Be Kind to Canada’s War Veterans on Remembrance Day
Many of us wear poppies on Remembrance Day, but there are even more ways you can honour war veterans and Canadian soldiers.
According to Veterans Affairs Canada, 33,200 Second World War veterans are still alive today. “More than one million Canadians and Newfoundlanders served in the military during the campaign — more than 45,000 gave their lives and another 55,000 were wounded.” Canadian trooper Max Dankner is one of them.
After joining the Canadian Reserve army in Montreal at age 17 and the active army shortly after, Max landed in Sicily and spent two and a half years fighting the German army all over Europe, as part of the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards, an Ottawa regiment.
Once we read about Max’s story, we decided to reach out to his family and set up a virtual visit. Our girls had the opportunity to ask Max questions about his incredible life and military service.
Jadyn, 16: Hi Max, my first question for you is, why did you join the army?
“Well, I was 17 years old at the time and my father received a letter from Europe stating that his parents were taken away by the Germans. I had never seen my father cry and after that, I decided to join the Canadian Reserve army. I was there for about a year and a half and then I joined the active army. The war was a terrible thing and I was young and eager to help.”
Julia, 10: Why do we wear poppies on Remembrance Day?
“We’ve got to remember all these people who died in the war. It’s just to remember what they went through and the fact that they did it on their own, to go and to serve their country because you know, if we don’t stop the bad guys there, they’ll come here. And so people should appreciate our sacrifices and when you see a veteran or you speak to him, just look at him and say to him, ‘thank you.’ I am exceptionally lucky that I’m sitting here talking to you today.”
Max was part of a reconnaissance unit, sent out to search for enemy artillery outposts and report back to his unit. He rode a motorcycle, often through pitch-black rough terrain in the Italian countryside.
Julia: How can kids like us contribute to the world, like you did?
“There’s a lot of things that you can do. You’ve got to be smart, you’ve got to go to school and it’s going to be a tough grind. If it was easy, everybody would do it! I found out when I came home from the army and went back to Quebec, it was very difficult. I used to drive a motorcycle in the last part of the war over in Holland and when I came back after the army to get a job, I wanted to become a policeman in the motorcycle unit, in the Laurentian mountains. The guy told me to fill out the application. I said, yeah, fine.
He said, ‘Oh you’re Jewish. We don’t take any Jewish people in the police force.’ Now, this is after a war, after me spending three years fighting, getting wounded. But, here I couldn’t get a job and I had to start being a dishwasher in a hotel. And from that I became a waiter. And from a waiter, I met somebody who used to work for my father and I got into manufacturing ladies hats. I even wound up making all the derby hats that the girls in the army wear today and in The Salvation Army.
It’s a great thing to serve your country. Listen to me, in all respects, it doesn’t matter if you’re a nurse or a doctor or a lawyer or a soldier, it doesn’t matter. But it’s a great thing to know that you can defend your country. Canada is a good country.”
Jadyn: I know you speak at a lot of schools and temples to young people like us. And I was just wondering, why is it so important for you to share your story?
“Well, this is very very important, sharing my story with young people. See, I used to go around to different schools and they used to take me down to the gym and they’d have 50, 60 people down there, kids, you know, in 7th or 8th grade and they’d ask you all kinds of questions and I’d try to explain, because it’s very important for young people to either go and visit some of these veterans in the hospital who are sick or take part in poppy day, because that poppy is a very good fund. It helps a lot of people. And it’s always good to remember where you come from.
Max was wounded near Monte Cassino, a rocky hill about 130 kms south east of Rome, which was used by the Germans as a strategic outpost. He was hit with a piece of shrapnel on the side of his stomach and was sent to a field hospital for three months, then rejoined his unit just in time for the advance into Holland, and eventual liberation. Max has received many medals of honour for his heroic service and was also awarded for his bravery by the Dutch government.
Julia: What was it like to be Jewish and fight in the war?
“When I took my advanced training in Saint John, right away they ask you what religion you are. I said Hebrew. The guy sort of looked at me and didn’t say anything. That was all right. But then when I got into the service and started doing all kinds of exercises, all kinds of drills, some of the fellas in the service asked me, ‘How’s that, you’re Jewish and you’re in the army? Because Jewish people don’t fight. They’re not soldiers, they’re doctors, dentists, lawyers and everything else to go with it, you know.’ And I said, ‘That’s not true.’ There was a little discrimination but after they saw that you can compete with them and do as much as they can do, there was no trouble. And I was young and in pretty good shape. So I competed with the best of them.”
Jadyn: What is the kindest thing that young people can do for war veterans?
“You can go to Sunnybrook Hospital in K section and go visit them and help them out. There’s not many veterans left now. You can wear a poppy and support the poppy campaign. You can volunteer work in the hospital, which is very good if you want to do that. That’s the way you find a nice, good looking doctor!
Just be smart and be vigilant and be proud of who you are. A quick story - what happens when a person gets wounded or they die, they have what you call a dog tag. So on the dog tag, they will mark you C of E (for Church of England), C (for Catholic) or you’re Hebrew. During the war, everybody said to me, ‘Why do you wear the dog tags? If the Germans catch you, they’re going to kill you right away because you’re Jewish.’ I said, “Let them catch me and kill me. I’m not taking it off. It’s who I am. That’s it.”
Thank you Max, for your service. And thank you for allowing us to ‘visit’ and ask about your incredible life experiences.
Don’t forget to be kind and show appreciation to our war veterans and our soldiers, and most importantly, thank them for their service. Lest we forget.
How you can help:
Download your Digital Poppy to complement the traditional lapel poppy. All funds raised through MyPoppy.ca are directed to the Legion National Foundation, which supports initiatives that further Veterans’ health and wellness, connect youth and children to the contributions of Veterans, and provide students with scholarships and bursaries to pursue their education.
Postcards for Peace provides an opportunity for youth to send postcards to express messages of thanks to those who served Canada in times of war, military conflict and peace or to still-serving Canadian Armed Forces members.