A century and its wars

Remembering those who served.

By Dorothy Dobbie
By Dorothy Dobbie

The late summer sun slants through the elms trees, falling on row after row of silent headstones. They stand dark against the brilliant green grass so carefully tended at Brookside Memorial Cemetery. It is September 2014, 100 years after the First World War was declared on July 28, 1914. The air is still heavy with sorrow at this place where so many lie buried.

 

Winnipeg's Brookside Memorial Cemetery.
Winnipeg’s Brookside Memorial Cemetery.

In all, more than 18,000 Manitobans signed up, and Winnipeg sent the highest number of volunteers to the war, a record that was repeated for the Second World War. Brookside cemetery is the largest and oldest municipal Military Field of Honour in Canada. More than 12,000 service men and women have been interred there since 1915. The cemetery was opened in 1878.

In 1914, when war was declared here in Winnipeg, then a city of 160,000 souls, it almost seemed to offer relief from the economic slowdown. Signing up was a great adventure to many young men who were looking for work. Every old Manitoba family probably has stories about ancestors who went to war as young as 14, while recruitment officers turned a blind eye. Those stories are part of the family legend for both myself and my husband.

Among the many volunteers were three young men from Pine Street, all in their 20s, and all of whom would receive the Victoria Cross for their bravery under fire. As most people know, Pine Street was renamed Valour Road in their honour.

Sergeant Major Frederick William Hall signed up at 29 and was killed April 24, 1915, just two months after his 30th birthday. Corporal Leo Clark, also of Pine Street, was just 24 when he was killed in October 1916. Lieutenant Robert Shankland, who joined at age 27, was the only one of Pine Street’s trio of Victoria Cross recipients to survive the war. He died at 81 in 1968, after serving as camp commandant of the Canadian Army Headquarters in England during the Second World War. At 53, he was too old for active duty.

Many other Manitobans freely volunteered their service. William George Bishop of Dauphin was just 20 when he offered his services to the common cause. “Billy” Bishop would become, and remains to this day, the most decorated serviceman in Canada, in the British Empire and indeed in the entire British Commonwealth. He survived the war, although heavily wounded, but died at just age 35 flying a Fairchild aircraft which went down near Ottawa. At the time, he was president of Fairchild Aircraft of Canada Limited.

Billy Bishop’s funeral was one of the largest national state events ever held in Toronto, with 2,000 servicemen forming his honour guard. The fuselage of his favourite aircraft, a Sopwith Camel, resides at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

These four are the heroes, the celebrated ones, but the weight of sacrifice lies with those whose names are long forgotten; their presence stalks the silent rows of crosses at Brookside.

Today we watch as more young men go off to a faraway land to help halt murderous aggression perpetrated in the name of religion, while their battle weary brothers are still recovering from their tour of duty in Afghanistan. We cannot say, no, you must not go, because we do remember our pledge to those who fell before, a pledge to stand up against tyranny and to never forget the sacrifice that was made in the name of freedom.

So we let them go, the 600 and the flying men who go with them, and we say with teary eyes, we do not forget. We remember. And we stand ready until the beautiful day when war shall be no more.

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