National Remembrance Day Ceremony: The Day With Ted

January 9, 2013 by Dan Black
A newspaper clipping brings back some memories for Ted. [PHOTO: DAN WARD]

A newspaper clipping brings back some memories for Ted.
PHOTO: DAN WARD

I’m on the road before dawn, driving north along an asphalt ribbon towards the capital and the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre. I decide to take the long way in from the country, past leaning barns and rain-soaked fields strewn with dried corn husks.

It’s Remembrance Day and the sky is full of geese as I cross a narrow river into the village of Richmond, past a bakery and then up around the big curve to Stanley’s Corners where war veteran Ted Patrick kept bees years ago—the “Buzzy Bee Apiary”—and sold tins of honey to passing motorists.

On the sharp edge of suburbia I connect with the highway into Ottawa, trying to picture what it was like before all the concrete. I remember how Ted’s eyes moistened when he talked about Eileen and the kids, and the 50 colonies of bees; how he rented the house for $12 a month before he owned it.

I remember Ted telling me about how he first met his wife of more than 60 years—further up the Ottawa River in Pembroke. Just kids, they were. He was 19, she barely 18. Because of their jobs they had talked many times over the phone, but had never met until someone pointed to her. She was standing there, her dark curls covered by a little red hood. For Ted it was instant attraction; there was no turning back for the skinny, five-foot-two soldier.

______________________

Ted is lying in bed as the damp grey morning slides over the parking lot below his window at the Perley. Propped against the glass is a large tripod the 92-year-old war veteran uses to photograph the new seniors’ apartment buildings that are nearing completion at the facility which is home to some 250 war veterans. Ted opens his eyes and pushes the button that raises the top half of his bed. He shifts onto his side and stares over a stack of newspapers towards the window. A week ago he promised he would make it down to the National Remembrance Day ceremony—“come hell or high water.” So what’s a little cold rain?

Framed photos are part of the memorabilia on display outside Second World War veteran Ted Patrick’s room at the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre in Ottawa. [PHOTO: DAN WARD]

Framed photos are part of the memorabilia on display outside Second World War veteran Ted Patrick’s room at the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre in Ottawa.
PHOTO: DAN WARD

The journalist driving in from the country will help, so will the photographer, a chap named Dan Ward. Together they will be his guides—his “wheelchair propulsion” for the day, and perhaps help him shave and do up the top button on his shirt. “I used to be able to do so much,” he reminds himself. “Now I can barely hold a cup of coffee.

______________________

I pull off the freeway and wind through to the Perley, remembering what Ted told me about Eileen. She died in October 2007 after a massive stroke. “She was not only an amazing person, but a perfect person. We really knew each other…We really loved each other…We loved each other firmly…We knew where we were going together…what we were wanting…”

Veterans gather in front of the National War Memorial in Ottawa. [PHOTO: DAN WARD]

Veterans gather in front of the National War Memorial in Ottawa.
PHOTO: DAN WARD

Ted and some buddies were hoping to join the air force and “go off into the sky as pilots.” Ted was told he could not be a pilot—he was colour-blind. Instead, he could serve with the ground crew, but that wasn’t for him. So he looked at the infantry. “Every goldarn place I went they said the same thing, ‘What are you doing here?’ I told them I wanted to join the army. They said I was ‘too small, too light—skinny as hell. You’re not what we could use in the infantry.’”

Ted hung in, eventually joining the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals. It did not seem to matter that he knew nothing about signals. “We didn’t know a telephone from anything. We were soldiers in uniform—that was it. We didn’t know how to salute. We didn’t know how to do a goldarn thing.”

Ted Patrick (left) shares a moment with another veteran. [PHOTO: DAN WARD]

Ted Patrick (left) shares a moment with another veteran.
PHOTO: DAN WARD

At Petawawa he became a switchboard operator—working the nightshift. “We were stuck there a long time… We feared we would be stuck there for the rest of the war. I didn’t want that. I wanted to get overseas and get a hero medal like everybody else.”

I remember Ted pointing to an old black and white photo. He and Eileen are smiling—as if someone cracked a joke. Both are straddling bicycles outside Eileen’s home in Pembroke. Ted is in uniform and she is wearing a dress and has a ribbon in her hair. Eileen was working nights as a Bell Canada telephone operator. “We talked all night; had some great conversations. She was a figure skater, a skier and a canoeist. All the time I was away overseas I knew I had a wonderful girl back home…just look at the way she is looking at me.”

