"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day."
When asked what his strongest memory from World War II was, Geoff Leeming, a veteran of the British military and member of the Uxbridge Legion, spoke this quote from Shakespeare’s Henry V. Geoff’s company commander, Major 'Banger' King, shouted it through a megaphone on the morning of June 6, 1944.
This piece of inspiring poetry gave the British soldiers resolve while Geoff and the other men of the East Yorkshire Regiment were standing in their small landing craft, sailing towards the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. The men prayed, checked their equipment, and readied themselves to pay the ultimate sacrifice in order to end tyranny. This is just one tale of the many told by our veterans.
At the Uxbridge and Port Perry Royal Canadian Legion halls, a group of men sit around what is dubbed The Liars’ Table, having a chat or ‘chin wag’ as they call it, and sharing stories. Their conversations are both somber and hilarious, often at the same time.
The scars of war have turned these brave men into caring comrades and brothers-in-arms, who continue to perpetuate the memories of the fallen, lest we forget. Their stories cover topics from time spent on leave and the black market of cigarettes and candy, to horror stories and tales of triumph.
"In the evening after we broke through, I was sent on patrol to a French village," recalled Geoff. "My buddies and I met a farmer and asked him for some water, he ended up giving us casks of cider and we went on our ‘merry’ way. The war was not all bad."
Only some of the Legion members saw combat, and many were involved in occupational or peace-time work only. However, the trials, reverence and honour they share bind them together.
As one member put it, "I come to the Legion because everyone here is my friend, whether they’re from Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia or England, they are all my brothers. I have never walked into a Legion across this land without receiving a nod, a pint, and a welcome."
The Royal Canadian Legion was established in 1926, and since then its more than 320,000 members have served veterans, active military personnel and RCMP members and their families. A large part of the organization’s mission is to serve local communities and promote remembrance through sharing the wealth of knowledge its members posses.
One such member with a story to tell is Pastor Newton Reed, the padre for the Uxbridge Legion. As a young boy, he traveled across the world with his missionary parents, witnessing many life-changing events. Once he arrived back in Canada and came of age, he joined up with the Ontario Regiment in Oshawa and served his country.
"I have seen brutal war in China, I have seen military displays in Moscow and England, and I was at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 when Jesse Owens beat Luz Long," said Newton. "I’m likely the only person in Durham Region to see the violence committed by the black shirts of the Nazis and to see Adolf Hitler speak."
Newton holds many important and shocking stories that inspired him to become a clergyman, stories which warrant preservation. Newton experienced many important events during history, from seeing the rage on the leader of the Nazi Party’s face when he was proven wrong, to the manipulation and abuse of children during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Although he currently enjoys a quiet life of writing and visiting friends, his tale truly is an awe-inspiring one.
"The Legion does a great job of keeping Canada’s history alive and bringing veterans together to support each other," remarked Newton. "Our veterans are Canada’s greatest link to the past, we need to keep the memories alive."
Gloria Eng, President of the Uxbridge Legion Ladies’ Auxiliary, is a driving force for the aide of Canada’s veterans. She handles Branch 170’s public relations, and shines light on the importance of its members.
"If it weren’t for our veterans, we wouldn’t have the freedoms we have today. We take freedom of speech, religion and education for granted," said Gloria. "Many countries around the world still lack those freedoms, so we need to be thankful to the men and women who fought and are still fighting."
The Uxbridge and Port Perry Legions honour veterans, military personnel, and their families in any way they can, including social events, care packages, and providing camaraderie. Many younger veterans, service personnel and cadets are also members who gladly offer a helping hand.
"The Legion gets together to support its veterans if they have a problem, from home repair to transportation and medical expenses," explained Gloria. "We even have a group of volunteers who go around shoveling snow from the veterans' driveways during the winter."
The Legion also organizes and funds many programs for the community at-large, including seniors’ programs, youth education, housing and sports. Though the organization continues to do an amazing job, it can always use a little extra help.
Gloria explained that the best way someone could help to support The Legion and the Ladies’ Auxiliary is to come spend some time and have some fun. Getting to know the members, volunteering to lend a hand, or even joining up with your local Legion is an amazing experience that supports a good cause.
As time takes its toll on Canada’s veterans, new members are in great need to make sure the Legion is able to provide support to veterans and the community. Members will have the opportunity to make new friends, become involved in the community and to take in Canada’s history from the men and women who were there to see it.
In order to learn more about activities and membership, drop by your local Legion hall, phone Uxbridge Branch 170 at 905-852-5293, or phone the Port Perry Branch 419 at 905-985-8502.