Tuesday, November 11, 2008
LEST WE FORGET
Americans call this holiday Veterans' Day. I think of it as Armistice Day.
I began writing this post at 10:57 a.m. today - three minutes before the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. This is the moment in 1918 when the Armistice was signed, signaling the end of World War I.
Of course, it wasn't called that back then. It was known as the Great War, the largest war the world had ever seen. It was thought of as the war to end all wars. Sadly, as we well know, it wasn't.
Today, I honor my three great uncles who died during or because of the Great War. Though in desperate circumstances, Archie, Jack and William were positive they would beat the savage Huns. Jack and William never even lived long enough to learn that in 1917, isolationist America finally came to the Allies' aid and joined the fray. None of them knew that defeated, humbled Germany would bitterly and vindictively rise again, just a couple of decades later, and start a firestorm that would engulf the entire globe.
Throughout the centuries, people have saluted their soldiers, and today I salute ours, living and dead, including the newest - the American, British and other allied soldiers of the Iraq War, heroes every one.
But I carry a special place in my heart for these three brothers from Golspie, a small town in Scotland.
Archie Munro did not let immigration to Canada, having a wife and children, or being too old stop him from enlisting in the Canadian Army. He lied about his age, joined up, and was among the first Canadian soldiers to be shipped to Europe. He was gassed at Ypres, France, and taken prisoner. So close to death that he was taken for dead, he was brought outside and thrown on a heap of corpses awaiting burial detail. Fortunately, he was saved at the last moment. Archie later returned to Canada and lectured about his experiences as a POW. However, he died just a few years after the war ended as a result of being gassed.
William and Jack joined Scottish regiments - the King's Own Scottish Borderers and the Seaforth Highlanders, units of the British Army. William was the first to die. A famous footballer, a journalist, and reportedly a fine young man, he was well-respected in the northeastern-most tip of Scotland. Attaining the rank of sergeant, he was much loved by his men. After he enlisted and was posted to France, he filed reports from the front to his former newspaper. That same newspaper, when reporting his death, said those stories were some of the best writing it had ever published. All of Golspie mourned when William died.
Both Archie and William were true heroes. Jack (John Alexander) was that, and something else as well: a publicly-recognized, much-lauded and highly-decorated hero. Just a few months after William's death, Golspie again mourned the loss of a Munro boy, along with Hughina, their widowed mother.
Jack was a true soldier's soldier and became the youngest Regimental Sergeant Major in the British Army at the time. He was wounded many times, his wounds usually occurring while he was rescuing another soldier. After his last hospital release, he became a British Army instructor and could have remained in the rear until war's end. However, he felt he could not abandon his men. He returned to the French front and was later killed instantly by a shell. His last act in life was to yet again rescue a fallen comrade. Jack was awarded Britain's top medals posthumously.
Who among us actually has the courage to die for our country? I surely don't. I salute my and your family members and friends who did, and still do, every day.
PS: The image at the top of the page is a montage that includes photos of Jack and William, the Golspie WW I Memorial and Golspie itself, along with part of a famous poem. It was created by an e-card company with the guidance of my second cousin Shirley Sutherland, who lives in Golspie. Shirley, our family historian, went to France not long ago to visit and document William's and Jack's gravesites. Though I could not accompany her, I took the journey with her in spirit.
"They shall not grow old
As we that are left grow old
Age shall not weary them
Nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun
and in the morning
We will remember them."
(Thanks to Carole at Pea's Corner for publishing this poem today. I didn't know all the lines.)