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Memories remain vivid for veterans of war

Remembrance Day was an emotional time for Barriere resident and World War II veteran Mac Livingstone.
Mac Livingstone is shown here in later years during a Royal Canadian Legion event. (D. Fennel submitted photo)

Remembrance Day was an emotional time for Barriere resident and World War II veteran Mac Livingstone.

He said Remembrance Day for veterans was a time for painful memories of death, destruction and the supreme sacrifice of human lives. He grieved not only for the Allies, but for the enemy troops as well, for they, too, died paying the ultimate price of war.

Livingstone joined the army in 1942 at the age of 19. He was first stationed in Halifax, but then returned to the west coast to find himself searching the western skies for enemy aircraft. On Dec. I, 1943, he received orders to ship out, and landed in England with the Canadian Scottish Regiment.

After one month’s infantry training, Livingstone found himself on the front line in Belgium, where the horrors of war were about to reveal themselves.

Under intense enemy fire the Canadian Scottish Regiment was “wiped out”. Five thousand soldiers marched into battle and when it was over, 2,500 were able to walk out. It was at this time Livingstone experienced his first near ­fatal encounter with the enemy.

“We were all laying on the ground in shallow trenches. The fellow next to me was big. He weighed about 300 pounds. I only weighed 138 pounds at the time. Bullets were flying and one went right through this big fellow and right through the pack on my back,” he said. “My pack and this fellow saved me. The fellow died.”

The Canadian Scottish Regiment was to suffer a similar fate on two more occasions.

Livingstone was fortunate to live through it all. He believed his philosophy to look out for himself was the reason he survived the war. He passed that information on to another young soldier.

“I told him never to gather in a group or he would be a target for enemy fire. He didn’t listen,” he said. The young man, scared and seeking safety in numbers, took shelter in an abandoned building with a group of his buddies. The building was blown up by enemy artillery fire and everyone inside died.

Livingstone said it was really hard to talk about,“We’re called heroes, but we are not the heroes. The real heroes are the soldiers that were left over there.”

The veteran was clearly more comfortable speaking of his father, who was a World War I veteran, and his mother, a nurse who served in the armed forces and was stationed in Puerto Rico during that war. While his dad was agreeable when Livingstone volunteered his services to the army, his mother was very upset.

War takes its toll on the mothers of the soldiers.

With tears welling up in his eyes and in hushed tones, Livingstone said, “On Remembrance Day I remember the war and what we have done. And if I have one complaint, it is with the Canadian government.”

Leaning closer he jabbed the table with his index finger: ‘’Mothers supplied their sons. Their sons were killed over there. They were left there. The least the government could have done was pay to bring their bodies back to them. There are no American graveyards in Europe. They paid to bring their boys home.”

With the war in Europe over, Livingstone returned to Canada. With a low interest loan from the government, he bought land near Barriere where he farmed the land throughout his life. He and wife Doreen married for 48 raised five children, and at the time of this article in 1998 were the are proud grandparents of 11.

Livingstone said he was proud that one of his grandsons had joined cadets.

“Cadets is good for him. It teaches discipline,” he said. “I think cadets would be good for all kids. Especially the troubled ones who get into difficulty with the law. Some time in the military would help straighten them out.”

The younger generation must be educated about Remembrance Day, but Livingstone wasn’t sure youngsters get the message.

“If we talk to the kids and tell them the facts, maybe they will understand,” he said, but he was not so sure.

Livingstone noted he hoped Canadians’ active duty overseas and the deeds of those who died serving their country may prevent the need to send sons and daughters to strange lands to fight again.

“This is the first time in history our children have not been called to serve the country. Hopefully they never will be,” he said. “No one wins in war. Everyone loses. It’s tragic.”

This article was written by Shelly Gamble and originally published in the North Thompson Star/Journal in November 1998.