This post is part of the April A-Z Blogging Challenge, wherein participants blog throughout the month according to the letters of the alphabet. For more on the challenge, click here.
Note: If anyone wondered, I tagged the blog as having adult content due to a few factors: one, strong language; two, the possibility that excerpts I post may have graphic descriptions of sex or violence and therefore unappealing to some readers. Never fear, though, I’ll be sure to warn y’all if a post of that nature comes up! In the meantime, feel free to read on!
Cheers and happy ABC’ing,
Originally, it was thought the war would be over by Christmas. Young men enlisted immediately, frantic to get to the front before the fighting was over. Eventually, it became clear that the war would not end by Christmas, nor even within a year. From 1914 to 1918, the world was embroiled in a worldwide conflict on a scale not seen before. Not only did many of the world’s empires and nations meet on a battlefield for the first time, they brought with them new weapons and methods of warfare, among them tanks and poisonous gas, so devastating that the war came to be known as “the war to end all wars.” Some called it great, but any greatness was of the terrible kind.
It’s often said that the war’s starting point was the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on the 28th of June 1914, but looking more closely at the history paints the assassination as more of a catalyst, the match being lit after gasoline had been poured all over the ground. Europe had been at peace for decades, but tensions spiked in the years leading up to 1914, and unfortunately it seemed as though several European leaders turned a blind eye. Once the match was lit and neutral countries like Belgium had been invaded, the time for talks had passed, and the time for war had arrived.
Like all other British colonies of the time, Canada, then still a British dominion, legally entered the war as soon as Britain did in early August of 1914, though we retained the right to decide on the full extent of our contribution. The then small country was divided between the French Canadians who did not believe this war was theirs to fight and the Anglophones who believed they owed it to what they often saw as the motherland, but we sent soldiers nonetheless. By the end of the war, in fact, over 619,600 Canadians had enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force—out of a population of eight million. It’s estimated that seven percent of the population was, at some point, in uniform. 424,000 Canadians served overseas, and nearly 60,000 died. Several thousands more returned home with shattered minds and bodies.
Some returned home only after their deaths. And many of those who survived, as civilians or soldiers, no doubt wondered what it had been for when less than twenty-five years later the world went to war again.
KILLED IN ACTION.
BREAULT—On August 11th, 1918, killed in action at Amiens, France, 860281 Private Jack Hayden Breault, 2nd Battalion, Eastern Ontario Regiment, C.E.F.. R.I.P.
Le malheur de l’avoir perdu ne doit pas nous faire oublier le bonheur de l’avoir connu. Il est en paix.
From his family—Maman (Florence), Papa (Jean), Lillian, Anne, and Marguerite, at Pointe-aux-Trembles, PQ.
I can recognize French, but reading it is another story. I can pick out a couple words—malheur is sadness, bonheur the opposite—but I don’t know exactly what the epitaph means. Behind me, Noah is leaning in to read; I hear a low murmur, realize he’s reading to himself, and before I can speak, he translates, still quiet:
“’The misfortune of having lost him must not make us forget the joy of having known him. He is at peace.’”
I don’t speak, because I know that Jack Breault was never at peace, and it feels like I’m breaking the hearts of his now long-dead family with that knowledge.