Long before he was my "Papa" or even my Dad's "Father", before he was even married, he was a young lieutenant in the Sixth Battalion of Canadian Engineers. He had a horse named Lady Bird for transport and his job was to sort out the building and demolition of bridges as well as the design of all manner of war-related structures. He was fresh out of University. He was 22.

He shipped out to England, spent time in Belgium and Germany but like many Canadian service men served most of his time in France. There he was gassed in the trenches but was lucky to lose only his sense of taste and smell. On another occasion he was rescued after an explosion collapsed the trench he was walking through, burying him alive.

Throughout it all he kept a diary, the contents of which are largely deceptively light in tone and content noting the weather and friends he'd encountered as he went about his activities only rarely mentioning details of the horrors of the Western Front. On that 11th day in November, the day the war ended he wrote...

11-11-18 Monday

Cool and drizzling. The good old war is no more. Hostilities ceased at 11:00 a.m. We don't seem able to realize it. Everyone standing fast and consolidating on line at 11:00 o'clock....worked the old gramophone to a fare-you-well to-night. To bed at 10:00 p.m. Feeling better today.

By the time of the Armistice he was approaching his 25th birthday. He was lucky. He came home.

When I look through the pages of those Diaries and read the names of the many men he knew I wonder how many came home as he did. I recognize they must have all suffered greatly and that likely many still lie, as The Poem says, in Flander's fields.

I'm going down to the Remembrance Day Ceremony at Old City Hall this morning. It will be crowded and sad and I'd honestly rather not go but its really a rather puny sacrifice in comparison. I'll have this pinned inside my pocket...
But as the events of recent weeks have shown, "The front" is not so well defined today. I'll have Papa's pin in my pocket and a poppy on my coat and in my mind, the families of Nathan Cirillo and Patrice Vincent. They made the ultimate sacrifice for us right here at home.


Steven said...

What a beautifully written memory of your grandfather. And how wonderful that you have that pin. It's a sad day, true, but also a hopeful one in some ways. Thanks for writing this.

Brendaknits said...

What a lovely story. How close to us all, these stories are.

Needles said...

Thank you for sharing this.