Grandpa Mac didn’t much like to talk about the war but when I was in grade ten he spoke of it a little so I could do a history assignment.
He had lied at age 17 to get in to the service and was shipped to France where he was the mule boy for his regiment. He told me about driving the mules up a hill and a shell whizzed right over his head and landed in the side of the hill beside him. It did not go off and he figured it wasn’t his day to go.
That story explained something that happened when I was about six when he and I were out in the field on the old tractor. In those days planes were allowed to break the sound barrier and it made a huge booming noise when they did. Grandpa was driving across the field and I was perched in my favourite spot, next to him on the fender. Suddenly a jet went over and the huge bang jolted us. It was an even bigger jolt when I saw Grandpa leap to his feet, grab me with his right arm and throw both of us on the dirt beside the tractor. We were fine, though a little dusty. The tractor had stopped when he released the clutch so no danger of being run over. It was quite a shock. At the time he wouldn’t talk about it but now I understand his quick response.
The other story I loved was one about Ypres. I’m not an expert in Canadian war history but he told me it was the Canadians who marched in the liberate the French town. They came from many directions and while the troops entered the town square Grandpa said he heard a piano. He told his buddies that he didn’t know anyone in the world who could play the piano like that except his friend and neighbour Earl Reid. Sure enough, when they got to the centre of town, there sitting at a grand piano which had been lowered into the street, was Earl Reid playing his heart out. Grandpa was the last person from home to see Earl. He died at Battle of Passchendaele a few weeks later.
But that is not the end of the story. After some time in England Grandpa came home in 1919. Soon after he married Earl’s sister, Lillian. The oldest of their four children is Earl.
As I read the poem, “In Flanders Fields” the other day that Flanders is very close to Ypres and John McCrea may well have crossed paths with my Grandfather.
Lest We Forget
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.