Every November, you can bet that rain or shine, Second World War veteran Barney Baines will be standing on the streets of Ladysmith, armed with only a tray of poppies and a reminder of our past.
And like many of his fellow veterans, Baines does not speak a word about the troubling times he faced, times most of us can only try to imagine.
Baines was only 17 when he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve. He was working in a Shawnigan Lake logging camp at the time.
“Every time the weekend come, we’d go up to Victoria, there was all kinds of posters and big things floating around; ‘Join up, join up, save your loved ones’,” he said.
Once called to service, Baines was sent to Cornwallis, Nova Scotia for training and drafted onto a corvette ship for convoy duty in the North Atlantic. As an able bodied seaman torpedoman (ABST), Baines spent anywhere from three weeks to a month at sea. He remembers times so cold the crew had to chip ice from the boat to keep it from tipping over.
“Anytime you were at sea, you never got any fresh vegetables or fresh eggs, everything was dried,” Baines recalled. “We got canned mutton, and you’d open that up and the stink would drive you right off the ship.”
While in Ireland, Baines was thrown into the brig for a misunderstanding and rerouted onto a frigate ship on striking force in the English Chanel. From there, they got the signal to go to Norway to route an enemy sub base. He would serve on one more ship before his discharge in 1945.
Baines has lived in Ladysmith for the last 20 years and has participated in Remembrance Day ceremonies for as long as he can remember. He said it is a time of reflection.
“When we’re standing there at the cenotaph, I start to think,” he said. “These people were no different than me, they were doing what they were told, and it kind of gets to you sometimes.”
“I feel sorry for the people that gave their lives, and I’m equally sorry for the people that had mothers and fathers [in the war], they had to endure a lot too.”