Friday, November 11, 2005


I have chosen to make Remembrance Day one of personal reflection.

My grandfather lied about his age at the outbreak of WWI, and signed up in the first contigent to ship overseas. He partipated in the first action the Canadians saw in the salient in Belgium. He was part of the group that held ground when the Germans unleashed their first gas attack. Injured in the attack, he was shipped off to England to convalesce. Sufficiently recovered, he returned to Belgium in time to fight in the Battle of Festubert. In this battle, he was bayonneted, and left for dead on the field.

He lay in the mud among the dead for 3 days. Somehow he managed to cling to life, to the extent that he uttered a groan when the body collectors made their sweep. "Hey, this one's still alive..." And so ended his war career. He missed the heroic moments of his unit at Vimy (read Pierre Burton's book on it - it's excellent).

I remember that he could roll a cigarette in seconds with one hand. I remember the story of his green unit commander sticking his head up for a look over the side of the trench on his first night in the field, and taking a bullet between the eyes. I remember his stories of crawling through the trenches on his hands and knees in the mud, every once in a while his hand sinking down through the body of a dead German. I remember his story of the horror of the rats in the trenches. I remember the story of a scene in battle where German machine gun fire finally filled a ditch with enough bodies that Canadians could run across it.

Yes, I keep it personal, because it keeps the horror vividly meaningful. He suffered through the remainder of his life, both with the psychological shock to his system, and with his gas-ravaged lungs. His lung injuries finally took him at a too-young age. Fortunately, he lived long enough to raise a family.

So here I am, blogging this to you all on this sombre day. I visit his grave every once in a while. Sometimes when it's warm and sunny. Sometimes in winter. Not just on November 11th.

Each time I see the wicked dark hand of evil dominion of one over another at work in this world, I visit his grave in my imagination - to reflect on his strength in enduring that which he did, and the enormity of the gift he left in his legacy to me.

God bless him. God bless all the men and women everywhere who sacrificed for you and I. I do not forget.