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Students awed by veterans’ war memories at medal ceremony

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As Centennial College professor Ted Barris (back row, far left) looks on, Consul General Marc Trouyet (centre, standing) pays tribute to (front row, left to right) veterans Theo Hopkinson, Jim Jenkins, Esther Thorley, who served in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps and Martin Maxwell during the Remembrance Day medal presentation at the college’s East York campus. -TONY WRIGHT

By Tony Wright

As members of the “Greatest Generation” spoke of their experiences during World War II at a special ceremony in East York on November 11, the reaction of their audience reinforced the fact that their sacrifices will never be forgotten.

Two veterans of the war received the Legion of Honour medal from Consul General of France in Toronto, Marc Trouyet, to thank them for their service to that country.

“Thank you for making my land a free country,” Mr. Trouyet told the veterans during the presentation at Centennial College’s Carlaw Ave. campus.

Martin Maxwell served with the British Glider Regiment and was tasked with capturing three bridges a day before D-Day. His recollections stunned the crowd of approximately 100 students, staff and faculty at the institution’s 16th annual Remembrance Day observance.

It became apparent that a younger generation was viewing World War II in a new light.

“They’ve become more interested,” Mr Maxwell said in an interview. “One of the reasons is there aren’t many of us left.

“We (fellow veterans) speak in school whenever we can and tell students how grateful they should be that they’re living in Canada.”

The other veteran who was honoured, Jim Jenkins, served in the 19th Field Artillery Royal Canadian Artillery and landed in France from the sea on D-Day.

“The interest people have in D-Day survivors has been amazing. It’s nice to be recognized and thought of,” he said in an interview.

Fellow veterans Theo Hopkinson, who served with British counter-intelligence decoding Nazi messages, and Esther Thorley, who served with the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, were also recognized at the event.

Earlier this year, Hopkinson had been presented the Bletchley Park Commemorative Badge for her service. Thorley is named as one of 275 Canadian-Jewish women in the military in an upcoming book, “Double Threat” by Centennial College professor Ellin Bessner.

Centennial College journalism professor and author Ted Barris said in an interview he believed that, in addition to honouring the heroes, the event raised awareness amongst the students about the sacrifices made by veterans.

“When the students realize that the veterans were 18-20 year olds during their time of service and see themselves [in that role], then they’ve touched history,” he said.

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