As Remembrance Day draws near we pause to reflect on the sacrifices of those who served our country in years gone by, and those who serve our country today. Here are the stories of two veterans we are honoured to care for in the Veterans Care program at Parkwood Institute.
Remembering the brave sacrifices
On a shelf above Lawrence (Larry) Ross’ bed at Parkwood Institute sits a black and white photo of three men standing side-by-side in military uniform, with proud smiles on their faces. The photo of Larry and his two older brothers, Raymond and Leo, took place just before the Ross brothers were sent along with 1,975 Canadian soldiers to defend the British colony of Hong Kong in World War II.
Born in 1920 in Bury Quebec, Larry joined the army when he was just 20-years-old. He served as a private in the Royal Rifles of Canada. The Royal Rifles had limited training, and were not expected to see combat during their deployment. Just two months after the Canadians arrived in Hong Kong in 1941 the Japanese military launched an assault on the island and across the Pacific including the infamous Pearl Harbor attack.
The battle in Hong Kong was the first of World War II for Canadian soldiers. During 17 and a half days of intense hand-to-hand combat 290 Canadian soldiers were killed and almost 500 wounded. The allied forces had limited equipment compared to the seasoned Japanese soldiers and they fought without relief or reinforcements. On Christmas Day in 1941 the allied troops were forced to surrender. Those who did survive the treacherous attack spent the next three and a half years in prisoner-of-war camps living in deplorable conditions.
“We had to do forced labour and we worked from daylight to dark, seven days a week,” remembers Larry with tears in his eyes. “A lot of our boys didn’t make it.” Faced with malnutrition and brutal treatment, 267 Canadian soldiers died in the POW camps. “We were like a big family (the men who served together),” says Larry. “(It was hard) to see them starving to death and going through all kinds of torcher and there wasn’t a thing you could do about it because if you raised a hand, they (the Japanese) would take it out on you.” Larry and his brothers made it back to Canada after the war suffering numerous health challenges because of their imprisonment.
At 96-years-old Larry is one of only 18 remaining members of Canada’s soldiers sent to Hong Kong. His message to all for Remembrance Day and every day, “Don’t forget the war because it’s a terrible thing.”
Honouring our heroes through care
The number of Canadian veterans diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has almost tripled since 2007. Corporal George Myatte of the Royal Canadian Regiment is one of those veterans. Starting his career in 1981 George is a veteran of the Cold War, Bosnian War and Gulf War was in Germany when the Berlin Wall came down. Over time war took a toll on George and he began suffering the effects of PTSD.
PTSD is one of several persistent psychological difficulties, otherwise known as operational stress injuries (OSI), military and RCMP personnel can develop as a result of duties performed during their service. Other OSI’s include major depressive disorders, substance abuse or general anxiety and difficulty adjusting to civilian life. “Over the years in the service I have seen my share of OSI and people who have committed suicide (because of them) including good friends of mine,” says George. “It’s sad. You don’t know how to help them.”
Proper clinical treatment is key to recovery from PTSD. Through treatment at the Operational Stress Injury Clinic (OSIC) at Parkwood Institute George has been able to recover and reconnect with the community. “Thanks to the help of the team at Parkwood Institute I am much more focused. They have helped me cope and get back on my feet,” says George. “I now advocate for different veterans and recommend the OSIC to everyone I know to ensure they are accessing the mental health and peer support group services they need.”