An Unforgettable Smell

WWII veteran Canadian

“Young men do not like to show their fear. They have it, but they keep it within them as much as they possibly can”

Woodrow Coward , Canadian Veteran WWII, Korea War

An Unforgettable Smell: An initiative of Historica Canada, The Memory Project is a volunteer speakers bureau that arranges for veterans and Canadian Forces members to share their stories of military service at school and community events across the country. Our speakers have reached 3 million Canadians since 2001. In this article, we want to share recently published story of Woodrow Coward with the courtesy of The Canadian Encyclopedia.

I served in World War II in London, England, during the Battle of Britain, then in Italy, then, of course, peacekeeping in Korea in 1953-54. My introduction to real war was during the Battle of Britain. The air raid sirens go, and then you hear the clump of the bombs as they come down and land. And then, of course, after the clump of the bombs, the distinctive sounds of the fire vehicles and the ambulances. Young men do not like to show their fear. They have it, but they keep it within them as much as they possibly can. I think I was, in some respects, ashamed of my fear. But I looked around me and I saw thousands of other people who were subjected to the same threats and were dealing with it. And I said, well, if they can, so can you. Then, as time went on, the Cold War was upon us, and we had to deal with the possibility of nuclear weapons being used on the battlefield.

The Canadian Forces went into a series of survival exercises and I had a role there, where I was going into the bunker to organize the transportation services for Canada. During that period, my family – I was located in Ottawa, that’s where I was stationed at the time – they were on a hilltop someplace, theoretically, being fried. And I found that very incongruous, that I was quite safe in a bunker while my family were exposed. I happened to be on duty in Ottawa in the Ops Centre in 1962 when the Cuban Missile Crisis was on. And I don’t think the world realized that we were within twenty minutes of a nuclear exchange at that time.

I took an early retirement from the Armed Forces in ’67, and thirteen years later I participated in the formation of an organization known as VANA – Veterans Against Nuclear Arms. The Chinese would call it a “fan chen”, a 180-degree reversal. As an army officer, I was primarily a reactionary. By 1967, my family had rejected much of the values and the philosophies which I had held. They insisted that if I had to keep my mind open I had to look at other things than just the right of centre. An Unforgettable Smell: (continue reading)

  • Please be advised that Memory Project primary sources may deal with personal testimony that reflect the speaker’s recollections and interpretations of events. Individual testimony does not necessarily reflect the views of neither the original publisher web site nor referencing
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