Today, at 11:00am, millions of Canadians, from coast-to-coast, will stand during the playing of “The Last Post” and remain standing for a moment of silence to honour those that gave their lives in the Great Wars so that we may live free today. The Centre for Canadian-Assyrian Relations would like to honour and share the story of one soldier in particular, Corporal Joseph Backus 14th Canadian Hussars (8th Reconnaissance Regiment).
For most Assyrian-Canadians, our history in this country is a short one. Many of us arrived in the 1990s and 2000s. We are experiencing yet another influx of Assyrians to this country thanks to the genocide facing the community in Iraq and Syria at the hands of ISIS. When we speak to Assyrians who have been here since the 1950s we think “Wow! We’ve been here that long?” and we begin to ask questions and hear stories of what it was like to be an Assyrian in a foreign land at a time when the community was small.
Our history in Canada dates to the 1800s, many Assyrians belonging to the Syriac Orthodox Church arrived a settled in Quebec, where a cathedral still stands today, a testament to a community they have managed to sustain for so many generations. In Western Canada, Assyrians arrived from Urmia, where they took it upon themselves to farm the land and live in a foreign land, in order to find better economic opportunities. One of the many stories of perseverance dates back as early as 1894 when Abel and Jod Georges arrived in Canada from Urmia, Persia. They settled into Pickering, Ontario and were still there in 1901. But this isn’t about Abel and Jod. This isn’t about Dr. Isaac Adams (Assyrian pioneer who settled the west) or the countless other Assyrians who made the journey from Assyria to Canada in the late 1800’s.
This is a story about a true Canadian soldier. This is the story about Corporal Joseph Backus.
Corporal Joseph Backus was born November 13, 1921 in Marseilles, France. He immigrated to Canada with his parents in 1924 and was among the second wave of Assyrians who helped settle North Battleford, Saskatchewan. The first wave, under the leadership of Dr. Isaac Adams, had settled in the area in 1903.
From all accounts, Cpl Backus was your everyday Canadian. He grew up in a Presbyterian household and lived an average, normal life. When Canada joined the fight during the Second World War, Cpl Backus, among others, eagerly joined to defend his country. Unfortunately, we do not have his enrolment record available, but we do know he served with the 14th Canadian Hussars in the 8th Reconnaissance (Recce) Regiment.
The 8th Recce Regiment of the 14th Canadian Hussars were formed in March 11th, 1941 in England and entered the great war in July, 1944 in the battle of Caen. The primary mission of 8 Recce was to provide reconnaissance capabilities for the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division.
Sadly, Cpl Backus was killed in action on October 6th, 1944 in the Battle of the Scheldt as the Canadians and their allies attempted to capture the village of Woensdrecht. The battle was so fierce, that on October 13th, in what is known as “Black Friday”, one of the Canadian platoons was virtually wiped out. Three days later, on October 16th, only 10 days after Cpl Backus was killed, the Canadians finally managed to capture and secure Woensdrecht. The Canadians suffered heavy losses but helped ensure the defeat of German army and assisted in securing a greater foothold for the Allies on the western front.
Today, Cpl Backus rests at the Bergen-op-Zoom Canadian War Cemetery in Holland. Backus Lake near North Battleford, Saskatchewan was named in memory of his ultimate sacrifice for our great country.
Remember the life of Cpl Backus when you stand in silence at 11:00am. Remember the great sacrifice this young man made for his country and give thanks for his, and for the millions of other Canadians like him, who gave their lives so that we can live free as both Assyrians and Canadians.