I have several people to remember this week—all members of my family. I’ve written stories about them for my sons, had an article I wrote about my uncle published in The Regina Leader Post newspaper, and attended a commemoration to that same uncle who was honoured in a stained glass window in the First Presbyterian Church in Regina. I have also honoured him by cycling the roads that he cycled in England in 1942 before he died, when his Lancaster bomber was shot down when returning from a raid over Dusseldorf.
When, once again, I visit the Cenotaph at Central Park in Calgary, I will gaze at the monument of a solder mounted on a horse and be clear on who I want to focus my memory on. I want to honour my father.
This monument was erected to the memory of Calgarians who died in the South African war at the start of the twentieth century, but the old methods used then carried over into the First World War. The battles fought in that way were ones that left a memory of horror with my father.
As a young boy, every Remembrance Day I went with him to that Cenotaph. After the ceremony, Dad would take my hand and we would would walk around the soldier on the horse. He never spoke a word. Those moments on Remembrance Day were amongst the few times in his life that I saw tears in his eyes.
He too was one of those infantry men in the First World War. His job on the front was firing artillery. When they moved from one position to another, he had to harness the mules to the canons and then coerce the beasts into pulling the load. He used to hang off the side of the mule, away from the firing, to protect himself. More than one mule was shot out from underneath him. I know there was one battle in which he was involved in hand to hand combat, but he only mentioned this once and even then couldn’t finish his tale. The war was not a happy part of his life. I believe that the thrill of the early days quickly melted into constant fear which he lived with for two full years of battle. I can’t begin to comprehend what that was like.
Thankfully, long before he was my dad, he came home, safe, to Canada.
So, I am remembering him this week. I’ll be remembering the good things we did together as well as how he managed those rotten times in life that we can’t seem to avoid. I will be thankful that he was not one of the enormous number of lost souls who gave up their lives in that war.
Today, the lost soldiers are not only of the long past. Unfortunately, we are now constantly reminded of the death that is part of any conflict. The war today is very different from my father’s war, but the personal consequences are the same - and it must be hell.