When Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914, Canada, as a member of the British Empire, was automatically at war. Canada’s troops were called the Canadian Corps and they fought on the Western Front in trenches that stretched from the Belgium coast, through France, to the frontiers of Switzerland. 65,000 Canadian military personnel lost their lives when they ventured beyond the trenches and into No Man’s Land. One of those men was my Grandfather’s brother, Henry William.
It is said Henry joined the military because a woman approached him on the street and presented him with a White Feather, signifying she thought he was a coward. He was only 17 years old, too young to enlist, but he wasn’t about to be called a coward. He lied about his age, and signed his Attestation Papers for the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force on September 8, 1915.
Henry arrived on the front in France on March 26, 1916. He was wounded in June and again in September of that year. His next encounter with the enemy was his last. He was reported missing after action on The Somme on October 4, 1916. His body was never found, making him one of just over 11,000 Canadian soldiers with no known grave.
My Grandfather, Victor fought in France too. Only two weeks after Henry was killed, Victor was wounded in the face and neck. One eye was removed, and he was sent home, forever scarred by the memories of life in the trenches.
IN FLANDERS FIELDS
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
John McRae, December 8, 1915