My friend Candy shared a family keepsake on FaceBook yesterday that made, for me at least, today’s commemorations more personal and alive. It was a yellowing envelope that contained a note of a few lines that spoke of a time and a page in the life of her maternal grandfather during the Great War.
(William) Earl Mills was born in Ottawa in 1893 and along with 619,639 other Canadians answered the call to serve in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the 1914-18 War. As the war was drawing to a close he had had been badly wounded and was being repatriated home to Canada, one of the 138,000 Canadian battle casualties. Before leaving England he was given a “thank you” note – a note that no doubt to a young Canadian who had been brought up in the tradition of serving King and Country meant a great deal.
The Queen and I wish
you God-speed, a
safe return to the
happiness & joy of home
life with an early
restoration to health.
A grateful Mother
country thanks you
for faithful services.
George R(ex) I(mperator)
Earl returned to Ottawa and began working for Canadian Pacific Railway. Two years after his return he married Vina Victoria Barber and started a family – Candy’s mother Eileen was their first child. In telling me of her grandparents Candy recalled that one of the family stories was that Earl and Vina were destined for each other – she was the fourth of eight children in her family and he the fourth of eight in his. She also remarked that like many people of his generation he never spoke of the war. Earl died in 1976 at the age of 83; Vina had died several years before. They are buried in the Wolford Rural Cemetery outside of Ottawa.
Perhaps in this day and age that note from King George may strike us as ingenuous at the least and colonial paternalism at the worst however it was a different world with a strong sense of ties to the Empire. It was also a world that was to change radically between the two World Wars and even more with the advance towards the new century. But to the returning veterans a “thank you” note from the King was a reassurance that their mission and sacrifice were noted and valued. And it reaches out one hundred years later and tells us that Earl Mills served his country and was recognized for that service. And that he returned home to Canada and enjoyed the life he had fought to preserve.
On this day in 1865: Dr Mary Edwards Walker receives the US Medal of Honor, becoming the first woman to receive the award.
On this day a century ago a cease was called to the hostilities that had wracked Europe for over four years. More than 70 million military personnel were mobilized from all corners of the world to fight a war that many had been assured would be over in a matter of days. Between July 1914 and November 1918 an estimate nine million combatants and seven million civilians on both sides died as a direct result of that conflict. Many others perished or were left homeless by genocides and or epidemics that were indirectly caused by the war.
On 11 November, at 5:00 am, an armistice – an agreement to lay down arms while a “lasting peace” was negotiated – with Germany was signed in a railroad carriage at Compiègne. At 11 am on 11 November 1918 a ceasefire came into effect. As we know that “lasting peace” was never achieved: not in Europe, Asia, or anywhere else in our world. Hardly a year has passed since the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 where there has not been a conflict great or small somewhere in the world.
Today as we commemorate the signing of that truce 100 years ago today we remember not just those who died in that Great War but in all wars. And we remember those who returned home from wars having seen things they could not unsee and done things that could not be undone and that would effect them their entire lives.
We are thankful for their sacrifices and service. And we pray that those sacrifices will not have been in vain. And through remembrance give hope that they will not be called for again.
On this day in 1572: Tycho Brahe observes the supernova SN 1572.
A Throwback Thursday to the Music of War
At a funeral last weekend one of the grand children sang (beautifully I might add) We’ll Meet Again; a song that is, for me at least, strongly linked to Dame Vera Lynn and the Second World War. It was one of those songs meant to lift the spirits of boys at the front and the folks they have left behind. Looking over music history it is probably a good guess that each war has had music of that sort.
I was reminded of a video I made and posted back in 2014 which featured a song from the Great War – that War to End Wars – that was meant to instill a sense of optimism and also of duty in those who were not in the trenches. It was composed by the great matinee idol of the time Ivor Novello. And as we near the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of end of that conflict I’m reposting it with a few of the remarks I made at the time
March 23, 2014
Ivor Novello’s first success had been as a composer in 1914; his friend Lena Guilbert Ford, an American living in London, wrote the lyrics of what was to become one of the most beloved songs to come out of the Great War: Keep the Home Fires Burning. Ford lived in London, was passionately patriotic and active in seeing to the welfare of soldiers returning from the Front. Sadly she and her son were the first Americans to become causalities of that war when they were killed in an air raid that leveled their London flat on March 7, 1918.
This recording I’ve used was made between the two wars by Olive Gilbert and the Williams Singers. I’ve made the video using some of the fascinating recruiting posters that were produced in Canada to encourage young men to join the fray. Aside from the sophistication and, in many cases, artistic beauty of the designs I was surprised to see how many were targeted to specific cultural groups. You may want to go directly to the YouTube site to see them in HD.
It was only today that I discovered the second verse that Miss Gilbert does not sing on this recording but that speaks to the poppies I have used as a graphic. They are meant to honour the Commonwealth dead of Two World Wars. Though that lyric originally referred to Great Britain coming to the aid of Belgium it could also apply to the Commonwealth women and men who responded to “the sacred call of ‘Friend”.
Overseas there came a pleading,
“Help a nation in distress.”
And we gave our glorious laddies —
Honour made us do no less,
For no gallant son of Freedom
To a tyrant’s yoke should bend,
And a noble heart must answer
To the sacred call of “Friend”.
On this day in 1895: while experimenting with electricity, Wilhelm Röntgen discovers the X-ray.