Life lessons learned from a remarkable generation

Reflecting on the ‘unexpected gifts’ from a time of war

BY HILARY STONE

Special to the Lacombe Express

As they were both born and raised in England, my parents experienced World War II first-hand.

My father, a teacher by profession, enlisted in the RAF and spent the next six years risking everything he’d already achieved.

My mother felt the impact as a teenager, living in a coastal city heavily targeted by German bombers. Most children in her city were evacuated to rural areas for safety, but my grandmother chose to keep her daughters close. In 1945, both parents emerged injury-free and met at one of the popular local dances, a welcome respite for both civilians and servicemen and women alike.

I grew up hearing lots of ‘war’ stories and have always been a staunch promoter of marking Remembrance Day. This year, as I think how Hitler interrupted the dreams and aspirations of my parents’ generation, it occurred to me that in spite of the horrors witnessed, World War II actually brought unexpected gifts some life lessons that my own generation struggles with today.

Acceptance can you imagine being so close to starting a new job, new life relationship, obtaining a degree or finishing an apprenticeship and then in one ‘event’, Adolf Hitler rocks your world and there is NOTHING you can do to change it? Everything got put on hold; a very long hold as it turned out.

Patience was forced upon everyone. Whether you were a mother struggling to feed your family enough in spite of severe rationing or whether you had to put your own romance on hold as your beloved signed on for the unknown, patience was the only option.

Optimism despite everything you experienced first-hand, heard or read about the mounting deaths and injuries from either the battles themselves or the bombings of homes, you HAD to believe the Allies could and would win.

Facing fear head-on as a parent, I can appreciate how those wartime mothers and fathers felt as their sons and daughters enlisted and in lots of cases, they were EXCITED to enter the battle what could any parent say? How conflicted their emotions must have been after all, it was your duty to go and if your kids didn’t fight Hitler, whose would and what could the outcome look like then?

Equality at least the severe rationing imposed in the UK was fair and not one rule for the rich and another for the middle or lower classes. People basically lived on a starvation diet for many years and with petrol also under ration, citizens were forced to find alternate methods of transportation. No Weight Watchers needed then. With the majority of men being dispatched to battle, women stepped up to fill the gap. The women farmed, worked in factories, nursed the wounded and the class system in the UK was never the same again. People were all in the same boat and there’s something about widespread adversity that spawns compassion.

Frugality men learned to sew buttons on their shirts and pants; women were geniuses at recycling every fabric they could get their hands on. They learned to bake without enough chocolate, sugar or butter; they turned their dresses inside out and every woman worth her salt could knit, sew, bake, cook AND work as needed outside the home. Oh yes, and raise kids too.

Contentment because they had no access to credit, that generation was forced to save the full purchase price before they could bring anything home. Funny how that cultivates a ‘this is good enough for now’ sentiment.

Making the most of the moment this may be the gift I envy most. With bombs falling around them and tomorrow not being a safe bet, that generation sang, danced and celebrated the small victories and refused to lie down and roll over. Their only moment was NOW; that changes one’s perspective on everything. Worry was a wasted emotion their future may never happen.

So this Nov. 11th, I will not only contemplate the atrocities of world wars, but also give thanks for the life lessons and the positives that can be learned from that remarkable generation.