Sons remembering their fathers on Remembrance Day

November 15, 2019   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Baker

When Roy Bryan recounts stories of his father’s time serving overseas with the Canadian military during the Second World War, he largely does so with a smile imprinted upon his face, and a sense of pride and reverence instilled in his heart. 

His father, Glen Bryan, in a way helped to shape the world as we know it today. He was one of approximately 1.1 million Canadians to serve, in some way, in the Second World War. 

“My dad was just a boy when he enlisted in 1939. He was just finishing up at high school at the time,” Roy told the Citizen. “I guess a number of his friends had decided they were going to do it. They were all a little patriotic at the time. Enlisting seemed like the glamorous thing to do – the fight in Europe was so far away, it was probably hard for them to gauge, or consider what they were doing.”

After enlisting in Orangeville, Glen was quickly assigned to the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was sent to St. Catharines for basic training, where it was determined he was to become a pilot. 

“He had never been in a plane before, let alone be the pilot tasked with flying one. I can imagine it was a steep learning curve,” Roy said. 

Nine months later, Glen was presented with his wings, making him a fully fledged pilot. He was dispatched to England as a member of the 407 Demon Squadron in early 1940. In total, Glen spent 18 months in Europe during the darkest days of the War for the Allied forces, flying in 25 combat missions. While the bulk of those were considered to be basic coastal command assignments, where pilots would bomb German ships in the English Channel, the Bay of Biscay and the North Sea, Glen also participated in one very high-profile mission in Germany.

The Thousand-Bomber Raid as it came to be known was, essentially, a show of force on the part of the Allies, whereby more than 1,000 aircraft participated in a bombing mission over the city of Cologne on May 30, 1942.

“He didn’t really like talking about the missions, the nitty gritty stuff,” Roy said. “But I do remember him talking about that Thousand-Bomber Raid. He and three others were jammed inside a Lockheed Hudson, an old-school under-powered plane, and they flew across the channel and into Germany for the sole purpose of dropping one bomb and flying back. He had a couple of his friends shot out of the air right beside him.”

Shortly after that Thousand-Bomber Raid, Glen was brought home to Canada and tasked with training hundreds, if not thousands of men on the intricacies of being an air force pilot. He was stationed in Greenwood, Nova Scotia from mid-1942 until 1946, when he was discharged from the military. 

“Funnily enough, my dad would always tell me that he didn’t consider himself a very good pilot, but that was the norm at that time. There really weren’t many hot shots. Most, quite honestly, were frightened when flying, my dad would say,” Roy noted. “But the training, that, he felt, he was good at. He helped train a lot of people for the Air Force during the war.” 

Shortly after his return in 1942, Glen married his high-school sweetheart. Following his discharge from the military, the couple returned home to Orangeville to start a new life. Glen obtained a business diploma from the University of Toronto, before, eventually, taking over his father’s business, Bryan’s Fuel. 

Following a lengthy career, Glen officially handed control of the company over to his two sons, Greg and Roy, in 1988, before officially retiring in 1999. He passed away in 2000. 

With Remembrance Day right around the corner, Roy feels this is an important time to remember, and appreciate, the efforts and sacrifices made by the many men who served in the First and Second World War. 

“As a family, we’re very proud of our history. My grandfather served in the First World War, and my father served in the Second World War. While it’s something we look back on, I truly feel like it’s something we can’t truly comprehend today. It’s becoming harder to connect with our lives,” Roy said. “They fought for our freedom over there, and I don’t think we can even grasp how much we benefitted from that.”

In a story that appeared in the Orangeville Banner on Nov. 12, 1975, Glen Bryan provided his own observations on the war effort, and what, almost 30 years later, it all meant to him.

“Well, in many cases it seems to have been for nothing, but on the other hand, who knows. We can’t tell what might have happened if it hadn’t turned out the way it did,” Glen was quoted as saying. 

A close friend of Glen Bryan’s following their return home from the war, Robert Borden was a member of the Royal Canadian Dental Corps from 1940 to 1946. He spent 1,537 of his 2,194 days as a member of the Canadian Armed Forces serving overseas. For his son, John Lackey, the Town of Orangeville’s Manager of Operations and Development, Remembrance Day is “an emotional time” for people to reflect, in their own way, on war and the effects it has had on their family.

“It is an old cliché, but my dad didn’t really talk about the war, and I never really asked him about it,” Mr. Lackey said. “He served in England, France, Belgium, Germany and Holland. One thing I do know is that he liked to go back. He went back over to Europe on several occasions on anniversaries like D-Day.”

Unlike Glen, Robert had something of a familial connection to the war effort, with his two brothers Fred and Ralph also serving. Robert was only 19 when he enlisted. After months of training, he was eventually shipped off to England just after his 20th birthday. He would be closer to 30 the next time he stepped foot on Canadian soil.

“My dad was overseas for five years straight without coming home. He never spoke of coming back for Christmas or anything like that. He went to Europe early on, and really saw things through right to the very end,” Mr. Lackey recalled. 

Following the Allies’ victory, Robert returned to Orangeville and obtained a diploma in administration from the University of Toronto. After spending several years working for Orangeville Hydro, Mr. Borden eventually took a position with the Town, first as the municipal clerk and, later, as treasurer. He would spend 36 years with the Town before retiring in the late 1980s. Robert passed away in 2002. 

“Remembrance Day is a very important day,” an emotional Mr. Lackey told the Citizen.

We couldn’t agree any more. The Town of Orangeville will host its annual Remembrance Day service on Monday (Nov. 11) at the cenotaph behind Town Hall, off of Second Street. The service will begin at 11 a.m.

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