christmas, Private Kenneth Buchanan will be remembered. Read the Article - Dashed Dreams at: Dashed Dreams - VE Day: (Archive of WWII Stories)
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A Christmas Story of Remembrance - 2015