A Remembrance Day Story (“The Great War”)
and a prayer for peace!
As the media pay tribute to the Great War’s 100th anniversary 1914-1919 and Canada’s great sacrifice at Ypres, the Somme and Vimy Ridge here is a story from my own family
My Nonna (on my father’s side) never forgot her oldest brother and kept his letters from the Front until she died. They were given to me by my father.
Feo was born in Italy in 1894 and when the family immigrated to Canada he spent his young life in Vancouver, BC. When the Great War began he joined the Irish Fusiliers, later transferring to the Canadian Infantry, British Columbia Regiment. He was killed on April 9, 1917 during the famous Canadian battle at Vimy Ridge in France. There are two surviving letters he sent home dated Mar 29th and April 4th to his mother and sister. Tragically, these letters would probably have arrived after the telegram notifying them of his death. They are poignant. He had been so optimistic – he writes- “most of the boys think they will be home by the end of this year.” He spoke of going to the “picture show” on a Saturday evening in France and of planes “ buzzing like bees” in aerial combat. Very soon his regiment would be advancing toward “Fritz’s lines” – but- “don’t worry sis, I think I am one of the lucky ones! “ Eleven days later he was felled by machine gun fire from those lines. He was 23 years old.
No one knew exactly where Feo was buried but decades later my father took up the search. It was shortly before household computers and the world wide web so Dad spent many months writing letters and searching archives. He was successful. More than sixty years after Feo’s death my father visited a grave in Aubigny-en-artois, near Arras and at last paid tribute to the man he never knew. The Cemetery is still kept beautifully by the French people but it’s overwhelming to see hundreds of rows of uniform headstones reaching into the distance over what must have been acres of farm fields before it became the fields of the dead.
I wondered what Feo might have done had he lived? Who was he? In an old family album I have two pictures of him in uniform along with his fading letters. Those who knew and loved him are gone these many years. This is all there is to tell us he was here those many years ago, and in those sad, few tokens is the ghost of a boy still full of hopes and dreams. I wondered if he might have been a storyteller. I wondered if he had a sweetheart? I’m sure he would have probably married and had children like the rest of his siblings eventually did.
Long ago a young man set out on a great patriotic adventure and had died in it. He is not alone. So many lives were sacrificed and so much potential lost. Have we learned anything? I don’t know, but today I honoured that distant uncle, and my own father, and all who have served.
At the going down of the sun
and in the morning
we will remember them!
The Green Fields of France- Davey and the Fureys- an old song asking why