My grandfather and his twin brother during the Second World War.

Not “Just” Cooks – Remembrance Day

The other day, I was reading Eli Glasner’s review of the film Killers of the Flower Moon. In the review, Glasner, a CBC entertainment reporter, wrote that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character was  “injured in the war (nothing so dramatic, he was a cook).” That line irritated me because it’s belittling to the Second World War veterans who were cooks, my grandfather among them.

Canadian Forestry Corps

Glasner’s comment rankled me because I used to think that way, too. When I was a child, I knew my maternal grandfather was a Second World War veteran but he had been “just a cook.” He hadn’t been fighting in France or Egypt or Hong Kong. He had been stationed in Scotland with the Canadian Forestry Corps. Not exciting stuff when you hear the stories about the Allied soldiers who shot down Nazi planes or engaged in battle in the mountains of Hong Kong.

It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I started learning about the Canadian Forestry Corps. It was an organizational corps of the Canadian Army. In the Second World War, the forestry corps were trained as soldiers and nicknamed the “Sawdust Fusiliers.” The majority of men were deployed to the U.K. to cut timber, prepare lumber and clear land. The wood was used to build crates for ammunition, bridges for soldiers to cross, barracks for men to rest, and much more.

The “other” soldiers

My grandfather helped harvest wood for about three weeks before he became a cook. The family story is that Jim became a cook by accident. One day, he had to fill-in for the cook who was sick. Jim’s cooking was better than the regular man’s and so Jim got the job.

As most of us know, a bad meal can put us in a bad mood. In the Second World War, food was considered a morale booster. This is from the Food Complaints and Cooks’ Training Canadian Army Overseas 1939-1943:

Complaints have a bearing on morale. Three "M” factors in Morale –"money,” mail,” and "meals.'' They have an immediate and personal effect on the soldier. Since food is a basic necessity, "meals' in sufficient quantity and of adequate quality are of first importance.

Other important support services besides cooking included transportation, supplies and much more. The men and women who helped with these jobs kept the army, navy and air force moving. Everyone was integral despite the banality of some of the work.

I never got a response from Glasner about my comment. That’s fine. I know that My grandfather and many others who weren’t in heat of battle still contributed to the Allied success. Soldiers needed to eat and the cooks who fed them also put their lives on the line and on hold.