Darrell Walker will wait his turn in line and lay a wreath during the Remembrance Day service at Veterans Memorial Park in honour of the forgotten Canadians who fought in the Spanish Civil War.
This year will mark the second time the Metchosin resident will purchase a wreath in honour of the roughly 1,500 Canadians who went to Spain between 1936 and 1939 to battle the Germans and Italians in what was an ominous precursor of the carnage that would unfold during the Second World War.
It is a tradition Walker began when he was a member of the Legion in Salmon Arm, an act of remembrance he is determined to continue at the Prince Edward Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion in Langford, where he has been a member for the past four years. “I asked the Legion last year if I could buy a wreath and lay it and they agreed,” Walker explained.
Walker was conscripted into service in his hometown of Victoria when he was 18. He trained in artillery and served in infantry enforcement in Holland and Germany in 1945 and 1946, when most of the fighting had ceased.
“A lot of people don’t know that Canadians served in the Spanish Civil War,” Walker said. “I knew someone who said their history teacher wasn’t even familiar with it. I think it’s really important to acknowledge the first Canadians to oppose Fascism and the sacrifices they made. The Germans and Italians had new weapons and methods of bombing that hadn’t been used before Spain, they were testing them out for the Second World War. I read a letter in a newspaper from a Canadian serving in Spain that he sent to his sister saying if they lost in Spain, there would be a world war in six months. It turns out that’s exactly what happened.”
About three-quarters of the Canadians who served in Spain were recent immigrants who sidestepped Canada’s policy of non-intervention in the conflict, which was the norm for most countries at the time.
The majority of the Canadians were dispatched with U.S. battalions before a separate Canadian one called the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion was formed in 1937.
So little is known about those who died in the Spanish Civil War whose names aren’t included in Canada’s Book of Remembrance in Ottawa.
Walker appreciates the efforts of Joe Barrett, the son of former B.C. premier Dave Barrett, in helping keep their memories alive. Barrett, a former Spanish language teacher, was instrumental in the establishment of The Spirit of the Republic monument near the B.C. Legislature that honours those who served in Spain. “There’s an effort now by the Spanish government to try and identify all of the soldiers from other countries who died in Spain,” Walker noted. “Every effort like that helps keep the story alive. It’s an important part of our history. We need to honour those who served and to have a better understanding of what they did. It’s an important part of ensuring world wars don’t happen again.”