The first rule of life is:
“The best things in life aren’t things!”
We’re surrounded by rules, too many some say, though that’s one most of us can live with. Memories would fit as one of the best, well, OK, not all. War memories for example, which hit so many buttons it helps on these Remembrance Days to find a good war memory, or one with a good ending. The veteran on the Canadian $10 bill fits there.
On the back, right-hand side of our Canadian $10 bill, there’s a veteran standing at attention near the Ottawa war memorial. His name is Robert Metcalfe. He died last month at the age of 90. A cursory glimpse of his war record came from a friend on the internet on Remembrance Day. It suggests some of his buddies might have nicknamed him Lucky by war’s end.
Robert Metcalfe was one of the 400,000 members of the British Expeditionary Force sent to the mainland where they found themselves facing the new German warfare technique — the Blitzkrieg.
He was treating a wounded comrade when he was hit in the legs by shrapnel.
En route to hospital, his ambulance came under fire from a German tank, which, for some reason suddenly ceased fire. He was evacuated from Dunkirk on HMS Grenade. Two of the sister ships with them were sunk on their way home to England.
Once recovered, he was sent to allied campaigns in North Africa and Italy. En route his ship was chased by the German battleship Bismarck, but escaped.
In North Africa, he served under General Montgomery against the Desert Fox, Rommel.
Sent into the Italian campaign, he met his future wife, a lieutenant and physiotherapist in a Canadian hospital. They were married in the morning by the mayor of the Italian town, and again in the afternoon by a British padre.
After the war they settled in Chatham, England, where he went into politics. He became the chairman of the county. On his retirement he and his wife moved to Ottawa. At the age of 80 he wrote a book about his experiences.
One day, out of the blue, he received a call from a government official asking him if he’d go downtown to have a photograph taken. The story, which causes one to wonder, says he wasn’t told what the photo was for or why they chose him.
“He had no idea he would be on the bill,” his daughter said.
The e-mail suggests it’s the story of the veteran on the $10 bill, which of course it isn’t, it’s but a glimpse. His book would tell us a lot more of his story, and that wouldn’t be it all either. It would give us some of the rest of Robert Metcalfe’s story. A man born under one Commonwealth flag, who died, peacefully under another, a citizen and a veteran of the world who we can hold in memory with pride.
The grandma test
“I was out walking with my four-year-old granddaughter. She picked up something off of the ground and started to put it in her mouth. I took it away from her and I asked her not to do that.
“‘Why?’ she asked.
“‘Because it’s been on the ground; you don’t know where it’s been, it’s dirty and probably has germs,’ I replied.
“She looked at me with admiration and asked, ‘Grandma, how do you know all this stuff? You are so smart.’
“Thinking quickly, I said, ‘All grandmas know this stuff. It’s on the grandma test. You have to know it, or they don’t let you be a grandma.’
“We walked silently for two minutes or so, then she said, with a smile a mile wide on her face, ‘Oh…..I get it!’ So if you don’t pass the test you have to be the grandpa.’
“‘Exactly,’ I replied with a big smile on my face.”
A tip of the hat to grandpas; grandmas have had their shot for the week.
A long and heartfelt salute to the veteran Robert Metcalfe representing us all on the tenner, and to every war veteran everywhere. An old metaphor tells us it is the politician who makes war, the soldier who makes peace.
May the soldiers of the world one day succeed.