Tim Belford: Short Takes On Life
Tim Belford
Tim Belford
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Tim Belford is host of Quebec A.M. -- CBC Radio's popular English- language morning show (91.7 FM, 6-9, Mon.-Fri). He also is said to know a thing or three about wine.

Posted 11.13.04
Quebec City


It's about sacrifice for others

I got out my old ration card the other day.

For those of you who don't remember or maybe never knew, a ration card was issued to all Canadians during the Second World war.

It allowed you to buy everything from milk to meat and bread to butter.

I was actually born after the end of the war but rationing continued.

The country was still short of just about everything. On top of that, it took some time for industry and agriculture, to a certain extent, to retool to peace-time activity.

So even if I didn't eat much in those days, my ration was a valuable commodity to my parents.

I started thinking about the card after I interviewed historian Desmond Morton about his new book, 'Fight or pay: soldiers' families in the great war.

It's easy to forget in the midst of this day of remembrance how difficult life was for those left at home.

Behind every soldier, sailor, or flyer was a family. Maybe a mom and dad. Maybe some siblings. Maybe a wife and children.

And although they didn't have to stand knee-deep in a rat-infested trench in WWI or fly a Spitfire in WW2, they did have to survive.

The first time around, in 1914-1919, that meant living on a separation allowance and a share of your husband's pay if he got around to assigning it to you.

For many -- those who didn't qualify for the separation allowance or who couldn't prove they were dependent upon a son -- it often meant living on charity.

In the Second World War things were marginally better.

Things had changed socially as well.

For the first time, thousands of women worked in factories. Many of them while trying to raise children.

Life was hard, frugal, and lonely.

I remember my own mom showing me a scrapbook she kept. It contained clippings about all the men -- or boys really -- that she knew.

She updated it as they enlisted, as they were posted overseas, and often, too often, as they were reported missing or killed in action.

Too many of her teenage years were spent, it seems to me, dealing with worry, heartache and loss.

My dad never served in the armed forces.

He had only one eye. As a result, the Air Force, where all his friends headed, turned him down flat.

He did make it into the Army for three days.

When he took the eye test he covered his right eye with his left hand and read the chart.

When he was told to switch he promptly raised his right hand and covered his right eye once again.

It wasn't until he was issued a rifle and insisted on aiming with his left eye that he was found out.

His war consisted of working in a factory and avoiding the cruel stares and snide remarks of those who openly wondered why a seemingly fit young man was shirking his duty while their sons or husbands laid down their lives for queen and country.

People on the home front got by on less. They saved tin foil. Patched tires. They gave up extra pots to be melted down.

They grew victory gardens. They knitted socks. They rolled bandages. They packed Red Cross parcels. And they worried.

Oh how they worried.

They worried that their sons and daughters, their brothers and sisters, their husbands and fathers wouldn't come home.

And many didn't.

So you see, the wars we remember today were not just about people who fought and died. Not just about the wounded and the maimed.

The wars . . . World War One -- the War to End All Wars, World War Two, Korea, and every action and crisis our armed forces have served in since are about a nation and the sacrifices its have people made.