KELOWNA - If you flew out of the Kelowna airport in the week before Remembrance Day, you might have met Bob. If you did, you probably found yourself sitting down with him, listening to his war stories and laughing at his disarming jokes.
Vernon resident Bob Hannah, 86, has been giving out poppies at the airport for 39 years. He tries to do four days leading up to Remembrance Day, but lately, he’s only been able to manage two days due to his health. He tires easily and prolonged standing hurts his back. But the poppies, and their significance, mean a lot to him.
“I’m one of the few left, a good half of us are gone. It’s important to remember them. It’s important to me,” Hannah said.
Born in Manitoba in 1927 and raised in Saskatchewan by his mother, a teacher, Hannah enlisted at the young age of 16, three years earlier than he was legally allowed to.
“There was nothing for me at home, it was a farming district. Everybody grew up and got the farm, but I wasn’t going to get one. I had to make my own way,” Hannah says.
The army found out about his age and he wasn’t allowed to go overseas, but they kept him around as a constructional maintenance person. So began his 25 year career with the Canadian Military Engineers. He never saw battle.
In 1973, Hannah turned to a new chapter of his life. He moved to Oyama with his wife and started up a one man repair business: Hannah’s Repairs. The next year, he wrote his name on a sign up sheet at the Oyama Legion and started selling poppies at the Kelowna airport.
It’s a fitting locale for Hannah, who has travelled around the world. He and his wife have visited every country in Western Europe, each of the U.S. states at least once, as well as China, Japan, Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, and North Africa.
Though he lives in Vernon, he still goes to the meat draw at the Oyama Legion every Saturday. It’s not like it used to be. Members have died, bills have gone up. It’s a struggle to stay open. New membership from present-day soldiers is scarce.
“We looked after each other, we were like brothers,” Hannah says of the old days. “It’s gone now, every part of it. I don’t know what happened. The interest of the people in the service now is not what it used to be.”
He says his own kids have little interest in the activities of the legion, and wonders who will keep traditions like Remembrance Day alive in the community when his generation is gone. As a government endorsed holiday, he knows Remembrance Day will never cease to exist. But it’s community that makes it meaningful.
Hannah says you can’t change the past, erase the suffering of war or give families the years they missed with their loved ones.
“You can’t really do anything about it but think about them. Honour them,” he says.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at firstname.lastname@example.org, call (250)309-5230 or tweet @charhelston.