Bearing witness to the unimaginable

Abbotsford veterans share memories, thoughts on war

He bore witness to one of the Second World War’s worst atrocities, and the memory of it still haunts him to this day.

Just three weeks before the war was to end, a then 22-year-old Tom Pimblett volunteered to be sent to the infamous Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. A medical student, Pimblett tried to put his training to good use, but found little comfort in his efforts to save those who had been trapped in an unspeakable hell for so long.

“You can’t imagine it,” says the now 95-year-old resident of Hallmark on the Lake seniors’ home in Abbotsford. “You have to see it to truly believe it happened.”

Helping victims of the concentration camp centred mainly around nutrition.

“They were starving,” says Pimblett. “There were also a lot of them dying from typhus. There wasn’t an antidote.”

Indeed, Pimblett himself was struck down by typhus while at the camp. He spent six weeks in hospital and it was almost a year before he could complete his medical studies and become a doctor.

Pimblett was a member of the volunteer fire brigade in London during the Nazi air raids and recalls standing on the roof of King’s College looking for fires after the nightly bombings.

He says while the bombings were terrifying at times, “They didn’t have the desired effect; it was just a part of life during wartime. It’s not so much a personal memory, it’s just something that happened.”

It seemed no one was left unscathed by the war, says Pimblett.

“A lot of brave people lost their lives,” he says. “But we had no choice.”

One of Pimblett’s cousins was taken at Dunkirk and remained a prisoner of war for five years, while a second cousin was lost when a transportation plane was shot down. And while Pimblett did all that he could for the war effort, he “still felt like a fraud” because he never had to fight.

For former Matsqui mayor Dave Kandal, also a resident at Hallmark on the Lake, never having to fight in a war also played a role in his life in the military.

As a member of the Vancouver-based 442 auxiliary fighter squadron, Kandal remembers that they trained to fight in the Korean War but never got enough “gunnery training” to be called into service.

“We trained to fight but never did,” he says. “You get a strong feeling for the guys you trained with who went on to be killed in the war.”

And while Kandal was grateful he never saw action, he was ready to go if called upon.

“You don’t embrace war, but you see the necessity,” he says. “You need to be trained and ready.”

For both Pimblett and Kandal, the underlying core is always the preservation of our freedoms.

“We should always be prepared to fight those who would take away our freedom,” Kandal says.

n Pimblett and Kandal will join fellow residents of Hallmark on the Lake and Hallmark on the Park in a special Remembrance Day service to be held Saturday, Nov. 10 starting at 10:30 a.m.

Sonia Hindmarsh will start the service by singing Amazing Grace, followed by opening remarks by Chaplain Randall Evans.

Bagpiper Jacob Carlos will play in the colours, led first by Pimblett carrying the Union Jack flag, followed by Tom Stokes carrying the Navy flag, then Stan McPherson carrying the Army flag, Gordon Smith and the RCAF flag, and finally Kandal carrying the Canadian flag.

A special reading of In Flanders Fields will be performed by 98-year-old Elspeth Fitzmaurice.

Fellow Hallmark resident Doris Hawkes will lay a wreath, while Don Stevenson will lay a rose of peace, and MP for Abbotsford Ed Fast will lay the sword of peace.

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