When they look back at the Second World War, many people tend to focus on the generals and politicians who made the hard decisions and negotiations to win the war, or on the soldiers who made the supreme sacrifice for our freedom. Something that’s often overlooked are the stories of the people who contributed to the war effort and lived to make new lives for themselves.
My grandfather Derek Browne is a perfect example. He immigrated from England to Canada as a child, and returned to join the Boy Entrants Cadets and the Royal Air Force as a teenager. He’d just turned 19 when his bomber was shot down and he was one of the first 100 prisoners of war taken by the Nazis. He spent the rest of the war as a P.O.W. and returned to Canada after the war ended. He settled in St. Albert with his wife Dorothy and they raised a family of five children.
Derek was active in developing St. Albert as a community. He co-founded the Balmoral Lodge Masonic Order, which gave Balmoral Drive its name. He was also an active participant in the P.O.W. Association of Canada, and served as one of the first trustees of what was then St. Albert Protestant Separate School District Number 6. He contributed to St. Albert’s growth by developing several properties and helped save the St. Albert Curling Club when it was in serious financial trouble. Derek also played an important part in local politics, working as a Progressive Conservative campaign manager in support of prominent politicians like Peter Elzinga.
Canada’s modern history is shaped by the stories, both large and small, of the Second World War. While the likes of William Lyon Mackenzie King and C.D. Howe were doing things like managing the wartime economy and preventing conscription debates from turning into a national unity crisis, the likes of Derek Browne were fighting on the frontlines, providing medical care and working in factories. When the war ended, the politicians constructed much of Canada’s modern social safety net and important infrastructure like the Trans-Canada Highway. Meanwhile, citizens like Derek Browne were also contributing to society by building businesses, raising families and constructing a stronger and more prosperous society.
Remembrance Day is a time to grieve for those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that we could live free today. It should also be a time to show our appreciation for those people whose hard work both during and after the war made our lives better. Canada could never have helped the Allies win the war without their efforts, much less prospered the way it did after the war. Derek Browne never achieved the historical fame of Mackenzie King or Howe, but for those who knew him, the things he did for them were just as important as anything Canada’s political leaders did. The same can be said for the millions of other Canadians who did the same things he did for the people and communities they loved.
Lest we forget.
Jared Milne is a St. Albert resident with a passion for Canadian history and politics.