Sunday, April 9, 2017

Is it possible?

This is the year I celebrate my 65th birthday.

It's a milestone like few others.

Turning fifty was a major event, so was 21. But 65, that one really does loom large. This may be the season for something big. Perhaps something really special.

These past few weeks I have been thinking a lot about my grandfather. He was my mother's father, Georges Terroux. He was in the Canadian Armed Forces and he fought in World War I. His fight ended in a fog of mustard gas. He was lucky. Lucky because he didn't die, and lucky because he met the love of his life in England, my grandmother Margaret, his war bride.

I never met grandpa Georges. He passed away before I was born. He has always been in my thoughts over the years. I came to know him through the way my grandmother spoke of him. There was something about the tone of her voice, the look in her eyes, whenever she spoke of him. Kids pick up on that kind of thing.

I think because he was a soldier, because he fought in the Great War, he appealed to me in a special way, not heroically certainly, yet in the way that boys of a certain age see soldiers, with a kind of reverent awe. The fact that from a very young age we attended Remembrance Day ceremonies on November 11th at the military cemetery where Georges was laid to rest, played an important role in the way he remained present for me. That we eventually moved within easy walking distance to that cemetery was also a contributing factor. I was there on Remembrance Day in 2015.

These last few weeks Georges has been more present in my mind than perhaps any time in the past.

It's because Canada is celebrating its 150th birthday, and this day, marks the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. The battle that is widely viewed by historians as marking the moment in time when Canada came of age as a nation.

This tugs at my heart strings in a poignant way.

This past week the television news has been covering the Vimy Ridge Memorial with its solemn towering double white spires and deeply mournful statuary.

Copyright - Canadian War Museum
It stands in the landscape of northwestern Europe where my grandfather slogged in deep mud surrounded by devastation and the blasted and twisted remains of his brothers in arms. I can't begin to imagine what that was like.

Here in Toronto I felt removed from my grandfather and his service. This week though, I came to appreciate just how deep and how close the roots of Vimy Ridge are to me.

This is one of those topics that fairly screams for the intimacy of video, and begs me to enlist the compelling power of social media.

This is the post that begs the question "Is it possible?"

I will be asking that of myself, and of you. This could be something magical, a connection that will bring me, and you, much closer than either one of us can possibly imagine in this moment.

Let's see where it takes us, shall we?

Stay tuned.


Dar said...

My great grandpa was at Vimy. Somme and injured at Passchendaele in a mustard gas attack. I was very fortunate as a youngster to know him and have him in my life until I was 16. He would tell s story from time to time, but when asked questions he would say "It's too terrible to remember and talk about". From his mustard gas poisoning his tear ducts were damaged and couldn't cry and in later life was left with emphysema from the gas damage and as well smoking. He told me he was a trench raider and he would sneak over the top and raid the trenches, it was fascinating to hear, but as young children we didn't really understand the terror and chaos he luved through. He died in 1980 at the age of 86.

David Masse said...

My mother was very, very close to her father.

He had a Luger pistol he brought home from the war. My mother told of walking in the countryside with her father, along trails through fields. He had his Luger with him during those walks. He used it to shoot at crows. He loathed and hated crows. As a child that story made no sense to me.

Often when I see a crow pecking away at roadkill, I think of the horror my grandfather must have felt, seeing countless crows pecking away at the dead on the battlefield.

Canadian crows paid a price for that.

Canajun said...

For some reason WW I (The Great War) holds much more interest for me than WW II. While I certainly had more of a direct connection to the latter conflict (my father and assorted aunts and uncles all served) it's the first war that captures my attention. My great uncle, decorated for his actions at Vimy, and my grandfather, a pilot in the late stages of the war, both passed before I was old enough to understand, but still the connection is powerful.
I don't know about Vimy and nation-building, but to see the monument (and others -
Theipval, Menin Gate) and visit the massed graves of both sides stirs very deep emotions.

Unknown said...

It's good to remember these soldiers and their sacrifices, especially when they're family.

My maternal grandfather served in WWII's Pacific theater. Apparently he didn't talk about it at all when my mom was young, only began relating stories when we grandkids were older, but few stories even then.

Needless to say, I was quite moved when he received full Military Honors at his funeral. It was a chilling and inspiring thing to witness.

By the way, David, I'm intrigued... ;-)

David Masse said...

David I think it's all about context. The younger you are, the less context you have, and that means there is a lot that you simply can't process.

The undeniable advantage of youth is observation. Kids see things that adults miss in part because the lack the context that later can lead to assumptions and bias in favour of what the adult expects to see and hear. Kids lie around on the ground and crawl into places for a perspective that most adults rarely get past a certain age.

I think that the draw of the vast cemeteries of France is the awe and reverence that comes from the accumulated context.

I'm curious, have you been to visit those places?

David Masse said...

Ry I admit I'm playing a little game here. Let's say it's the long game.

There is something I've been wanting to do for a long time, and the desire to do it is growing. The challenge is convincing my better half who doesn't share my enthusiasm in quite the same way. There's that, and the fact that there is a certain expense, and as a retired guy, unless I find a means to earn some 'fun money', the expense is a bit of a challenge.

Finally, I am hoping that with a little patience invested in the long game, I can drag some like-minded people to join in the fun. I expect that they will have their own challenges in that regard to overcome.

I apologize or being cryptic, but I need to play this out. I don't want to get people going and then have to bow out at some point.

Success is the goal, nothing less.

Canajun said...

David - I have. We did a 2-week tour of the battlefields a few years ago and while it was fascinating to see the places those battles were fought it was also emotionally draining, especially when visiting the cemeteries (from both sides). Two weeks at a stretch is about all I could take, but it was a trip I'd do again.

David Masse said...

So glad to hear you might be up to do it again.

Coop a.k.a. Coopdway said...

Call me paying attention.

My only known connection to WWI is my dad's side grandfather. He served in West Baden, IN at a field hospital, seeing, dealing with and feeling the devastation that those that were over seas managed to come home with. His stories that were shared with young me revolved around the incredible Hotel building that still stands today. When I asked him about the soldiers and what he did there, he just shook his head. Knowing him, I've come to believe that being fascinated with the architecture was his way to escape.

David Masse said...

Doug I and younger Canadians have mercifully been spared the catastrophe of all out war. It's all the more important for us to understand and appreciate the sacrifices made by those who were far less fortunate.

Unknown said...

David, you and I are related. I stumbled upon this post when I was given a photo of my great grandfather Georges Terroux by my mother (maiden name oram). I love the history you have written! I am an avid collector of civil war, wwi, and wwii items and I am now going to piece together a uniform set in his honor. If you wish to connect further, you can find me on Facebook as Nick Kina from Maryland.

David Masse said...

Nick, your grandmother Françoise Oram, was my aunt. My mother was Marie (née Terroux) her sister. Their brother Georges Terroux lives in Montreal. Their other sister, Audrey lived in Australia.

I gave up on Facebook a while back. I'll look for you via my wife's Facebook account.

Thanks for reaching out!

The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.