Monday, April 09, 2007

The ONLY Vimy Veteran I've Met ...

I was serving as a Chaplain at a Care Home for Seniors and the Aged. I enjoyed visiting with the residents and getting to know their stories, and the events of their lives.

One afternoon just before our Remembrance Day Service, I stopped by to visit one of the old Veterans who had asked me to stop by. I went upstairs to his room and sat down for a chat. We spoke of many things including his service in the "War." I casually asked him "which front did you serve on?"

"My war only had one front," he observed.

Noting that he had very little grey hair and was relatively hale and hearty, and assuming him to be in his 60's I said, "Oh you were in Korea?"

"Wrong war buddy," he said with a smile.

"Oh you were a UN Peacekeeper?" I said confused.

"No," answered the old man, "you're going the wrong way. I served in Word War ONE ..."

He noted my jaw dropping as he laughed and said, "How old do you think I am?"

"Um," I gulped trying to catch myself, "I would say 70 at the oldest."

He laughed and turned to the small table beside his chair where he pulled from a draw a small packet of paper that he unfolded and handed to me. I looked at the aged, ivory coloured papers and read the certificate signed by King George V and Prime Minister Lloyd George thanking him for his service at a battle known as Vimy. He then pulled out a couple of other items that he handed to me to examine.

"Ever heard of Vimy?" he asked, his face growing serious.

I nodded. I had not only heard of it, once I had read everything I had found at the time about it.

"I was there," he said, then patting his hip, "and I brought some shrapnel home as a souvenior ..." He then spoke of his experience on the battle field that fateful April day in 1917, when Canadian troops took the ridge at Vimy. He talked about the clouds of gas, and the prolonged effect they had on his lungs, and how years later, the gas claimed the life of his brother who was at Vimy too. He spoke frankly, openly and honestly about his experiences in the war dubbed, "the war to end all wars ..." I felt honoured and blessed to be there and to share his memories, even if for a moment ...

A couple of months later he and a handful of other veterans were honoured by the Government of France for their service in World War One. He was to be flown to France to recieve the honour, but instead the French Officials met him in Vancouver and gave him a long overdue medal. An image of him and his Great-Granddaughter sitting in the rain during the ceremony graced the front page of a daily newspaper. At 105, he was recognized as a hero for his service in a place called Vimy.

I took time over the next few months to speak with him again and learn more of his military experiences. It was a privilege to spend time with him and to learn his stories.

Today, 90 years after the young men from across Canada crept forward through the mud into battle, I've thought of him, his brother, and their comrades at arms. They were our boys, and for King and Country, they boldly strode into battle ... They began the day as boys ... they ended the day as men ... and now 90 years later we rightly honour them ALL as Heroes.

I'm glad I had the chance to meet one of them ... he was a great man ... and I would never have guessed he was 105 when I met him!!!

1 comment:

Wendy said...

This is a sweet piece ...what a story-stories he had to tell. I laughed when you asked him if he had been in the Korean War...he must have been so young looking. I hate war and yet I am amazed at both people of peace and soliders find themselves in life-death situations.