What have we learned from war?
I had been relatively untouched by war prior to my daughter’s involvement in the Afghanistan mission. The only other military person I knew was my father, a medical doctor and artillery officer in the British Army during the Second World War. He never really talked about his past experiences, but the Afghan War changed all that.
Nichola visited my parents before being deployed, and my father shared stories with her I never knew. He recounted his involvement in the Battle of Monte Cassino, the fear he felt, and how he held it together for his wounded comrades. Locked in a farmhouse basement when a retreat was called, he and the others remained there for two days, while the battle raged above. Eventually, the Allies returned and freed them.
As a young person, Nichola become immersed in Canada’s military, and I watched her grow, developing into a confident woman. The Royal Military College initially, then her actual jobs, brought out the best in her. She became articulate and focused. She had always wanted to be in the 1st Regiment of the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, and she got her wish. Posted to Shilo, Manitoba, her work took her to Roger’s Pass, where she and her men used artillery fire to bring down avalanches. She helped fight the huge fires which swept through British Columbia, helicoptering into remote ridges where she and her soldiers descended into the forest.
Then word came that she and her men were to be deployed to Afghanistan. They trained at CFB Wainwright and Suffield in preparation, and completed courses in Gagetown. She was young and relatively inexperienced, but she was recommended for the Forward Observation Officer course, which she passed. I don’t know what she would have achieved had she taken a different career path, but her BA (Honours) in English and her fluent bilingualism suggests she would have done well in any field. I do know she loved the military and she loved her men.
In an interview with CTV’s Lisa Laflamme, Nichola mentioned not worrying about her own safety, but about how making the wrong decision would affect the safety of “her guys”. I think she would have far rather been killed than lose one of “her guys”. We hear about the “Band of Brothers” when referring to soldiers and their relationship to each other. It appears that it cuts across generations and gender. In his own way, my father helped prepare Nichola for the realities of war. My father returned annually to his regimental reunions, until the gatherings faded because of the dwindling number of soldiers. I like to think Nichola would have done the same thing, met up with “her guys” annually, checked up on them, discussed their war, and then returned to regular jobs. Those of us, who have not experienced war, we cannot comprehend the camaraderie and the love soldiers feel for each other. And soldiers do not forget.
The Afghan War showed the commitment of Canadian soldiers to the cause. Nichola believed in the mission, believed that Canada was doing the honourable thing. On March 4, 2006, she wrote:
The longer we are in theatre and the more we interact with the Afghan people, the more I feel we are serving a purpose here. I think that these people, through the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police, are trying to achieve something that we in Canada have long since taken for granted. They lay down their lives daily to try and seize something that is so idealistic it is almost impossible to define. It goes beyond women wearing burkas and children being taught to read and write. The Afghan people have chosen who will lead them…. We are here to assist that legitimate and democratically elected government. It is easy to poke holes in that statement… however, we have to start somewhere. With the best of intentions, we have started in Afghanistan. There is nowhere else I’d rather be right now.
This belief transcended into action as the war took hold, and Nichola and her men went “outside the wire” countless times to deal with the enemy.
As Canadians, when we think of Afghanistan, we think first of Kandahar province. What we forget is this place is the size of Nova Scotia. In the early days of the war, in 2006, we had about 3500 soldiers in Afghanistan, but only about 650 who patrolled “outside the wire”. So, to use the Nova Scotia comparison, one day they were in Truro, the next in Yarmouth, then up to Sydney, then back to Kentville, with short stops in Halifax for a shower, if they happened to be in the area. It was thirty-plus degrees Celsius, they were carrying 100 pounds of kit, and they had no visible enemy. It was a war on many fronts, and one not truly appreciated by those of us at home, even those of us lucky enough to be receiving letters.
Their belief never wavered.
I have learned several things about war because of Nichola and my father. I have learned that just because people don’t talk about their involvement, it doesn’t mean they haven’t participated. The sharing of war stories is often private, and the hardships of war brought out the best in both my father and Nichola. The love that soldiers share with each other is a bond that is never broken, in life or in death.
Nichola’s memory is honoured through the Nichola Goddard Foundation, a charity dedicated to education and health care. Calgary has opened the Captain Nichola Goddard School and the CCGS Captain Goddard M.S.M., a new Canadian Coast Guard Mid-Shore Patrol Vessel, will launch soon. Canada continues to remember Nichola, and we are grateful.
Sally Goddard is an educator and the mother of the late Captain Nichola Goddard. Captain Goddard was the first Canadian soldier to call in artillery on an enemy since the Korean War, and on that same day, became the first female Canadian soldier killed in combat. In 2010, Sally and husband Tim Goddard founded the Nichola Goddard Foundation, a charitable organization devoted to Nichola’s legacy of service, and helping those in need.