Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Granddad in the Trenches

Sometimes he woke up screaming, my mother said.

It was hard to believe that of my grandfather. But World War one left its scars.

He told her that once, when they were marching through the muck and the mud, he fell into a hole and was sinking. He grabbed for anything solid so he could pull himself up. When he reached dry land he found himself clutching a handful of human hair.

He brought back a painted coffee pot from Belgium. Postcards of the sites he had seen. The helmet of a German solider. We never asked him how he got it.
Postcard from England 
He wrote letters home to his in-laws and to his bride, who he addressed as "My Darling Girl". The letters were newsy and cheery. He remarked on people from home that he had met. He mentioned some of the quirks of his fellow soldiers. He thanked people for food parcels. He asked how things were at home. His biggest complaint was loneliness. He did not talk about the horror.

On Remembrance Day we made him and my dad polish their medals and join the men from the Legion as they marched to the cenotaph in Beaverlodge. He hated to wear his medals. He did not think of himself as a hero. He did not talk about the war. But he saved every poppy he had ever worn on a banner in the hallway.

Granddad was a British orphan who came to Canada as a child and worked in a bank in Lake Saskatoon where he met my grandmother. He joined up as soon as he could and was stationed in Edmonton.  He married his lovely wife (who he called "Girl" until his dying day) while he was on leave. According to him, when he returned a day late from leave the sergeant asked where he had been. "Getting married sir." "Good for you Martin," was the reply, "The army needs more brave men like you." My grandmother followed him to England where she lived with his brother and sister-in-law and worked in a munitions factory. A shell from that factory sits on my desk.

He fought at Arras and Ypres. He was wounded by shrapnel at Passchendaele. He was awarded a military medal at Amiens. I never knew why.

He carried a tiny Bible. It falls open to the "Song of Solomon." I imagine him reading that psalm of love over and over again in the midst the grime and the blood and the smell of death. Perhaps it was in those trenches he penned the only poem he ever wrote, an ode to my grandmother.
Granddad's Bible

In the Bible are inscribed the words "Hope shall brighten days to come and memory gild the past."

Underneath:
  • Ypres Nov 10/17
  • Passchendaele Nov 1917
  • Amiens Aug 1918