I don’t have the story just the bare facts. Which is sad. Names and dates, a few written words.
It all started with a picture. Not a random one but a very specific one that I gravitate to at this time of year. As I recall I was drawn to this grave for two reasons. First the poppies flowering on the grave site of a Canadian soldier and secondly, once I was closer, his age. He died at 18 defending freedom and liberty. I have often wondered who he was and this year set out to find out what more I could.
I found three direct “hits” using Private J. Hayes. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the 24th battalion log book and Canadianfallen site. Further digging in the Government of Canada netted a few more facts.
James listed his occupation as a shoemaker and was 5′ 5 1/2″ tall. He was unmarried and lived on Overall Avenue in Montreal. He was the oldest of 3 brothers whose attestation papers are all dated within 3 months of each other. Perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Hayes had a picture on the mantle of their boys; brown hair and dark eyes making the family resemblance pronounced.
What I do know for certain is that the telegram arrived twice at that address. Every year between 1914 and 1919 must have been held with baited breath for tjie parents and then came the news. James was killed in action (originally listed as missing but 2 days later it was changed so his body would have been found) in September and earlier for Francis Joseph in April. Martin, the youngest, was hospitalized for
When I did the write up on Hugh Cairns more facts were easily accessible. Perhaps because he lived in Saskatoon and was an outstanding athlete. But who knows about James? Does he have any neices or nephews that tell stories of their two uncles? Given that I found Martin’s medals on for sale on the internet perhaps not.
What I learnt doesn’t amount to much, again just a few dates and names and yet it speaks volumes. Of pain and suffering, courage and commitment.
Sadly this type of sorrow is still wide spread in the world today. Every year at Remembrance’s Day we should all pay tribute and yet world leaders and those with more power than wisdom push their own agendas. And we watch as country after country takes turns on the world stage for a few days until the media moves on to the next conflict. Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine and the list goes on. Think about the sheer volume of displaced citizens; in refuge camps stuck in a horrible limbo without much hope. Think about those “lucky” ones who make it to another country, say Canada, but must learn a whole new language, culture and climate. And yet we, as individual citizens, feel so hopeless as our actions can’t turn the tides in these wars.
I was struck this summer by how intensely L.M.Montgomery wrote about life during the First World War. Of the daily newspaper reports of battles, deaths and injuries. How they cheered under the Union Jack and what life was like in Canada for those at home. She felt it keenly and her diaries show that. The lack of hope and the overwhelming despair.
So what I can do is remember. Remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice and remember those who suffered. Think about those who sacrifice and suffer now and try to find hope, although around these issues it’s in short supply.
Each year it seems that a powerful video comes out about this very subject and I felt that the one I saw encapsulates exactly what I’ve done in a small way. Indeed this could be James starring in Remember Us.