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SYDNEY, NS — While young people like Canadian Coast Guard College cadet Bailee David could be nearly 80 years old by the end of the Battle of the Atlantic, she and about 25 classmates were on the waterfront of Sydney to honor those who fought and died in World War II event.
The battle may be of more interest to those who plan to spend their careers at sea, but she said it’s also up to her generation to spread the message of that long-ago sacrifice to all of their peers.
“I don’t know if they understand, but I hope they reach out,” she said of friends who may not be familiar with the Battle of the Atlantic.
“We could start with our friends, you know. It starts with us.”
In front of the Merchant Mariners Memorial, the cadets stood on the waterfront in the biting wind, along with a group of military veterans, most of them senior citizens.
‘Important to honor our history’
“I love going to these events every year,” says senior cadet Emily Lambert of Sooke, BC
“It’s the veterans. I think it’s important to honor our history and the people who fought for us,” said Alizee Pedneault of Quebec.
The Battle of the Atlantic is recognized in Canada on the first Sunday in May.
The battle lasted throughout World War II and refers to the Allied effort to control the Atlantic against Nazi Germany-led forces between the war’s start in September 1939 and its end in May 1945.
More than 2,700 Royal Canadian Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force personnel died, along with another 1,600 from the Canadian Merchant Navy, according to the Department of National Defense.
‘Involved in the battle’
A recap of the battle at Veterans Affairs Canada is a reminder of how closely the battle affected the home front – including Cape Breton.
“The Battle of the Atlantic brought war to Canada’s doorstep, with U-boats torpedoing ships within sight of Canada’s east coast and even the St. Lawrence River. The Canadian merchant marine, along with the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), played a key role in the Allied effort,” the website notes.
“Cities on the East Coast quickly became involved as Allied convoys (groups of ships crossing the Atlantic together under the protection of naval escorts) often left busy ports such as Halifax and Sydney, NS, and St. John’s, NL, during the war.
Think about sacrifice
After Sunday’s ceremony – where huge losses were read as the heads of young and old were bowed – Nicholas Usher and Stephen MacLennan reflected on the sacrifice of another generation’s youth.
“It was just kids – most of them aged 14-16,” said Usher, a veteran of the militia.
MacLennan’s father-in-law, William McLellan of New Waterford, was only 14 when he joined the Merchant Marine.
“(I’m here) to honor him and all the others who served here when they were called,” said MacLennan, a veteran peacekeeper.
“All those people who sacrificed and even those who came home.”
Walter Stewart was in the Royal Canadian Navy after the Korean War. Business on the home front inspired him to join.
“I used to watch the convoys leaving Sydney Harbor and I wanted to be like those guys,” says Stewart, a Sydney Mines resident.
John Levesque of Whitney Pier served in the Air Force from 1961-66 and had two brothers and three brothers-in-law who fought in World War II.
He was happy to see the cadets at Sunday’s event. “It’s fun. It’s great,” he said.
Missing attendance of the general public
Cape Breton Naval Association president John Newell said Sunday’s ceremony is expected to be the last small-scale event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Next year, the parade and full itinerary should return, he said.
With about 45 in attendance, Newell expressed disappointment at not seeing the general public show up on Sunday.
He said he hopes that changes.
“I wish more of them would come down and see what’s going on, but they don’t,” he said. “But it is a pleasure for us to do this in memory of all our ships that were lost years ago and those who died.”