(Preached at Alma United Church & Melville United Church on November 5, 2017)
I’d like all of you here to engage in a little time travel.
It’s no longer November 5, 2017—it’s now June 3, 1916. You’re not in Alma (Fergus) Ontario, you’re in Moosomin, Saskatchewan. You’re a sixteen year old farm boy. Maybe you’re here because you want to join your cousin and fight for Mother England. Maybe you’re here because one dollar and ten cents a day is two or three times what you’d earn working on the farm. Maybe you’re here because your mother told you to do it—she wants that dollar and ten cents a day you’ll get as a private.
You’re only sixteen years old, so you have to tell a little white lie. You tell the recruiter you’re eighteen years and one month. He writes down that your apparent age is seventeen, but he lets you through anyhow. After all, you’re 5 feet seven inches tall, and you’re healthy. You haven’t had any vaccinations yet, but the army will take care of that.
You’re in. You and all of your comrades-in-arms in the 217th Overseas Battalion are sent to Valcartier for training, then are shipped to England. You arrive there on June 9, 1917.
From England, you’re shipped to France. Sometime during the day of August 15th or 16th, 1917, you step on the land mine.
The war is over for you, but fortunately not your life. You’ve got two broken legs, a broken arm, and burns on your hands and thighs, but you’re alive. A month later, you’re removed from the “Dangerously Ill” list. In the early spring of 1918, you’re invalided home to Canada, but not to Moosomin—you’re parents have moved to Windsor, Ontario in the meantime. You don’t even know their address—it’s listed as “General Delivery” on your service record.
You go on to marry a sixteen-year-old girl of whom your parents disapprove, and adopt one child and have six biological children, five of whom live to adulthood. Those six living children give you more than twenty grandchildren.
And you say nothing, to no one, ever, about what happened to you during the war.
Your granddaughter finds out much of this information reading your service records on the internet just two days ago.
There was some debate at the Guelph United Ministries meeting recently, I’ve been told. At the instigation of my mother and a few other faithful, it was decided to present a wreath on behalf of GUM at the coming Remembrance Day service in Guelph on Saturday.
But some members objected, saying that Remembrance Day services glorify war. And I need to ask, how many have they been to recently?
Because, yes, sometimes there are stories about “the good old times” when “men were men” and we fought for freedom and our principles. But always, there are stories like the one I just told you. If you haven’t guessed, had that mine done its job a little better, I wouldn’t be alive today, and neither would my mother or my children nor any one of my twenty-some-odd cousins.
We didn’t have a name for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder back when I was growing up, but my grandfather suffered from it. The only memories I have of him are of him sitting in his armchair, drinking beer and trying his best to ignore the cheerful mayhem that me and my siblings and all my cousins created during our weekly family meal on Sunday afternoon.
Remembrance Day reminds us that the cost of war continues after the war is over. For the families of the dead, grieving. For the families of the living, grieving and learning to cope with a new reality that may never include anything resembling normal interactions or trust. For society, the incredible dollar cost of PTSD and physical disabilities, as well as the rebuilding of infrastructure damaged by the war. For farmers in former war zones, decades or longer of ridding your fields of land mines and bombs, sometimes the hard way.
Remembrance Day, if we do it right, is a call to peace, a call to end this madness.