It was a day to remember the fallen – and those who still serve in the Canadian navy.
The Royal Canadian Naval Association Niagara Region hosted a memorial ceremony for the Battle of the Atlantic on Sunday, with members and cadets gathering at Navy Hall in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
Shipmate Fred Martin, a veteran of the years-long battle — one of the most notable campaigns of the Second World War — was in attendance to pay his respects to his fallen comrades.
Martin, who turned 96 on Thursday, was called up during the ceremony and honoured for his service.
In an interview with reporters, he said he was just 17 years old when he left to fight as an Able Seaman-Torpedo.
At that point, a lot of Canadian lives had already been lost, but Martin said he wasn't truly aware of the dangers he was facing.
“We were just kids,” he said.
“That's the way it was — not so much trying to be a hero. You certainly weren't. You were just pulled along with what was happening,” he said.
“We were all young and we were all like young people are — your buddy joined the navy, you joined the navy.”
Martin was injured after a depth charge exploded on the surface in his first year of service, “which is not a nice thing to happen. It wrecked my hearing.”
He was only 13 when the war began in 1939. He continued serving until 1946, when he returned to Niagara Falls and had a 43-year career working on the railroad.
Martin was honoured with a Queen's Platinum Jubilee pin, which Lord Mayor Betty Disero helped attach to his shirt.
The event was led by Mike Britton, RCNA special events chair, along with words from naval association members.
Major Reverend Harold Ristau spoke about the importance of the memorial.
“We may ask ourselves why are we gathered here today? Why have you all come here on this Sunday afternoon? There's all sorts of other activities competing for your time,” he said.
“You haven't come here to catch up with old friends or honour some old tradition or read a plaque as if we're in a museum or something of the sort. You're not just here either because your commanding officer told you had to be here, right?”
“It's because you care about what it means to be Canadian, about freedom and its price. We're not simply here to remember a horrific event that happened many years ago but to learn lessons from it for today, and to honour those who sacrificed themselves. Each one of them a hero.”
Shipmates Genevieve-Renee Bisson and Jeff Seburn played an acoustic rendition of “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” Normally it would be performed by the Niagara Falls Concert Band, but they were unable to attend due to a COVID illness.
“The Last Post” was played by trumpeter Steve Finkelstein and Master Piper Peter Mackenzie played “Amazing Grace.”
Shipmate Harvey Villard rang the ship’s bell twice for each boat lost during a reading of the ship names.
Petty Officer First Class Albert, a 16-year-old naval cadet, said events like this are a sombre reminder of what peace means.
“I think we would have been training up to be kind of with those guys. Right? So hearing about those events, it's really important to us. It's part of our history,” he said, noting it was powerful to meet Martin.
“It kind of like puts into perspective, to have someone here who has experienced it.”