November 11

1918 The end of the War to End All War

The Great War, or the First World War, was the most hideous conflict yet to plague mankind (though that distinction only lasted 20 years). The millions of casualties had to be gathered, identified, and buried. (A splendid movie dealing with how the French handled the challenge is 1989’s  Life and Nothing But with the great Philippe Noiret.) The British Empire and Commonwealth’s War Graves Commission decided that the bodies should be interred close to where they fell and should be commemorated with a standard headstone, regardless of rank. Families of the dead were invited to add a personal tribute on the memorial. 

Canada’s Dream Shall Be of Them by Eric McGeer is a collection of epitaphs from Canadian graves on the Western Front. These are words from another age, written for soldiers born in the 1880s and 1890s to parents born between the 1850s and 1870s. They provide a priceless glimpse at a lost world whose ideas of grief and loss may seem strange to children of the 21st century.

BREAK, DAY OF GOD, SWEET DAY OF PEACE, AND BID THE SHOUT OF WARRIORS CEASE. Sergeant Wellesley Seymour Taylor, 14th Battalion, May 1st 1916 (age 24)

GOD SAID, “THE FIRST BORN OF THY SONS SHALT THOU GIVE UNTO ME.” Lance Corporal Norman McKelvie Parker, 58th Battalion, September 26th 1917 (age 20)

AN ACTOR BY PROFESSION. HIS LAST ROLE, THE NOBLEST EVER PLAYED. Private Griffith Tallesyn Davies, Canadian Army Medical Corps, May 20th 1918 (age 50)

NO HOME CAN NOW BE HOME TO ME UNTIL AGAIN YOUR FACE I SEE WHEN JESUS COMES. MOTHER Sergeant John Moore, 102nd Battalion, April 9th 1917 (age 25)

VOLUNTEER FROM THE U.S.A. TO AVENGE THE LUSITANIA MURDER. Driver Leland Wingate Fernald, Canadian Field Artillery, May 8th 1916 (age 28)

THE BETTER DAYS OF LIFE WERE OURS. THE WORST CAN BE BUT MINE. Corporal Thomas Bourchier Cave, 102nd Battalion, November 11th 1916 (age 27)

AND THERE WENT OUT THAT DAY TO THE GOD OF BATTLES THE SOUL OF A MAN WHO LOVED BATTLES. Lieutenant William Ramsay, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, September 28th 1918 (age 22)

FORTH FROM THE SHADOWS CAME DEATH WITH THE PITILESS SYLLABLE “NOW.” Major Anthony Lavelle McHugh, Canadian Railway Troops, May 19th 1917 (age 53)

HE WOULD GIVE HIS DINNER TO A HUNGRY DOG AND GO WITHOUT HIMSELF. Gunner Charles Douglas Moore, Canadian Anti-Aircraft Battery, September 19th 1917 (age 30)

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