Essex remembers those who served

by Sylene Argent

When Essex resident Jacqui Tofflemire Flood was being born in England during WWII, the hospital was bombed, and later so was the house she lived in with her mother and father.

She lost her dad, a motorcycle dispatcher, during WWII, when she was just a toddler. She has memories of the dark and dingy air raid shelters, and can recall the thick cement walls that enclosed them.

At the age of three, it took her and her mother six-weeks to cross the Atlantic to Canada as they had to zigzag to avoid German U-boats.

Her husband, Bob, recalls being at a Maidstone Shamrocks baseball game in 1943 at the still renowned St. Mary’s diamond. As a boy, he sat with his grandfather, when they heard the news Maidstone’s Navigator Edward J. McCloskey was missing in action. Two others of the area were announced missing that day as well.

It is personal stories like these that keeps the importance of celebrating Remembrance Day alive.

On Friday, community residents recognized the sacrifices of the millions of men and women who have served Canada, some paying the ultimate sacrifice, during the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Essex Centre cenotaph.

“On November 11, we mourn the loss of thousands of men and women who served for Canada in the World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and during NATO and UN peacekeeping missions and other, more recent conflicts,” Erroll Caza said, Past President of the Essex Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion (Branch 201), while addressing the many who attended the service.

“A total of 1,902,791 have served, 230,000 were wounded, and 116,063 paid the ultimate sacrifice,” he added, eventually asking all to participate in a moment of silence to commemorate their courage and willingness to serve their country. “In deed, 242 names are inscribed on these monuments depicting the sacrifices our small Town of Essex has endured.”

He said the close to 40-years Canadian Military served with NATO in France and West Germany and other European Countries during the Cold War, from the early 1950s to the 1990s, is rarely noted. They often served in four to five-year stints.

“It is often said, it is not only the person in uniform who served and sacrificed, the whole family, spouses and children, also sacrificed,” he said. “Being far away from extended family, old friends, and all that was familiar back home was often tough.”

On Remembrance Day, “We recognize and thank those who have put their lives on the line in the cause of peace, let us also remember the families who supported them,” Caza said. “To all our Veterans, past and present, thank you for your sacrifice and thank you for your service.”

Students of Essex Public School then presented veterans with gifts they made to show their appreciation for their service.

For 28-hours leading up to the 11th hour on Friday, the Essex Legion hosted a silent vigil, where residents took on one hour shifts to stand at the Essex Centre cenotaph. Countless volunteers also helped collect donations through this year’s Poppy Campaign, which supports local veterans.

Captain (Navy) Mark O’Donohue, Deputy Commander Canadian Fleet Pacific, was pleased to be able to attend the Remembrance Day celebration in his hometown of Amherstburg. He came to the area for Remembrance Week.

“It was a good opportunity, with Remembrance Week, to come down and reconnect with the community,” O’Donohue said. As the Commanding Officer of the HMCS Calgary, he returned from deployment at the end of the summer in 2021. From July 2020 until April 2022, he was deployed on Operations PROJECTION and ARTEMIS, as well as multiple international and domestic exercises.

During his time in Command, Calgary received a Chief of Defence Staff Unit Commendation for successfully executing maritime interdiction operations in the Gulf of Oman, breaking two international records, information about O’Donohue stated.

He spent the week connecting with service clubs and spoke at area schools as well.

“It is really important we remember our veterans and we acknowledge the sacrifice that they and their families have made for Canada,” he said. “It is good I can go to a school and connect as somebody who grew up here to kind of relay that message back to [students] in a real way, with my own experiences, and highlight the importance of remembrance and recognizing the sacrifices veterans and their families made.”

Youths, he said, are always fascinated, and it depends on their age group the type of questions they will ask him. The Ship to Shore program allowed him and fellow shipmates to use WIFI to connect directly with classrooms virtually in Calgary. Sailors would be able to explain how a gas turbine works, how water is produced at sea, and how radar works.

“It is a real joy to connect with youth in that way,” he said.

O’Donohue was born in Glasgow Scotland, and immigrated to Canada with his family in the late ‘70s. In 1997, he completed a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree in History from the University of Windsor.

After receiving his diploma, he worked for a pharmaceutical company in Windsor. He wanted, however, to try something different. He went to the recruiting centre in Windsor, giving himself a year to see if the Navy would be a good fit for him.

“I haven’t looked back since,” he said, noting his career in the Navy has been 23-years. “I love what I am doing. It is an incredibly interesting job. It’s great to serve Canada and it is great to work with Canadians from all across the country.”

He enrolled in the Canadian Forces Direct Entry Officer Program in 1999. After completing initial naval training in Victoria BC, he served as a bridge watch-keeping officer in HMCS Athabaskan.

He said a ship deploys with around 253 people, which becomes like a family. Building that comradery is an important aspect of the career.

To anyone who may be interested in joining the Navy, O’Donohue had a few words of advice.

“You have nothing to lose by checking it out,” he said. “If there is something that interests you, as far as a trade or a certain profession, doing it within the Military is an outstanding option.”