Pat Johnston (right) speaks to a group of students from Evans elementary with fellow veterans Pieter van der Maden (left) and Harry Mayne during Canada Remembers at the Masonic Temple last week.

Pat Johnston (right) speaks to a group of students from Evans elementary with fellow veterans Pieter van der Maden (left) and Harry Mayne during Canada Remembers at the Masonic Temple last week.

Students learn lessons of sacrifice

Veterans tell the tales of war to Chilliwack's youth as part of the annual Canada Remembers campaign.

Three elderly men sat before a group of school-aged children, speaking to them of things their young minds could not fathom.

They talked of playing soccer next to a minefield, of starving with nothing but a cup of cold, watery soup to sustain them. They told of sleeping in air-raid shelters, in slit trenches, and underneath vehicles in the jungle.

Their audience sat riveted, wide-eyed, with hands spearing the air and a bevy of questions ready to roll off their tongues as soon as the opportunity was granted.

“Were there tommy guns and old-fashioned cars?”

“Did people get forced into the war if they didn’t want to go?”

“What are the Germans like now?”

“Did you ever get attacked by an animal?”

For 13 years, the Canadian Forces Base Chilliwack Historical Society has been offering Canada Remembers presentations to Chilliwack schools, inviting classes into the Masonic Hall to tour the artifacts and listen to local veterans speak of their times in war and peacekeeping missions.

Every year the program brings in more than 1,000 students during the course of the week it runs.

For CFB veteran Jim Harris, it’s personal.

“When I was in Europe, I noticed the kids over there knew more about Canadian military history than our own students,” Harris said.

“I wanted our students to know as much or more than what kids outside the country know. They’ve got a lovely, beautiful country here, they’re free, and they should know the reasons why, and what the price was that our Canadian soldiers, men and women, have paid.”

On a brisk morning last week, students from Evans elementary listened to the military tales of Pieter van der Maden, Harry Mayne, and Pat Johnston.

van der Maden was just five years old, living in Holland, when the Second World War broke out. He went from having a house full of food to his mom having to ride into the city, on a bike with a flat tire, to sell her jewelry just so she could get a handful of potatoes for her children to eat.

In 1944 – the “Hongerwinter” – van der Maden was nine years old and skin and bones. More often than not, the only sustenance available was a cup of ice-cold soup that was “90 per cent water.”

“I mean there was nothing to eat,” he emphasized. “I was a real scrawny kid, I looked like one of those kids on TV, skin and bones.”

Mayne, now 87, spoke of May 8, 1945.

Then, a young soldier, he was guarding the gates of the naval barracks in northeast Germany when he saw unknown planes flying towards him. Immediately he jumped into a trench for fear of enemy attack. But as the planes grew nearer, instead of enemy fire, they dropped thousands of pamphlets announcing peace had been declared.

The war was over.

To this day, Mayne has that pamphlet, now framed and hanging on his wall at home.

Johnston didn’t serve in a war, but he did leave his young children at home in Canada to serve two peacekeeping tours in Egypt and South Africa.

On his second tour in South Africa, he assisted with the first “black vote” that acknowledged black people as people, and helped create a program, that’s still running today, that provides a school with proper notepads so the students wouldn’t have to write on slates anymore.

In his 30 years with the Royal Canadian Air Force, Johnston’s most memorable moments were in the jungle hanging out with elephants, lions, leopards, and laughing hyenas.

Each speech lasted about five minutes, and in every one, the students were reminded of their fortunes many take for granted today.

“You guys don’t know how lucky you are to live in a place like Canada,” said van der Maden, who immigrated to Canada in 1954 at 18 years old, and served in the Canadian Armed Forces from 1958 to 1979.

“Canada, this is one of the most magnificent places on Earth.”

kbartel@theprogress.com

twitter.com/schoolscribe33

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alina Durham, mother of Shaelene Bell, lights candles on behalf of Bell’s two sons during a vigil on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO and PHOTOS: Candlelight vigil for Shaelene Bell of Chilliwack sends message of hope

Small group of family, friends gathered to shine light for 23-year-old mother missing for four weeks

The Great Bear Snowshed on the Coquihalla Highway (Highway 5) in British Columbia. Truck driver Roy McCormack testified in BC Supreme Court in Chilliwack on Feb. 25, 2021 that his brakes started smoking in about this location, and soon after he lost all braking, which led to a multi-vehicle crash further down the road on Aug. 5, 2016. (GoogleMaps)
Truck driver charged in Coquihalla crash showed ‘wanton and reckless disregard for other people’s lives’: Crown

Despite already having brake issues, Roy McCormack tackled the steepest hill on the infamous highway

Abbotsford International Airport. Black Press file photo.
Abbotsford Airport had 4th highest traffic in Canada in 2020, and its number are down

Statistics Canada report describes a ‘devastating year’ for air travel

(Black Press - file photo)
WEATHER: Enjoy the sun today, prepare for a week of rain

Clouds and rain to arrive by evening, Environment Canada forecasts

Chilliwack’s Ryan Wugalter with his kids, three-year-old Mira and 15-month-old Solomon. Wugalter recently released his children’s album Super Giraffe. (Submitted)
Chilliwack father releases children’s album, songs about superhero giraffe and not eating magnets

Inspiration for Ryan Wugalter’s new album ‘Super Giraffe’ came from his two young kids

Dr. Bonnie Henry leaves the podium after talking about the next steps in B.C.’s COVID-19 Immunization Plan during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, January 22, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
COVID: 589 new cases in B.C., and 7 new deaths

No new outbreaks being reported Feb. 26

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Approximate location of the vehicle incident. (Google Maps)
Vehicle incident blocking Coquihalla traffic in both directions

Both directions of traffic stopped due to vehicle incident

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Inez Louis, who is strategic operations planner with the health department in the Sto:lo Service Agency, talks about infection control in the latest YouTube video about COVID-19 created in partnership with the Chilliwack Division of Family Practice and the Chilliwack Economic Recovery Network. (YouTube)
VIDEO: Nurse Inez Louis explains how infection control is not social control

The difference is important for Indigenous people to hear in the context of Canada’s colonial past

Judith Uwamahoro is Black, approximately 4’7″ tall, 80 pounds and has short black hair and brown eyes. (Surrey RCMP handout)
UPDATED: Lower Mainland 9-year-old located after police make public plea

Judith Uwamahoro went missing Friday at around 4 p.m. in Surrey

Five-year-old Nancy Murphy wears a full mask and face shield as she waits in line for her kindergarten class to enter school during the COVID-19 pandemic on Tuesday, September 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Variant of concern linked to COVID-19 outbreak at three Surrey schools

Cases appear to be linked to community transmissions, but schools will remain open

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

BC Ferries experienced heavy traffic on Feb. 27 following cancellations the day before due to strong winds and adverse weather. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries sailings fill up quickly after Friday cancellations due to high winds

Waits expected on Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen route, Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay route

Most Read