Canada 'discovered its identity' during First World War

By all accounts, WWI and WWII were hell for those on the frontlines, and there’s certainly no denying the often horrific and long-lasting effects those conflicts had on the soldiers and their families.

British author H.G. Wells once described the First World War as “the war to end all wars.”

It’s now been an entire century since WWI ended with Germany formally surrendering on Nov. 11, 1918, leading to the Treaty of Versailles being signed the following June.

By the end of “The Great War,” more than 5.5 million Allied Forces soldiers had perished, including 67,000 Canadians. Another 250,000 Canadians were wounded. The last living WWI veteran from our country, John Babcock, died in 2010 at the age of 109.

“When you see the pictures of what the guys went through, we never went through half of what they did,” says Frank Krepps, a 95-year-old WWII veteran residing in Red Deer. “Ours was bad, but not as bad as what those poor devils had.

“You see them wounded and digging those darn trenches. That was one of the reasons I joined the medical corps. I changed my mind when I went over to England because I realized that wasn’t for me. But there’s no comparison whatsoever.”

Born in Brock, Saskatchewan, Krepps became a dispatch rider with the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Canadian Engineers, relaying top secret information via motorcycle. A bullet through his leather jerkin and some shrapnel in his eye were the biggest scares during his five years overseas from 1941-46.

Following the end of WWII, Krepps spent close to two years in England helping to restore a semblance of what was an exhausted and changing nation. He then returned to Canada and was married to his wife for 64 years.

Krepps was recently touched by a conversation he had with a grade two student wearing a poppy.

“It made me feel proud, young people understanding what it’s all about,” he says. “When you wear a poppy, you’re helping somebody out. The Legions help people out in the community, and veterans. That’s what it’s for, and remembrance. You better believe it.”

Bev Hanes, President of Red Deer Legion Branch #35, says the First World War – for as terrible as it was – helped Canada discover its identity.

“In WWI, there were 425,000 families intimately affected. Sometimes the Spanish Flu hit too and that took quite a few people. We just need to remember all those who fought and drive home the message at the core of the war, and the effects on society it waged,” she says.

“There are many legacies. Canada matured as a nation. The First World War was the first time a lot of people that enlisted had met people from other provinces. That forged a national feeling of them being Canadian. During that time, nothing could have been more important. The world on its own is a beautiful place, but we have to make sure that we keep it that way.”

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Red Deer will recognize Remembrance Day with two public services on Sunday, November 11.

The Red Deer Legion service is taking place at Servus Arena (4725 43 Street) at 10:30 a.m. The Hearing Loop system will be available for individuals who would like to access auditory assistance during the service.

The Korean War Veterans’ Association service is happening outdoors at Veterans’ Park (49 Avenue and Ross Street) at 10:30 a.m. Parking is available at the Sorensen Station Parkade, on surface lots, or metered on-street parking. If taking transit, Veterans’ Park is a 300m walk from Sorensen Station.