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MEMORY LANE: Veteran shares his story

On Wednesday, Nov. 11, David Fairweather, civilian and citizen of his community, will lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in West Vancouver on behalf of West Vancouver United Church.

On Wednesday, Nov. 11, David Fairweather, civilian and citizen of his community, will lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in West Vancouver on behalf of West Vancouver United Church.

As Honorary Colonel (retired) of The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, and at 96 years of age the oldest living member of the regiment, David Fairweather will bring memories of his own to Remembrance Day.

Seventy years ago, May 6, 1945, the Seaforths were in attack formation on the banks of the Ijssel River in Holland when the order came to stand down.

"The order brought an enormous sense of relief to all of us." Col. Fairweather and his wife Beverley are at home in West Vancouver, remembering. "We knew the war would soon be over. Two days later the Germans capitulated." Five of the six Fairweather brothers enlisted when Canada entered the war on Sept. 10, 1939. Jim, too young to serve, would join the Young Soldiers Battalion in 1945. Of those five, four came home.

Brother Alec was with an armoured regiment in Europe. John joined the Royal Canadian Navy. Murray was injured early on and mustered out of The Royal Westminster Regiment. Eldest brother George started with the 6 Field Engineer Squadron in North Vancouver and transferred to the Seaforth Highlanders. He rests in the Moro River Canadian War Cemetery in Italy.

Despite his father's request to hold off for a bit, David was determined to join his brothers in the service. Making his way from the family farm in Maple Ridge into Vancouver, David followed the sound of the bagpipes to the Seaforth Armoury on Burrard Street, where he enlisted as a private.

After what seemed like an eternity of training, marching and planning in Canada and in England, the Seaforths joined battle in Italy. One of the fiercest fights, at Ortona during the Christmas of 1943, took a heavy toll on the regiment. With the battle won, tables were laid with cloths and cutlery in a bombed-out church, where, company by company, the soldiers enjoyed Christmas dinner. Ever since, Ortona is remembered annually by the Seaforths with a ceremonial dinner. David has been present at every one.

With Italy secured by 1944, the Seaforths fought with the Canadian army in northern Europe, liberating Holland in May 1945. By virtue of their valour in Italy, the Seaforths had the honour of leading the Canadians' entry into Amsterdam. In a photograph taken on that day, there is David, marching into Dam Square with the Seaforths, alongside his fellow captains and men of the regiment. "It's hard to imagine that was 70 years ago. It seems like only yesterday. There were crowds by the thousands; the whole city turned out. The word is joyous. We were proud we could do it and sorry to see the state of the Dutch people. They had a tough time."

With VE Day came the complex logistics of returning soldiers to their homes. As David mustered drafts of men for the return to England, the name Alec Fairweather was called, precipitating a brotherly reunion after six years of war. David intended to join the Canadian forces in the Pacific, to finish what he started, though his father said he was daft for doing so. As it happened, David was aboard a troop ship on the Atlantic Ocean when the Japanese surrendered in August 1945.

Back home, David returned to his work in the forestry industry. He and Beverley Gillingham married in 1947 and moved with their family to West Vancouver in 1955. Here at home, David is active with the West Vancouver Lawn Bowling Club and West Vancouver United Church.

He continues with the Seaforth Highlanders, serving two terms as commanding officer. After David retired, he was promoted to honorary Lieutenant Colonel (retired) and is now the regiment's honorary Colonel (retired).

"I met Col. Fairweather for the first time when I was 16 and a cadet with the Seaforths," says Rod Hoffmeister, honorary Lieutenant Colonel of the Seaforths. "He was a towering figure to the cadets back then and he continues to be a real inspiration to the cadets and serving members and to all members of the Seaforth's regimental family."

Laura Anderson works with and for seniors on the North Shore. 778-279-2275