And, although I think of my Dad and my Uncles who served in World War II, and of the military friends I made during my time working with the Canadian Forces in West Germany in the 1970s and 80s, my thoughts this year go to my Grandfather who was a veteran of the First World War. His name was James Walter Sharpe.
Just over 100 years ago, on August 5, 1914 my Grandpa Sharpe, received a telegram. He was in Burk's Falls, Ontario visiting his Uncle James, who was his and my namesake. The telegram was short and to the point. I have it in a small frame at home, and it reads like this:
St. Catharines, Ont. AUG. 5/14
Mr. J.W. Sharpe
19th ordered to mobilize at 12 o'clock today. Hurry back.
R.N. Adie, Lieut.
The next day he hopped on the train, made his way home, and reported for duty. He was a corporal and eventually a sergeant in the 19th battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and after being formally mustered with the rest of the army at the Exhibition Grounds in Toronto, and trained in High Park, he left on May 12, 1915 to set sail for England. By September of that same year the 19th had been deployed in Boulogne in France to begin over four years service on the European continent. My grandfather only spoke sparingly to us about his wartime experiences, but places like Passchendaele and Ypres (or "Wipers" as he called it) became part of the family vocabulary. He was injured in battle in 1917 and eventually was sent home with shrapnel imbedded in his back that he would carry around for the rest of his life. He married, had children, had many wonderful years with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren and finally died at the age of 96. Our family, unlike so many others, was one of the lucky ones.
But when I think back about the wise and wonderful man that I knew growing up, I try to imagine what it must have been like for him to get that telegram over a century ago. He was 25 years old, the same age as some of the young teachers and tutors in our school. Just a kid, heading off to one of the most brutal conflicts in history. He was a man of the 19th century and here in the 21st, I don’t know what he was thinking on that day, or how he felt during his years in the trenches, because in the 35 years that I knew him as a child and a young adult, he would never talk about it. It was just part of him.
This past weekend, I took my boys, Morgan and Quinn, to see “The Book of Life” at the movies. The basic message of the film is that as long as we remember someone, they will live forever. So, for me on this Remembrance Day, I will remember my Grandfather and I will make it my job to tell my children about his story so that they will remember him too. It is the least that I can do, because anyone as brave and selfless as he was, deserves to live forever in all of our hearts.