November 11 is an annual reminder of the sacrifice made by our military and gives Canadians a chance to reflect.
However, the veneration of soldiers coming home after seeing battle hasn’t always been around.
Emile Gobat, a veteran of the Battle of Normandy in World War II, didn’t see a lot of fanfare when he stepped off the boat from Europe in 1946.
“Coming home from the war was a terrible letdown, I hate to say it,” he said during a sit-down interview in his home on Gobat Road in Rossland.
“I was in the Royal Canadian Electrical Mechanical Engineers, so I was kept a whole year after the war in Holland, processing the equipment. When I came home, the war had already been over for quite a while.
“We landed in Halifax and there was a four-man brass band tooting away. There were bunks piled four-high and it took 10 days, but the food was good. It was American food. It wasn’t much of a welcome home.”
The Rossland resident says some of the soldiers who returned to Canada before him had carved out a bad reputation – nothing like the reputation the military has today.
“Practically the entire Canadian army had already been repatriated and out of those repatriates, there were some bad eggs,” he said. “We had a bad name, so I came home and took my uniform off right away. It is much different today.”
These days, the 92-year-old is happy to see how veterans are respected and honoured.
“I think it is a big thing and it is very important” he said.
Gobat took the opportunity to honour World War II and his service by returning to Normandy.
“I was there in 2004 and it was very emotional going back to the beaches.”
He even got a chance to meet the Queen of England.
“Her Majesty was there and I had a chat with her on the beach,” he said. “She did her walkabout and she came and spoke to me and I completely forgot my manners. You are supposed to say ‘Your Majesty,’ when she speaks to you, (and I didn’t).”
Gobat was part of the 4th Canadian Armoured Division that landed in Normandy over a month after the D-Day invasion in the summer of 1944. Before that, he and his regiment were set up in Kent, England with fake tanks and fake guns.
The idea was to make Hitler and his commanders believe that the Allies were going to attack France across the thinnest part of the English Channel at Calais, rather than at Juno, Utah, Omaha, Gold and Sword Beaches.
“We had poles for guns, then we had plywood planks that looked like a tank from one angle,” said Gobat. “It didn’t take much. All they had to observe us were the aircraft, the Luftwaffe, and by June, the German air force was nearly non-existent.
(Hitler) massed all of these divisions right near Dover and then we landed all the way over in Normandy.
“It was a diversion and it worked very well, but then again, Hitler was an idiot.”
When July 29th rolled around, Gobat, along with the rest of his division, were loaded onto a landing craft and sent towards Normandy to back up the troops that had preceded them in the D-Day landings.
“The infantry had to establish a beachhead before an armoured division could move in with tanks,” he said.
“We then had lots of room to move about and engage. I went in a landing craft and was thigh-deep in sea water walking on to the beach in a little town called Graye-Sur-Mer. We knew what we were going to be doing, since the first invasion was on the 6th of June.”
Back in the 1940s, Gobat says the mission was clear. Allied forces had no choice but to fight for freedom, but he says things aren’t as black and white today.
“As a soldier, you serve without question,” he said.
“Some of the things they do and the places they go (now) are not as defensively important as it was to destroy Hitler and the German machine.
“If Hitler had won, there would be no black people and there would be no Russian people. He would have annihilated them. I was over there for three and a half years.
“The guys overseas now are there for six months because the army says they can’t be over there longer. Try doing three and a half years.”
Gobat will be attending the Remembrance Day ceremonies in Rossland this year. Although he says he doesn’t like being the centre of attention, he goes every year to represent World War II vets.
“I had my group of buddies in Winnipeg and I was the only one who made it back,” he said. “There are so few veterans of the Second World War nowadays, really few, and I am one of them. You get there will all of your medals, your legion uniform and everybody is looking at you, but I go.”