By Deborah Morrow
A new and reverent tradition has emerged at Navy League Cadet Corps Captain Rankin in Vancouver, British Columbia: hosting an annual pizza and potluck Christmas party to honour Veterans from the Whalley Legion. Last week, Army, Air and Navy Veterans made 2018 their first annual trip to meet the Cadets at Reserve Naval Base, HMCS Discovery in Stanley Park to share stories of the conflicts in which they served. The Cadets in turn, served the Veterans pizza and potluck and showed off their skills and experiences through both static and active displays.
Upon the Veterans’ arrival at HMCS Discovery, the 9-12 year old Navy League Cadets formed up, stood at attention and saluted the Veterans as they entered the parade deck. The Veterans, ages 60-98 beamed and crisply returned the collective salute. Colours followed with the playing of an orchestral recording of Oh! Canada, to which those present in their nearly century wide age range stood and sang together.
The Navy League Cadet parents had set up buffet tables and chairs for the Cadets and Veterans to share their meals. Each Veteran was assigned one or two Cadets who took their orders from the menu and served the Veterans their dinners. As everyone enjoyed their meals, the Cadets listened to stories of service and got to know their new friends.
“I wanted to do this for the Veterans,” said event organizer and Whalley Legion President, the Knight Chevalier Tony Moore, Order of St. George, “these are rare and priceless opportunities for everyone.” A Veteran himself, Moore was knighted in 2018 for his significant contribution to the betterment of the lives of Canadian Veterans and their families. This was the first such event, and Moore wants to create more opportunities for Veterans and Cadets to share. The Cadets showed off their presentation boards with photos of all their activities. The Veterans were amazed that the young Cadets had already been out on the water in the Strait of Juan de Fuca learning search and rescue drills with the Canadian Coast Guard and had been alongside on board HMCS Regina with Rear Admiral Art McDonald.
Ever sharp and physically fit, the two World War 2 Veterans, Stan Baird and the Knight Chevalier Gerry Gaudet, Order of France, spoke to the 9-12 year old Cadets about the day they landed on Juno Beach, on D-Day, “I remember it like it was yesterday,” said Mr. Baird, “I lost many, many friends that day.”
The Cadets quietly looked on as his eyes averted and teared up, his voice becoming briefly gravely and distant as he surely visualized the D-Day Juno beach landing. “I was different when I got back; I wasn’t right; they had to keep an eye on me so they transferred me to medic duties. That way I would be around people who could watch over me.”
The war was over but Mr. Baird was not over the war. When he had finished speaking, Leading Cadet Connor Tse, 12, shook his hand firmly and thanked him for his service.
In a quiet corner of a table shared with 4 Cadets over pizza, the second Veteran who landed on Juno Beach, June 6th, 1944, Chevalier Gerry Gaudet spoke with Ordinary Cadet, Emma Richardson, nearly 90 years his junior about the landing. Recognizing the great chasm of time between World War 2 and OC Richardson’s young age and absence of threat to her freedom, he looked at her and smiled and said humbly, “We’re free now and that’s all that matters, France was freed.”
For his military contribution to the D-Day campaign in France, Gaudet was knighted by the President of France. He wore no medals and orders, preferring to attend the Christmas party in civilian attire. At nearly 100 years old, Gaudet lives independently, walks to visit his friends at the Legion every day, without any mobility aids. “I’m a bit hard of hearing,” he says, but observably walks fluidly and with purpose. This was Ordinary Cadet Richardson’s first and remarkable impression of a World War 2 Veteran.
At this special Christmas party, the Cadets had the unusual experience of meeting two knights on the same day as well as the rare chance to meet two WW2 Veterans, Stan Baird and Gerry Gaudet, both of whom landed on Juno Beach, June 6th, 1944. Although too young to understand the significance of the opportunity, parents and Navy League officers and volunteers present will hold these memories in trust for the Cadets, themselves moved by the stories, the Veterans and their service. The Captain Rankin Navy League Cadets will one day be able to recognize the contributions of those who served and died, but also of those who served and lived, an extraordinary Christmas gift to both Veterans and Cadets that will be remembered always.
Thanks to Tony Moore, Deborah Morrow and Whalley Legion Branch #229 for sharing this story of Cadets reaching out to serve veterans from a long past generation.