KITCHENER — With tears in her eyes, war medals on her chest and grief in her heart, Janet Fries will stand tall on Remembrance Day.
“This will be my first Remembrance Day without my mother, it will be tough,” Fries says.
Thelma Fries died on Sept. 24. During the Second World War. she served with the Auxiliary Territorial Service — a support unit. Thelma endured bombing raids, fires and explosions as German bombers pounded British cities, particularly London.
“My mother took her medals out every Remembrance Day. She polished them up, I polished them up,” Fries says. “My mother came here as a war bride and she loved this country and became a Canadian citizen.”
But when Fries wears her mother’s two medals on Remembrance Day, she could be violating the law. Section 419 of the Criminal Code forbids any non-veterans from wearing war medals without a “lawful excuse.” The code does not define lawful excuse.
Fries knows her mother wanted her to wear the medals, and that makes it lawful enough for her. Now, Fries is searching for her father’s war medals.
“I never knew my father, but I will find out who has his medals and I will get them,” Fries says.
She has a faded newspaper clipping that gives a brief account of her father’s tragic end. Glen Fries served with the Perth Regiment that landed in Naples and saw action throughout the campaign to liberate Italy.
The Perth Regiment was motorized infantry. These mobile, hard-hitting shock troops travelled with tanks and saw lots of action. Glen Fries was wounded and carried shrapnel in his legs for the rest of his life. He was killed in a car crash on a local highway in 1964, at age 42.
When Fries heads to the Kitchener cenotaph for the Remembrance Day ceremonies next month, she will be with Marilyn Lincoln.
Lincoln has campaigned since 2001 to have the law changed to allow the children and relatives of veterans to wear their war medals as acts of commemoration and remembrance.
Lincoln’s father was Eddie Miller, who served in the Second World War with the Royal Canadian Engineers, part of the Toronto-based Queen’s Own Rifles. Miller hit Juno Beach on D-Day — June 6, 1944. The Queen’s Own Rifles distinguished themselves on that long day as the only Allied outfit to reach their objective.
Miller was a sapper — one of the most dangerous jobs in the infantry. He carried packs of explosives to be placed against enemy positions. Sappers crawled on the ground toward enemy positions while their unit provided covering fire. They blew up bunkers, arrays of barbed wire and machine-gun nests.
“Can you imagine being throw-up sick when they landed and they had to get up run across that beach,” Lincoln says.
Lincoln sorts a pile of clippings and letters on the table in front of her. She reads a letter from a man in Winnipeg who regularly goes through landfill sites — a dump picker. He sent Lincoln a list detailing the 33 medals he has pulled from heaping piles of stinking trash over the years.
“That’s another example of veterans who have been forgotten,” Lincoln says.
“I don’t want my mother’s medals in a dump,” Fries says.
“Nobody cares,” Lincoln says.
Lincoln has written letters, buttonholed politicians and given numerous media interviews, but so far nobody has taken up her cause to change the Criminal Code.
“Whey can’t we find an MP to help us?” Fries says.
Every Nov. 11, after attending ceremonies at the Kitchener cenotaph, Lincoln heads to the veterans’ section of the Williamsburg Cemetery. She places a Canadian flag on her father’s grave and a letter that she writes to her dad every year, explaining how her campaign is going to have Section 419 changed.
“I have seen soldiers go over and read my letter,” Lincoln says. “My father did not want his medals on the wall or a shelf gathering dust.”