Scouts greet Ted Patrick at the Canadian War Museum. [PHOTO: DAN WARD]

Scouts greet Ted Patrick at the Canadian War Museum.
PHOTO: DAN WARD

It is 6:30 a.m. when I press the access code and follow a corridor to the front desk where a security guard telephones Ted who has been awake for awhile, and mostly dressed. The only thing left is to shave, tie his boots, put on his Irish Regiment of Canada tie and blazer, and then pack up for downtown. Rivulets of rain are sliding across the window when he hears my knock. “Well, you made good time,” he says. “Can you help me with my boots.” I bend down and run the laces through the top eyelets, then hold a small mirror while Ted shaves. Dan and I pack the poncho, the umbrella and two blankets. Within half an hour Ted is sitting in his wheelchair, rolling down the hall towards a nurse who makes sure he doesn’t leave without his pills.

______________________

Ted had no idea where he was going when he boarded the ship on the south coast of England in early 1944. None of the men did. A few days out they were handed summer uniforms and told it was Italy. At sea the young soldier lined up with a group of lads and became a member of the Irish Regiment of Canada. “We landed in Naples… I remember the poor little kids running around naked practically, and starving to death. They would come in and be scraping the garbage cans…so we gave them our food.”

Ted and a fellow veteran shake hands during the lunch at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier Hotel. [PHOTO: DAN WARD]

Ted and a fellow veteran shake hands during the lunch at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier Hotel.
PHOTO: DAN WARD

As a radio operator, Ted remained with the regiment all the way up the Adriatic coast, and then on into Belgium and Holland. There were good times and bad, and buddies he would never forget or see again. Physically he was fine, but inside there were lasting invisible scars. One memory is right there—“burning all the time. I still have nightmares, but they are quieter nightmares.” He remembers it so clearly. “We were just waiting at the start line about to go across this river—more like a pond. An Italian lady spotted her husband—a partisan who was with us on our side of this field. She was pregnant and had been under duress. The field was mined. She could have come around this way, but she came straight through and stepped on a German mine…”

______________________

Ted is intent on getting to the ceremony early, ahead of the crowd. I park the car in a nearby underground and Dan and I help Ted into his wheelchair, covering his legs with two blankets. I propel him up Elgin Street to the memorial just as the rain returns, pelting our faces and the fronts of our jackets. Dominion Command of The Royal Canadian Legion has been orchestrating the annual ceremony for years, and 2012 is no exception. We are greeted by Legionnaires who direct us to one of the sections reserved for veterans. Ted points and orders more propulsion. Soon he is parked in the front row, with a perfect view of the memorial and the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier. Within minutes another Legionnaire arrives with a forecast of heavy rain, but the downpour is expected to pass quickly. I cover Ted with the poncho and hold the umbrella over our heads as icy flecks swirl around our faces.

A wartime photograph of Ted and Eileen adorns the cover of a book on the war veteran. [PHOTO: DAN WARD]

A wartime photograph of Ted and Eileen adorns the cover of a book on the war veteran.
PHOTO: DAN WARD

I remember Ted telling me about his uncles who served in the First World War. One was hit in the head by shrapnel, and was never the same. Ted did not want that to happen to him. He did not want to be a burden to Eileen. So he made a pact before he left: if he returned in good enough shape he would ask for her hand. “I love you. I love you. I LOVE you!” he wrote on May 4, 1945. The two married on July 1, 1946. Life was more than good, but sometimes the nightmares grabbed hold of Ted. “I had an awful lot of anxiety. I knocked my father over the head the first night I was home…on account of this PTSD business. I thought he was a German. And my wife…she was in bed with me and she put her arm around my neck and suddenly I’m on to her. This happened about four times… We were trained as killers, and there was no way of getting out of it…it was reflex, and…she woke me up by saying, ‘Ted, Ted, Ted…’ That’s what brought me down…”

A portrait of Eileen is part of the memorabilia displayed outside Ted’s room at the Perley. [PHOTO: DAN WARD]

A portrait of Eileen is part of the memorabilia displayed outside Ted’s room at the Perley.
PHOTO: DAN WARD

I look over at the aging war veteran and the others crowded around me. These men and women are disappearing fast—dying at a rate of about 50 a day. Ted is seated beside me and his eyes are fixed on something so incredibly deep I cannot ask him about it. There is a wall there, and I am not in that group of men who can go behind it. We move on, past the solemn ceremony to a lunch at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier Hotel. Over pea soup and shepherd’s pie, the warmth returns to our hands and we head over to the Canadian War Museum where young and old reach out to the veterans.

______________________

The sun has gone down and Ted is back in his room, drifting off to sleep. On my way home I skirt through Stanley’s Corners, where Ted kept bees all those years ago.

Readers can learn more about the Perley and the Perley Foundation at perleyrideau.ca

 

Email the writer at: writer@legionmagazine.com

Email a letter to the editor at: letters@legionmagazine.com
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