World War I – Remembered

As we turn the corner to November, I cannot help but find myself thinking about the old veterans in my life. Many of them have long since passed on, veterans of World War II and World War I. Many of these men spent time at our cottage, friends of my father, or my grandfather, and several were relatives.

Perhaps the most notable part of the experience that I remember, is their reluctance to talk about it, almost to a man, very little was ever said about their contributions in the war. My Dad’s Uncles, all brothers, served in some capacity in the First War, one was gassed at Vimy, sent home, alive but damaged, another spent the entire war in the trenches in France, two who were on artillery, the guys who fired the ‘big guns’ in the same war, and another who served aboard ships. Their father, was a sea captain himself, even did a stint as the Master of one of Canada’s first warships.

These were men’s men if you know what I mean by that, men who were stoic types, tough as nails on the outside, softer on the inside, or at least with their dealings with me, a young impressionable kid who was seldom seen in those days without a cowboy hat and set of pistols, or a war surplus army helmet and an old war surplus army jacket. Not one of them ever told me a war story, although they had plenty of them. Dad knew some of it, but didn’t tell me much either, at least not until the last few years when I have managed to pry it out of him.

To a one, all of these fellows loved to fish. In fact, I would say they lived to fish. My own father, himself fatherless around age 10 after his dad died, was lucky to have the lot of them, each of whom contributed in someway to his upbringing, forging him into a man, who would himself go off to war in the Merchant Navy during WWII despite being turned down for the Navy or Army because of health problems.

But back to the old fellows…they loved to fish, and they imparted that love of fishing on my Dad, who, managed to impart the same love of the outdoors and fishing to me. Those that lived long enough to see Dad realize his dream of owning a cottage on a fishing lake, were more than a little pleased about it, often accompanying him on a fishing trip or two to the camp. One even used to go with his oxygen tank…these were hardened trout fishermen…..

But…I am rambling tonight. My intention was to write about those men, and others like them, who left their homes at a young age, and joined in Canada’s war efforts with so many of their friends and fellow Canadians. My Great Uncles were the lucky ones who managed to crawl out of the mud and carnage in France, and make it home to once again trout fish together in the lakes that they loved. My Dad, and therefore me, were lucky because of it.

Among my most cherished possessions, are a book and a knife. The knife, is of World War I vintage, and is actually a dagger, I believe of German origin. I cannot tell you the stories I invented as to how one of my Uncles managed to be in possession of that dagger. I always imagined it was something one of them took from an enemy prisoner, but Dad always says that more likely they won it from another Canadian in a card game….he has no imagination…or maybe he does…..we keep it at the cottage…I never touch it, I think it is unlucky for some reason…..

The other possession that means a lot to me, and the reason why I started to write this post, is a book. It’s an old photo album, about the size of a small bible. It belonged to another Uncle, one who had earned his medals at places like Vimy Ridge, Passchendale, and Mons. He had collected photographs of his buddies in this book, a book he may very well have carried in the trenches. He also filled in their names, and in many cases, where they had been killed…..some of the names are difficult to read, given the age of the book, and his small writing style, but most are legible.

I believe most of these men were members of the First Canadian Expedition, and for many, their first expedition became their last….here are some of the names….
F. Barton, J.A. MacDonald( killed at Mons, 10/11/18) J. Curry, J. Duggan(both killed in dugout) J. Muse,(wounded) D.J. MacDonald,(wounded) L. Moffatt, K.Horner,(Killed)
E. McAskill,(killed)J. Thompson, W.Chasson, C. Howard, B.Grogan….there are a few more, unfortunately the names have faded, or were never there.

Here is a sample picture from the book, the fellows in the bottom picture are J.Curry and J.Duggan, who according to my Uncle’s notes under their picture, were both killed in a dugout.

In the front of the little book, my Uncle had pasted a clipping from a newspaper, and as Remembrance Day, November 11 draws closer, I think it is appropriate to quote the words here.

“They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condem.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We shall remember them.”

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