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ON THE 11th HOUR: when the war went quiet
Preserving stories of the last ones standing
After travelling across Canada for the past 11 months interviewing the country’s last living Second World War veterans, Eric Brunt has been humbled more than once.
The 26-year-old filmmaker, not long out of the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) film production program, planned out a film project you’d think only a seasoned and well-funded filmmaker would take on.
But samples of Brunt’s work on his Facebook Page — snippets of his countless interviews since his journey began — show a maturity, skill level and interview techniques beyond his years.
And it’s his young age that the veterans in their 90s and topping the 100-year-old age scale, sometimes shake their heads at. Many have been used to attending schools over the years to stress the importance of Remembrance.
Seldom has a young person come seeking them out to hear their stories.
Backed by donations to a GoFundme page , Brunt left Victoria last May in a small, white van — camping in it in the summer, staying at Airbnbs when it got colder — seeking out veterans along his way, and seeing and experiencing the country the veterans fought for, taking advantage of the freedom they ensured.
He’s been welcomed and encouraged along the way.
The end result will be a documentary about Canada’s last Second World War veterans, “Last Ones Standing.”
Brunt says the idea for the documentary developed as he thought about his grandfather, Clifford Brunt, who passed away in 2013 at age 95.
His grandfather had been stationed in Canada all throughout the Second World War as an airforce instructor.
“He faced a number of incidents, too, as there were accidents during the training part,” Brunt said. “He had a lot of stories and I regretted not recording them. After he passed, I started thinking of how many others whose stories might not have been documented, and I started interviewing veterans in the Vancouver area and discovered there were many men and women who served during the war in many capacities who had stories to tell.
“I asked them ‘what was it like when they were my age?’ because a lot of them were my age during the war.”
When Brunt arrived in Newfoundland and Labrador last week, he was aware that this province’s history is somewhat different from the rest of Canada, as Newfoundland and Labrador was still a part of Britain during the Second World War years.
Many from the province served in the British army, navy and air force, while other Newfoundlanders and Labradorians joined up with the Canadian military. Others worked at the American bases in the province.
“It’s very sad. You sit down with them and they tell you their life story, you share that experience with them, gain so much respect for them, and then you hear that they passed away and you realize that you were the last, or at least one of the last, the hear their stories. You felt a strong connection with them regardless of their age. I watch footage of them now and they were so full of life. We are losing them so fast, and I realize how important it is to document their stories.” — Filmmaker Eric Brunt
“Newfoundlanders served in so many different theatres of war,” Brunt said. “That’s what I find interesting. I’ve not come across that before.
“Newfoundland and Labrador was always the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It’s surreal that 11 months later I’m finally here at the country’s most easterly city.”
As of last week, Brunt had conducted about 330 interviews — some of those were from veterans who have never told their story to anyone, not even family, he said.
Since those interviews have been done, about 30 of those he has interviewed have died.
“It’s very sad,” he said. “You sit down with them and they tell you their life story, you share that experience with them, gain so much respect for them, and then you hear that they passed away and you realize that you were the last, or at least one of the last, the hear their stories. You felt a strong connection with them regardless of their age.
“I watch footage of them now and they were so full of life. We are losing them so fast, and I realize how important it is to document their stories.”
Brunt said about 1.1 million Canadians served in the Second World War. Today there are less than 41,000 remaining.
On the weekend in St. John’s, one of the people Brunt interviewed was Lloyd Seaward, a 101-year-old veteran of the Royal Navy. His ship, the HMS Exeter, was sunk by a torpedo in the Java Sea and as he was fighting to survive in the water, he was picked up by a Japanese ship and spent three years in a prisoner of war camp in Japan.
It’s one of the many stories Brunt has been able to preserve on film.