A pair of cousins who fought in Europe during the Second World War is reflecting on their experiences ahead of Remembrance Day.

William Atkinson, 101, signed up for the Canadian military in 1941. He already had an interest and training in artillery that took him all over Canada leading him to eventually become a troop commander.

Calling the need for men, women and equipment “unbelievable,” Atkinson was sent overseas in 1943 leaving his wife and toddler behind.

“In spite of the fact that I was married with a child, I signed up,” said Atkinson.

“It was a combination of patriotism and concern for the future.”

Atkinson tells CTV News he spent Christmas of 1943 on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic, eventually making it to Liverpool then to a Canadian reinforcement unit in Sussex.

In late 1944 he joined a convoy that was sent to Italy and spent time there before being dispatched to northwestern Europe at the beginning of 1945, where he went into action in the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, his cousin Robert Atkinson was also serving his country in Europe, fighting his way through Belgium and Holland. Speaking with CTV News from his home in Saskatoon, Robert Atkinson, 94, said he didn’t know at the time that his cousin was overseas.

Robert Atkinson was badly injured in March of 1945, after the tank he was in was hit by enemy shells, lighting it on fire.

“There were five of us in the crew: we all managed to get out, barely in the nick of time. Then the ammunition we were carrying in the tank blew up,” said Atkinson.

Atkinson was then shot in the arm and leg and ended up in a number of European hospitals before a stop in northern England. While in northern England he went to look for relatives and just happened to run into his cousin William who was doing the same.

While they now live a province apart the two still keep in touch, chatting on the phone and exchanging Christmas cards. Robert Atkinson made the trip to Winnipeg for William’s 100th birthday.

When asked why it was important to remember, both look to the soldiers they left behind.

“The ones who didn’t come home. And not only that, but the families of those people,” said Robert Atkinson.

“I don’t think we can ever be thankful enough for the people who gave their lives,” added William Atkinson.