Love for your country. Love for your family. Love for the future generations that you will never meet. Love for those who can do nothing for you.
My Great Grandpa, Arthur Lester, serving in World War II, 1941.
I had the pleasure of coming to know and love my Great Grandma—Grandma Betty—for the first 14 years of my life. And though I never met my Great Grandpa (her husband), their story, as told by my Grandma, is one worth sharing this Remembrance Day, as we keep our promise to never forget.
My Great Grandpa and Grandma Betty were 18 years old when they solidified their eternal commitment to each other, in marriage, after he found out that he would be posted overseas to serve in World War II. Evidently, the question after that, was whether or not to pursue having a child, with so much uncertainty lying ahead—would he even return home to raise this child? My Grandma Betty wanted to know that she would have a piece of him, of them, regardless of what the circumstances would later entail.
So, just months later, as they waited for him to board the ship that would carry him overseas, she was able to say, what could be a final goodbye, knowing she carried this piece of him. In the somber atmosphere of the soldiers waiting to board, their families in tow, a little girl ran up to my Great Grandpa.
“Daddy!” she exclaimed to him. I’m sure, in their uniforms, the men all did look the same, and so its no surprise that she mistakenly took my Great Grandpa for her father.
Grandma Betty smiled, “what’s her name?” she asked the little girls mother.
“Elaine”, she replied.
“If this baby is a girl, I’m going to name her Elaine.”
My Great Grandpa went on to serve in the war for its entire duration: 6 years. He spent the first half as a soldier, where he fought in the line of defense, as well as, dodged enemy traps as he drove motorcycles and trucks to deliver messages during the night. One night, on one such mission, him and some fellow soldiers noticed another Canadian soldier on the side of the road. Evidently, they stopped to pick him up in their truck, to take him where he needed to go. Although this soldier spoke perfect English, there was something about his uniform that was slightly off. As it turns out, he was not a Canadian soldier at all, but a German soldier in disguise. Fortunately, though the outcome could have been devastating, my Great Grandpa, along with his fellow Canadian soldiers, were able to secretively turn him in to their superiors.
After a couple years of service, his role changed through an interesting twist of events that occurred one night. His friend, who was the cook for the soldiers, was unable to finish his duties on this particular night. My Great Grandpa, being the dependable man he was, finished all of the nighttime baking so as to save his friend from being punished: how honorable. His work was so astounding that he not only became the cook for the soldiers, but later, for the officers! These duties continued through the next three years of war.
Meanwhile, back home in Ottawa, Canada, my Grandma Betty did give birth to a little girl, Elaine—my Grandma.
She went on to raise her, at only my age, with the hopes that, one day, their little family could reunite.
Finally, six years later, when my Grandma was 5 and a half, her father returned home to meet his little girl for the first time.
To follow was more children, grand children, and great grandchildren. Through it all, and despite the brutalities of war that were his reality for six long years, my Great Grandpa—Arthur Lester—was referred to as ‘Uncle Happy’, for his unfailing joie de vivre.
His children and grandchildren recall that whenever he spoke of the war, he only shared positive stories. He even brought home an “army fork” that became the prized possession of his grandchildren—who squabbled over who got to use the army fork to eat their meal! Not to mention, the silly stories he would share, like how he attributed his baldness to wearing a soldier helmet for so many years!
I wish I could say that, after a story like this, I would never again complain about the long walks across campus in the dead of winter, and that I will forever appreciate the comfort and safety of my own home. Essentially, there is lots I take for granted; but this is an encouragement to live a little more gratefully, act a little more humbly, and be a lot more loving.
This is an amazing story; but it is only one among many. Thousands of others have been told, are waiting to be told, and will never be told. And many don’t share a similar happy ending. But, if you delve deep into the roots of any war story, I think you’ll find that they all share at least one thing in common: its not about war, its about love.