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Sacrifice and Service

Veteran's from the Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service, Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force Remember

Michael Geilen

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By: Gwen Settle

Left… Left… Left, right, left… The cadence of their boots thundered as they marched, arms swinging in unison. Black, white, brown, yellow, red. Some of them still in their teens. Originally they were mostly male but, as time went on, more and more women joined their ranks. Many of them didn’t know what lay ahead for them. There would be days of drudgery and boredom. Routines drummed into them until they were numb, but there was also companionship and camaraderie. New skills to learn. For some, an escape to better opportunities.

Times and circumstances are constantly changing. Fun times kibitzing with their peers change to harsh times, secrecy, mind-numbing conditions and unbelievable horrors. This is as true today as it was decades ago.

Some sacrifice more than others. There are the obvious wounds that are readily visible — lost limbs, lost sight, broken bodies, lost lives. Other wounds are not so obvious.

In the past, some military personnel ended up with “shell-shock,” which ages ago was even misnamed as cowardice. Nowadays, we know it as PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). You may not see it or notice it, but it is very real. The human mind can only handle so much. So much so that we are losing some to suicide.

Not all veterans “go to war.” There are other dangerous jobs that need to be done — peacekeeping, helping during earthquakes, floods, fires. Not only around the world, but in our own country too. Some veterans may never see “action,” but the jobs they do are just as important and, in many cases, just as stressful.

World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War — every day now we are losing more and more of these valued veterans. Remembrance Day, November 11th, is a day set aside to respect and honour those who have sacrificed so much for us. If you are not able to attend a Remembrance Day ceremony, please at least observe your own personal moment of silence.

I quote from the famous poem by Laurence Binyon:

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”

We will remember them.

Vancouver’s largest Remembrance Day ceremonies and parade take place at the Victory Square cenotaph, 200 W. Hastings St., on the morning of Nov. 11.

Gwen Settle is the mother of The Shift peer newsroom writer Michael Geilen.

A mother with a medal

From top secret duties, to a dynamo in retirement, this skilled service woman is a hero in both her country and her family

Michael Geilen, a writer for The Shift peer newsroom, didn’t have to look far to find a story for Remembrance Day. He uncovered a hero in his own mother, Gwen Settle, who served in the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service. “I’m very proud of her,” Geilen said.

By Michael Geilen

Meet Able Wren Gwendolyn Marie Settle. Until recently, she was unable to share what she did for Canada — not even to her friends and family.

She enlisted in the Armed Forces at 18 and went through specialized training in Canada and the U.S. She was then commissioned to HMCS Shelburne, a naval repair base in Shelburne, Nova Scotia, where she served as part of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRCNS or “Wrens”).

During her top secret military duties, she was surrounded
by carbon dust, which caused breathing problems. This was an issue because she couldn’t tell her doctor what she did due to the extremely sensitive nature of what she was doing.

Following three years of service, Settle was discharged and made her own life. She became a mother to two children — a daughter and son — and did many things, acquiring numerous skills.

It wasn’t until SOSUS was declassified in 1991 that she should could tell people what she had done. SOSUS, or the Sound Surveillance System, was a network of sonar stations established by the U.S. Navy

in the 1950s to listen for Soviet submarines during the Cold War. The Royal Canadian Navy was involved with the highly classified mission and helped operate SOSUS.

Now released from her oath, Settle has contributed to The Memory Project (thememoryproject.com), a volunteer speakers bureau that arranges for veterans and Canadian Forces members to share their stories of military service at schools and community events across the country.

Today, even after retiring, Settle is a dynamo doing many things.

She is active in the Abbotsford and Matsqui communities, serving as director and treasurer on many organizational boards, enjoys swing dancing and is a freelance writer. (See her We Will Remember piece on the opposite page).

However a big piece of her heart remains with those who sacrifice so much. As one who has served her country, Settle believes everyone should show respect for people in the military — currently and in the past.

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Michael Geilen

Michael Geilen


Michael Geilen has been with Megaphone for about six years and is know for his big grin, great attitude and cringe-worthy “dad” jokes. Michael, who lives with a degenerative neurological disease, believes helping others is the key to connection. He backs that up with pedal power, cycling hundreds of kilometres each summer in the Ride to Conquer Cancer to raise money for the BC Cancer Foundation. He is a member of The Shift peer newsroom.

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