6.4 C
Niagara Falls
Saturday, April 13, 2024
Battle of Atlantic remembered


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Muriel Clegg fights back tears as she remembers her late husband, Leonard Clegg, who served as a signalman in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. “It brings backs lots of memories. Good memories but still make me cry,” she said.

Fred Martin, one of the Second World War navy veterans and Clegg’s friend, shared the same sentiment.

“It brings back sad memories. It brings back fond memories,” he told The Lake Report.

“We are all navy people. We remember our friends. A few of those left now, but we get together and enjoy ourselves,” he said.

On Sunday, they were on hand at Navy Hall in Niagara-on-the-Lake to commemorate the Battle of the Atlantic, the longest continuous fighting of the Second World War. April 29 to May 5 was Navy Week in Niagara Region.

Martin was born in Niagara Falls and joined the navy at age 17, one year before the war ended. Martin spent about five or six months at sea, he said.

“Now that I’ve reached the age of 93, life is good,” he said.

Ninety-four-year-old Clint Page, another Second World War merchant navy veteran, was also at the event.

“What a magnificent improvement they made to everything here,” he said. “Look at the crowd we got. This is above average for me.”

Canada played a vital role in the Battle of Atlantic. More than 70,000 allied seamen, merchant mariners and airmen lost their lives, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia. A total of 5,151 allied ships sank from 1939 to 1945.

In the past, the Battle of Atlantic ceremony was held in Port Dalhousie and moved back to NOTL two years ago. Bringing the ceremony back to Navy Hall was important, said Chuck Johnston, president for the Royal Canadian Naval Association in the Niagara Region.

“This hall, this land is an important part of Niagara-on-the-Lake history. It is appropriate to come back here.”

“A lot of people think we’re glorifying war, but we are not,” said Johnston, who used to be a cook on land bases. “We try to teach remembrance so the war doesn’t happen again.”

“A lot of guys gave up their lives for Canada to give us the freedoms that we enjoy,” he said. “We enjoy a lot of freedoms a lot of countries don’t have. You got to be thankful for what you have.”

On Saturday, a public levee was held at Navy Hall for members of the Naval Association and regional and town officials.

As next year will mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Atlantic, Johnston said this year was a “practice year” to see what can be added to the ceremony next time.

Organized in a collaboration with the Royal Canadian Naval Association-Niagara, Parks Canada and Friends of Fort George, the levee featured speeches from retiring Conservative MP Rob Nicholson and Coun. Norm Arsenault.

Ron Dale, Parks Canada’s historian, also gave a talk on the significance of Navy Hall, Fort George and the Provincial Marine Department. Shipmate Jim Doherty then read a piece from Battle of Atlantic by Robert Johnston.

Nicholson said his father joined the Navy after he wasn’t admitted to air forces and he was very proud of Canada’s role in the war.

“These (events) are very, very moving for me because it underlines the wonderful history this country has had for standing up for what’s right,” Nicholson told The Lake Report.

Shipmate George Williams of the Canadian and Allied Armed Forces, who joined the navy in 1959 at the age of 18, cast carnations on the water for lost ships during the war. He was joined by shipmate Nigel Purvis for the Canadian and Allied Merchant Marines, and two cadets, Matthew Powers and Kayla Lavoie.

On Sunday, a ceremony featured a parade by Royal Canadian Sea Cadets 103 Niagara, Navy League Cadets 138 Drummond, Welland Canal Sea Cadets 358 RCSCC Sir Isaac Brock, and 613 Lincoln and Welland Regiment Army Cadets Corps.

St. Catharines MPP Jennifer Stevens, the association’s shipmate Mike Britton, Rev. Bruce Lacillade, Lord Mayor Betty Disero and a number of town councillors also were in attendance.

Commander Leanne Crowe, who has served with NATO as a strategic planner in Belgium and was director of diving safety, was invited back as a keynote speaker this year.

The Niagara Falls Concert Band, Niagara Regional Police band piper, and the Welland Bellerophon Bugle Corps also performed throughout the event.

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