10 October 2009

Miramichi veteran honours soldiers who served at two bases

When our society took over hosting duties of the Fourth Annual Pennfield Ridge War Memorial Service on 26 February 2009, I wanted to put the focus back on what really mattered...the Veterans themselves. Therefore I began a search to find Veterans to represent the four Commonwealth Countries who lost airmen at Pennfield Ridge and for a Veteran who served at A-30 Canadian Infantry Training Centre (Camp Utopia).

For Camp Utopia I choose Colin Fleiger from Miramichi. I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Fleiger at his residence on September 28, 2008 about his time stationed at Camp Utopia so he was a natural choice. Therefore an invitation was sent on March 26th, 2009 asking if he would lay a wreath in memory of those who served at A-30 Canadian Infantry Training Centre (Camp Utopia) which he accepted. On September 3rd his daughter Colleen contacted me saying that her father had attended a meeting at The Royal Canadian Legion (Branch #3) in Miramichi the previous evening. During this meeting her father mentioned that he would be attending the Pennfield Ridge War Memorial Service at the end of the month. The Legion then asked him if he would inquire if it would be possible for him to lay an additional wreath, which they would supply, on their behalf. We accepted their invitation which how Mr. Fleiger came to lay two (2) wreaths at the service.

G Christian Larsen & Colin Fleiger, September 2008

Mr. Fleiger, his wife and family were all in attendance at the memorial service on Sunday, September 27th. Mr. Fleiger was quite honoured to have been invited to attend the service. Once our local paper ran the story about the service on Tuesday, September 29th, I contacted the Miramichi Leader asking if they'd be interested in doing a follow up story with Mr. Fleiger concerning his service to his country and his involvement with Camp Utopia. Not long after contacting the newspaper, Lucas McInnis contacted me saying he interviewed Mr. Fleiger and asked if it would be possible to obtain some photographs for the story. I sent him several photographs from the service, in particular two of Mr. Fleiger himself, and in the end these were the ones that were used for the story . These were the ones which were most fitting and one in particular, "Mr. Fleiger in a moment of reflection", captured the mood of the service. It was about honouring and remembering those who served.

Here is the story that was run in the Miramichi Leader on Friday, October 9th.

MIRAMICHI - When he was 16, Colin Fleiger tried to sign up to go to war.

His first try, he didn't get too far.

"He said to me, ‘you little son-of-a-bitch, I catch you back in here again I'll boot the arse right off ya.' I got scared. So I took off out the door," Fleiger reminisced about his first time trying to sign up.

It wasn't his last try.

He was told, "You got lots of time, the war's not going to be over tomorrow."

On Sept. 27, Fleiger laid down two wreaths at the Fourth Annual Memorial Service.

Colin Fleiger laying a wreath in memory of those who served at Camp Utopia

The service is held in honour of those who served at the former military bases at Charlotte County, the Pennfield Ridge Air Station and A-30 Canadian Infantry Training Centre, known as Camp Utopia.

The weather didn't cooperate that day and the memorial was moved from Pennfield Ridge war memorial to St. George Legion hall, but 150 people still managed to take in the event.

Fleiger laid the wreath on behalf of the six military personnel killed at Camp Utopia.

He laid another wreath for the Royal Canadian Legion Branch No. 3 as well, which is in Chatham.

"What went on there, it was more of a memory affair there," the now 83-year-old Chatham resident said.

Fleiger seems to remember those days well. Sitting on his couch he recalls memories as if they just happened, demonstrating the length of their uniforms and the base he spent time in when he was just a teen.

"I would say there would be about, at one given time, probably 2,000 or more men there," he said, speaking of the A-30 training centre. "At that time it was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, one of the biggest in Canada."

Fleiger was embraced with the idea of laying the wreaths by those holding the event: "I don't know, must have been because I was up from this area. Maybe he was trying to get different people in different areas."

Thinking back to his former camp, Fleiger remembers how different it is today.

Colin Fleiger in a moment of reflection

"There's nothing there anymore. Trees are taking over, and grass, whatever. The building are all torn down. The only thing that's left there now is the magazines where they get the ammunition, things like that."

Camp Utopia was set up like a town, he explained, with streets and buildings set up to train the soldiers for what they were to endure in the battlefield.

"Put it this way, we're all kids. All young kids. Anywhere from probably 16 to probably 25. Now, there were senior people there as well. Officers wouldn't be much more than 25 themselves, possibly thirties," he said. "You could almost picture the fellas that were there ... They're not there anymore and I'm one of the lucky ones to get out of there."

Despite the years that should have been ahead of them, Fleiger said fighting for good was all that mattered to the young soldiers.

"We may survive it, maybe we wouldn't. And there was a lot of us that didn't," he said. "I don't know. War is not a playtoy, that's for sure. It may be a rich man's playtoy but it's not a poorman's. And it's the poor man that goes."

SOURCE: Miramichi Leader (Miramichi, NB) - October 9, 2009.

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