Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and French President, Francois Hollande, walk past the graves of soldiers killed in World War I.
World War I was supposed to be the war to end all wars. In the words of one of the participants at the Vimy Memorial ceremony yesterday in northern France, “it was far from that.” Many have not learned the lessons that came from those and subsequent wars such as World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, and now the war in Syria. When will we finally put down the weapons of war, and fight no more? When will we all learn to live in peace with one another? When will all terrorists and the barbaric murderers in ISIS be brought to justice? How many more soldiers will have to die, become disabled or have to suffer the devastating effects of PTSD, before people en masse say enough is enough?
We need to defend people’s right to live in peace. We need to come to the aid of those precious babies, children, men and women, who have been attacked by chemical warfare in Syria. Hurting anyone to promote a doctrine of hate is unconscionable. ISIS has claimed responsibility for killing over 40 people in two Christian churches in Egypt. We must both individually and collectively condemn such vicious actions.
As I look at the snow falling in our town of Matheson, northern Ontario, Canada, I think of the thousands of soldiers like my grandfather, Private First Class Sandford Dobson, who at age 17 braved snow, rain, muddy, damp fox holes infested with vermin, and artillery fire any time of the day or night. Why? It’s because he and people like him did what they felt should be done.
The thousands of young people who came from all parts of Canada through raising the funds needed for the trip, came to honour the memory of the fallen. This was the 100th anniversary commemorating the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The young people were there to have impressed upon them that war is hell. There is no glory in war. There are no winners in war. Each side experiences the agony of death, and its haunting memories. Those who deliver death notices to the families of soldiers know what this living hell means. You never forget. The hurtful memories are still there. You go on, but life is never the same. How can it be when brothers, sisters, cousins, sons, daughters, colleagues and friends you loved so much are dead?
I’m relieved I don’t have that awful responsibility of deciding how many soldiers will be deployed to areas of conflict and terrorism. We need to pray for those who make those gut-wrenching decisions. Please pray they are given wisdom and use their God-given intelligence in making those difficult choices.
The 3,598 Canadian soldiers who died in the battle of Vimy Ridge must cause us to rethink the damage of war, the destructive power of hate. These people who gave the highest sacrifice for their country need not to have their deaths be in vain. We must defend the cause of freedom, but must also consider soberly and prayerfully its terrible cost.
The hundreds of pairs of boots from active soldiers lining the Vimy Memorial caused me to think that boots like them were once filled with young lives. These young men would write letters home discussing every day things like Canadians do.
This is an excerpt from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s speech at the Vimy Memorial:
“The sun has been shining a couple times this last week,” reads a letter from William Henry Bell, dated April 7th, 1917. “The sun is a kind of stranger here. Say, that cake you sent was sure fine.”
William Bell died at Vimy, April 10th, 1917. He was twenty.
The burden, they bore.
And, the country they made.
Because this, too, is why we’re here. Why we remember.
For in their ultimate sacrifice, these ordinary, yet extraordinary, men of the British dominion fought for the first time as the people of one country. Francophone, Anglophone. New Canadians. Indigenous Peoples. Side by side, united here at Vimy in the four divisions of the Canadian Corps.
It is by their sacrifice that Canada became an independent signatory to the Treaty of Versailles.
In that sense, Canada was born here.”
This was the Canada people like William Bell and my grandfather fought for. I recall as if it was yesterday as a five year-old, visiting my grandfather. He coughed every day I was there for over half an hour, but it felt more like an eternity. I knew how much time had gone by looking at the clock in the kitchen. Every second I heard that clock tick I had a growing sadness, felt some of the breathlessness my grandfather experienced. It was one of the effects of his exposure to mustard gas. He died just a few years into his retirement as a stationary boiler engineer from his third heart attack. He also struggled with having emphysema, which I believe in large part was caused by mustard gas.
As I write this editorial the tears come; they linger like a cloud over happier times when my grandpa would make me laugh. But my grandfather and William Bell would want me to remember more joyful times, to feel a child-like joy at how beautiful a gift life is, that each breath we breathe is a gift from God.
My grandfather put in thousands of hours of study to become an engineer.Then, he would drive several hours to Toronto to write his exams. He helped another friend of his who was failing his engineer exams pass them by spending many hours tutoring him. My grandfather did this while threshing hay for 50 cents a day in the Great Depression. He would take any job to feed his family. That was my grandfather.
If we don’t look after veterans and active soldiers we fail to honour their bravery, their sacrifice.
I will never forget a conversation I had with my grandfather when I was five. He said to me, “Kevin, be a man of your word.” I had wondered then why he would give me such advice when I was only a child. I think part of him knew he was going to die soon. He wanted to impart to me teaching that he hoped would stay with me, and become an integral part of my character.
I pray I will continue to honour his memory by being a man of integrity.
When we think about those who died far too young in the battle of Vimy Ridge, we need to make certain a world war never happens again. We need to do the hard work to minimize escalating conflict as much as possible.
A battle like World War 1 must never happen again. William Bell, it must never happen again. Grandpa, it must never happen again.
Kevin and Karen Osborne are psychotherapists and pastoral counsellors. Kevin is studying to become a chaplain and professor of Psychology specializing in Pastoral Theology. Karen enjoys doing cross-stitch while I like writing and singing songs. Karen makes me laugh when she sings the kitty bed-time song saying, “It’s that time. It’s the bestest kitty time of the day!” Kevin enjoys teasing the kitties and making them do kitty dances with music. Their kitty, Catherine, loves it when kitty daddeh sings All Things Bright and Beautiful. Kevin likes doing impressions. He tells children’s stories and helps others with their problems using his hand puppet, Dr. Teddy, who is a therapy bear. He is a partner with us in our counselling practice.We are available to assist with worship and preaching to give busy pastors and ministers a much-needed break. We offer in-office, and phone counselling to anyone in the world.