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by Bob Owen
When author Gil McElroy got up to speak at the Authors Evening series at the Colborne Legion on September 30 he didn’t tell the anticipated tales of his boyhood – at least not in the traditional sense.
His tale was one of anguish and loss, and of many adult years trying trace the life of a father lost to the demands of a nomadic military life. It was a lifestyle that Gil grew to resent. And one where he learned a lot that most kids never experience.
When his father died in 1999, Gil was handed a ratty box of old photos, many of them unmarked. One of them had his father in a Canso airplane heading into northern Canada. The search was on.
Through the photos and access to his father’s military records, Gil was able to piece together a photo journal of his father’s military travels. They were photos that took Gil vicariously through Europe and into many remote locales in Canada. Most of them were of places Gil had never been. Through the photos, Gil was able to unravel a little of his parental enigma. He began to type some of his own memories of the places he had been, and a story unfolded of the life of a child growing up with a parent in the military.
It was military travel which resulted in his parents meeting at Metz, France where Gil was born in 1956 during the Cold War. A few years later they moved to Canada.
In the early fifties, his father became one of the instructors at Clinton, teaching hundreds of military people how to operate the relatively new tool called radar. These were tense times in the military with the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Crisis and other flare ups around the world. Gil says his father’s experiences with radar changed his life.
(photo courtesy of Mandy Martin)
His father was stationed at remote postings on the west coast of Canada, leaving his family behind. Some of the postings were so remote they were serviced by fishing boats. The radar technicians sat on dynamite while operating their radar equipment. In the event of an attack the dynamite would destroy the equipment and keep it out of enemy hands.
His parents split up in 1969. Sadly, his mother will not discuss her life with his father or her life in France prior to their marriage. So he is left with fragments of family stories, defined by segments of military records and coloured by his imagination.
Gil’s book, Cold Comfort: Growing Up Cold War, is a well-written account which will broaden your understanding of the experience of growing up in a military family.
This article first appeared on the Cramahe Now website on October 03, 2012.