My perspective - More important than ever


By Kate-Jackman Atkinson

Neepawa Banner & Press

This week, the Neepawa Banner & Press is publishing our annual Remembrance Day feature. While we’re still about 10 days away from Nov. 11, since the feature includes information about area services, we wanted to make sure readers had plenty of time to make their plans.

When I first started at the Banner 13 years go, each year, we would try to find community members to interview about their first-hand experiences. We tended to focus on World War II, but also covered those who served in the Korean and Afghan conflicts. We talked to area residents who fought on land, on the seas and in the skies and who worked for the armed forces in Canada, as part of the war effort. The stories included not only those of service people, but also those at home. We talked to those who remembered being children while Neepawa hosted pilots in training as part of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan. We talked to those who remembered the anxiety at home, waiting for news, good or bad, from overseas. We talked to those who lived in Europe and remembered both occupation and liberation. When memories faded, we used interviews previously recorded as part of NACTV’s programming in order to tell people’s stories.

It’s been 80 years since World War II started and each year, fewer and fewer first-hand memories remain. Over the years, I’ve seen the names of people I’ve interviewed show up in obituaries. The good news is that these people’s stories do live on. There have been official and organized efforts to document the memories and experiences of Canada’s veterans, such as Veterans’ Affairs Heroes Remember projects. In addition to those recorded in our pages, the memories have also been shared with families and friends.

We also have a new source of first hand accounts, one not influenced by the filter of time. The purchase of the Neepawa Press in 2015 has given us access to a huge trove of newspapers published while Canada was at war, every time since in 1896.

This year, we dove into World War II. The stories include those of heroism and loss and highlight the role those who called the Neepawa-area home played in the war effort. In 1933, the international news talks of the gathering storm, as Europe inched closer to war. The numbers are hard to grasp, the only way to understand them is to bring them down to the individual level. The stories include both the big picture headlines, the estimated 2 million Jewish people killed by the Axis before WWII had even officially started, as well as the particular, the death of one local soldier or pilot.

Beyond the coverage of the major events, the war was ever-present, from obituaries, to ads for Victory Bonds. It’s something that’s hard for us to imagine. The stories include the sad and tragic, as well as the borderline humorous– one Neepawa Press reader had an idea of what should be done with Hitler once the war was won.

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it and this seems especially true in today’s political climate. Across the world, we see rising levels of nationalism, we see certain groups of “others” being branding as the enemy, we see big talk and bluster from world leaders, we see lots of talk about the things that make us different instead of those that unite us. We have forgotten where these steps can lead and it’s not a place we want to go. We have become complacent, thinking that it couldn’t happen again. As the first hand memories fade, it’s more important than ever to remember.