Fallen soldiers honoured at ceremony

Fallen soldiers honoured at ceremony

Event remembers Canadians who fought and died in Dieppe on Aug. 19, 1942, and Burma during the war

Gordon Hughes recited the tribute to fallen comrades silently to himself while holding the Canadian flag at the Burma Star memorial ceremony on Monday afternoon in Duncan’s Charles Hoey Park.

Hughes, a 92 year-old veteran of the Second World War who saw action in Europe and Asia, served approximately three months in Burma towards the end of the war.

He said Burma, which is now called Myanmar, was a horrible and uncomfortable place at the time, with a hot and humid climate filled with mosquitoes, leeches and deadly Japanese snipers in the trees.

“I hated the place,” Hughes said at the Duncan Cenotaph during the annual ceremony, held to commemorate the Canadian participation in the controversial and unsuccessful Dieppe raid in France on Aug. 19, 1942, and in the fighting in Burma during the war.

“It was scary and unsanitary there, and had every type of spider that you can imagine. I came home in 1946 after two years and eight months of overseas service and I was thankful for that.”

Members of the Cowichan Valley’s Royal Canadian Legion Branch 53 were led to Monday’s ceremony by an honour guard to remember those who served and died in the two theatres of war commemorated at the event, particularly those from the Valley.

They include Major Charles Hoey himself, the only soldier from the Valley to receive the Victoria Cross, the British Empire’s highest award for bravery under fire.

In February, 1944, Hoey’s company formed a part of a force which was ordered to capture a position in Burma from the Japanese at all costs.

After a night march through enemy-held territory, the force was met at the foot of the position by heavy machine-gun fire.

Hoey personally led his company under continued heavy fire right up to the objective.

Although wounded at least twice in the leg and head, he seized a Bren gun from one of his men and, firing from the hip, led his company on to the objective.

In spite of his wounds, the company had difficulty keeping up with him, and Hoey reached the enemy strong post first, where he killed all the occupants before being mortally wounded himself.

Hoey’s Victoria Cross was one of only 100 awarded among the millions of men and women who served in the Commonwealth armed forces during the Second World War.

Ben Buss, a Legion member and Duncan’s town crier, said it’s important to remember those who fought and gave their lives for the freedom of those at home.

“(Britain’s war time leader) Winston Churchill once said that if you want peace, then prepare for war,” Buss said after the ceremony at the cenotaph.

“We’re here to honour those who gave up so much for their country.”