VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Remembrance shouldn’t only happen on November 11th.
That’s the message from the local author of a book on a march in the footsteps of Canadian soldiers through Sicily in World War II.
Mark Zuehlke, who lives in Victoria, was among a group of people who walked 300 kilometres, tracing the path taken by the 1st Canadian Infantry Division in 1943.
He was surprised at the reception in Sicily.
“I had thought that the Sicilians would be kind of ambivalent,” he tells us.
“I was thinking we’d walk into the town and there’ll be a formal ceremony with the mayor and that would probably be about it. But when we hit the towns, every town — and there were 20 of them that we went through — hundreds and even thousands of Sicilians turned out. They were waving Canadian flags, there were marching bands, there were school children, and it was just a great celebration and enthusiasm.”
“They knew the story. Many of the older people would come up and say, ‘I was 10 years old. I was starving. My family was starving. The Canadian soldiers came to town and they fed us and they gave us medical assistance. They got us back on our feet again,'” adds Zuehlke.
At the end of the journey, they reached the Agira Canadian War Cemetery, where about 500 soldiers were buried. There, one person stood in front of every headstone as the fallen soldiers’ names were called out.
“The name of the person who was standing in front of that headstone would then answer for that dead soldier in this wonderful roll call that went up and down the rows of headstones. It was incredibly emotionally moving for all of us. There were many people in tears.
“There was one woman — she was standing in front of the headstone of her father. She had never seen him because she was born after he had gone overseas.”
Zuehlke hopes his book, Through Blood and Sweat: A Remembrance Trek across Sicily’s World War II Battlegrounds, will inspire Canadians to better appreciate the sacrifice soldiers have made.