Virtual Remembrance Day Race 2020; Honouring My Dad, George McGuire
As a runner, I’m always looking for some form of inspiration whenever I run a race. The inspiration for the Virtual Remembrance Day run was easy to find: My late dad, George McGuire.
Dad joined the Canadian Army in Toronto in 1942 when he was 19. After basic training and a year in Canada (where he was an instructor in Newmarket, attended courses in Woodstock for right handed driving and motorcycle riding, along with further training in Aldershot, NS), dad was shipped to England in 1943. Interestingly, dad always commented on the 20 mile marches and runs they did, in full kit!! That’s why I don’t complain about being tired when I’m running a race….I’m not wearing 25kg of gear, boots and a wool uniform!!
So how did he end up on Juno Beach? As dad told me in 2016, some fellow broke his leg on a training exercise in England. Dad, who was a clerk and a corporal, was assigned to take his place. On June 10, 1944, dad landed on Juno Beach. The ramp to the landing craft didn’t work so they were ordered over the side into the surf. When dad walked onto the beach, he says he was ushered onto a truck by a sergeant who ‘welcomed’ him into the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada (QORC).
Dad spent the rest of the war with the QORC as a clerk in the headquarters company, being discharged as a sergeant in 1946. While he was in France, he told me that some nights he’d be sleeping in a ditch with his rifle in one arm and his typewriter in the other, listening to the sounds of artillery duels. He said that one of his duties was to take dictation from the company commander whenever a soldier had been wounded or killed. Each letter was written in personal manner and not in a ‘cookie cutter’ style.
One of his most profound moments in France occurred when a jeep ambulance (a jeep converted to carry stretchers) returned to his camp after a skirmish. Two of the men on the stretchers had been killed in the fighting shortly after leaving the camp a few hours before. Dad always commented that he never understood how you could be alive in the morning and dead by lunch.
In early 2016, my sister learned that the Government of France was honouring Canadians who had participated in the liberation of their country. She did the leg work in filling out the forms and proving dad’s contribution to the campaign. On June 30, 2016, dad was awarded France’s Legionne d’honneur (Chevalier Rank) by the French Consul and his Aide de Camp, both based in Toronto. They travelled to dad’s retirement home in Burlington for a very dignified ceremony. (I have included a couple of photos from this.) After the medal had been presented, dad stated to the attendees, “I accept this medal on behalf of those who never made it home.”
My dad was always humble about his contributions to the war effort, frequently stating, “I didn’t do much.” In the speech that I wrote for this investiture and in 2018 for his eulogy, I commented on his assertion that he hadn’t done much. I made sure he and others knew that to put one soldier on the front lines took 10-15 people in the rear to support him. Dad’s contribution with typewriter mattered just as much as anyone else’s.
The year before, I had visited Juno Beach and The Juno Beach Centre, on June 25, 2015. I was able to stand in front of Queen’s Own Rifles House, the iconic building seen in so many photos from D-Day. That house marked the landing point for the regiment on June 6, 1944. That was a very proud moment and moving day for me. I thought of my dad’s service and the sacrifice of so many Canadians who had been
wounded or killed in the liberation of France. I wondered on that day, if I was standing in the same place where my dad had landed, 71 years prior.
Dad died in 2018 when he was 95. My sister and I had nicknamed him ‘The Iron Veteran’, as he had bounced back from so many falls and illnesses in his later years. However, the last fall finally became the one from which he could not recover.
I’ll do my 21.1k ‘Virtual Remembrance Day Race’ as a walk on October 4, marching from Fort George in Niagara on the Lake to Brock’s Monument, a distance of 22k. There will be nearly 20 people on this march, all dressed in uniforms of the British Army and clothing of the period, commemorating the Battle of Queenston Heights (Oct 12, 1812). As historical reenactors for the War of 1812, it is our passion and privilege to honour our history. On this march, I am proud to be raising funds for the Juno Beach Centre, while honouring my dad’s service and contribution towards the liberation of the people of France.
It will be my part of the ‘leg work’ needed to ensure “We Will Remember Them!”