This is our annual Remembrance Day issue, and, after remembering each year of the First World War, we have finally come to that last and equally tragic year of 1918. By the end of that year, more than 60,000 Canadians, farmers, clerks, blacksmiths and labourers, had been lost to their families and communities. In this issue, we profile those who died in that last frightful year, one of them, Private Harry Lawrence Rose of Merrickville, on the very last day of the war.
Sixteen men from what is now North Grenville died in 1918, the highest loss of any of the war years. Some died away from the trenches, succumbing to the influenza that would go on to kill millions all around the world. The sad and dreadful irony that it was largely through the men returning from the war that the pandemic spread to Canada is just one of many such ironies that followed “the war to end wars”.
The photograph above shows the Remembrance Day gathering in Kemptville in 1947, after yet another world war had cost this country and this community dear. The cenotaph was located at the corner of Prescott Street and Reuben Crescent back then, and the wall of the old Post Office can be seen on the left of the picture. It had been erected back in 1922, thanks to the combined efforts of the Women’s Institute and the municipal councils of Kemptville, South Gower and Oxford-on-Rideau.
At the time, the Great War Veterans Association led the memorial gatherings, old comrades remembering their friends who never came home, some of whom never had a proper burial, their bodies never found in the mud and waste of France and Belgium. This was a way to remember those who were buried far from home in the vast military cemeteries of Europe. It would be another decade before the Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League, as it was then known, would be granted a charter for Branch 212 in Kemptville.
The sixteen men from North Grenville, and the seven from Merrickville-Wolford who were killed in France and Belgium in 1918 may seem unimportant, compared to the hundreds of thousands killed there that year, or to the 20 million deaths and 21 million wounded in World War I. But they were from here, they were men who fought and died with incredible bravery and honour, not to mention the many others who returned, perhaps unwounded, bit certainly not unaffected.
We must remember all of this on Remembrance Day, and vow it will never happen again. But it did, over and over. Remembering may not be enough.