Clutching his old military dog tags in a tremulous hand, Robert Burgener stood at the front of Malvern Collegiate Institute’s auditorium yesterday and spoke of war.

“When you stepped on the gangplank, you knew you could not come home again until the war was over and nobody had any idea how long the war would last,” said Burgener, 83, who last stood in that room as a 17-year-old “Mal­v­e­­rnite” shipping off to fight in the Second World War.

At the school’s annual Remembrance Day ceremony, he described how many of his classmates had never travelled beyond Wasaga Beach, let alone gone overseas.

He recalled students who married their sweet­hearts before leaving, only to reunite with their wives years later. Another common scenario, he said, was soldiers falling in love with women overseas, their affairs ending as soon as the young man was re-posted.