REPOST: World War One Centenary – Family Lore and Family Loss

My grandfather on the far right with the Piche brothers

My grandfather on the far right with the Piche brothers

I often wonder what those men who managed to survive the “War to end all wars”, my grandfather among them, felt when twenty-odd years later they watched their sons go off to the battlefields of Europe once again.

With countless media reports and background pieces regarding the centenary of the start of World War One this year, I have on numerous occasions found myself thinking about a story that has been in our family for, well, about a hundred years. In early August of 1914 my maternal grandfather, like thousands of other young men, decided to answer the call and volunteer to go overseas and fight for King and country.

He had two very good friends, brothers Randolphe, a warehouse clerk, and James Piché, who was a millwright. They didn’t live on the island of Montreal as did my grandfather, but off the western tip. However their family home was a farm just north of Montreal in the foothills of the Laurentian Mountains, in what was then called Saint-Canut. This area is now part of a larger community called Mirabel. How my grandfather came to befriend these brothers is unknown. Regardless, one day in August of 1914 the three of them made their way to the Black Watch armoury recruiting center on Bleury Street in downtown Montreal and volunteered to join the 13th Battalion. Although the civic number on the building  has changed to a four-digit version, the  armoury  is still there and very active.

BlackWatchPosterOn August 6, 1914 then Prime Minister of Canada The Right Honourable Sir Robert Borden  announced that Canada would send troops overseas to fight. The Black Watch began accepting recruits the next day. Once signed on, men received daily training at the armoury in various aspects of combat until they left for Valcartier, Quebec on August 24, from whence they would sail for England.

Having signed up, and while waiting to go to Valcartier for yet more training before embarkation, one day my grandfather and his pals visited the Piché family farm. While there, so the story goes, Monsieur Prospere Piché, father to Randolphe and James, planted three trees – one for each of them. I suspect there was talk of strong roots at home to ensure their safe return and the like.

On August 24th the battalion left Montreal and headed off to Valcartier. Following a brief stay they then set sail and arrived in England in October of 1914 and continued training on Salisbury Plain. It was in February of 1915 that they saw their first action upon arrival  in France.

Black Watch Armorry. The address has changed from to 2067

Black Watch Armoury. The address has changed from 428 to 2067 Bleury Street

Fast forward a mere seven months from the call for recruits, and just weeks after their arrival at the front, to April 24 of 1915 and we have the death of Randolphe. Sadly this would be followed by James’ death just weeks later, sometime between the 20th and 23rd of May. Two brothers killed in action within a month.

Basil Randolphe Piché Killed in Action

Basil Randolphe Piché Killed in Action

James Piché Killed in Action

James Piché Killed in Action

James Harland Piché inscription on Vimy Ridge Memorial

James Harland Piché inscription on Vimy Ridge Memorial

 According to a newspaper piece from June 4, 1915, just days after Mrs. Piché received word of  her second son’s death she received a letter from him in which he outlines the heroic circumstances of his brother’ tragic end.

Gazette

My grandfather managed to survive the war, although he did lose the sight in one eye from a gun shot wound and suffered from emphysema due to being gassed (no doubt exacerbated by years of smoking).

However the truth is that whatever became of those trees is unknown, not nearly as romantic as a Hollywood ending I’m afraid.

Now about those trees. If this was a Hollywood screenplay instead of a blog post no doubt I’d be writing that two of the three trees had been struck by lightning, or died suddenly and mysteriously for no apparent reason at just about the same time the sad news was arriving at the Piché home. However the truth is that whatever became of those trees is unknown, not nearly as romantic as a Hollywood ending I’m afraid. Perhaps they are all still going strong, or maybe they were among the many trees that were hacked down to make way for Mirabel Airport.

I often wonder what those men who managed to survive the “War to end all wars”, my grandfather among them, felt when twenty-odd years later they watched their sons go off to the battlefields of Europe once again. Frustration? Anger? Waste?

DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+
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Toronto Maple Leafs Playoff Bound; CBC Hones Bias

Toronto Maple Leafs win Stanley Cup in 1967 (Bob Olsen/Toronto Star) – I did look for a colour photo but …

There won’t be any need for Viagra or Cialis in Toronto today. The beloved Maple Leafs have secured a spot in the National Hockey League playoffs. This will have the folks at the CBC in absolute raptures as post-season play returns to Canada’s largest hockey market. Big audiences mean big bucks.

I am happy that the long-suffering hockey fans of Toronto can get their hopes up; as they say, anything can happen in the playoffs. But what I am not looking forward to is the irksome pro-Toronto bias of the CBC.

The fact that the Leafs are marking a half-century since their last Stanley Cup victory makes their appearance in the playoffs just a wee bit sweeter. One good playoff run leading to a Cup and fifty years of futility will be erased. Never happened, a mere blip. Hockey will have been invented in Toronto on that day.

I am happy that the long-suffering hockey fans of Toronto can get their hopes up; as they say, anything can happen in the playoffs. But what I am not looking forward to is the irksome pro-Toronto bias of the CBC.

Let me state clearly that I harbour no belief that the NHL itself is in anyway biased towards the Leafs or any other team. Many will make that assertion but it is just silly. The NHL is a major business entity that would never stand for it. The officials are professionals who call ‘em as they see ‘em, both ways.

Tony Kubek (L) and Curt Gowdy

That having been said, the CBC most definitely proudly wears a huge Toronto tilt on its sleeve. Note that the broadcasts of hockey on the ‘national public broadcaster’ (i.e. the one supported by all Canadians tax dollars) are supposed to be neutral. Think back to before the current days of sports specialty channels when NBC’s Game of the Week was the only national baseball broadcast. Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek would pop up on our black and white television from a different city each week, depending on the importance of the game. They provided play-by-play and colour commentary from a neutral perspective. They were NBC announcers, not Yankee or Red Sox or Dodger announcers. Hired guns if you will.

Sometimes watching a Leafs game on CBC can give the viewer the impression that the announcers are watching a different game altogether … It borders on the infantile

Sometimes watching a Leafs game on CBC can give the viewer the impression that the announcers are watching a different game altogether. A Leaf player bumping an opponent is described as a ’massive blow’, a Leaf player down must have been tripped, almost every Leaf goal is highlight reel worthy by their standards. It borders on the infantile. Like Gowdy and Kubek on NBC, the announcers of Toronto Maple Leafs games on CBC are NOT working for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Toronto Blue Jays announcers Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler work for Sportsnet specifically to do Jays play-by-play and colour commentary. Sportsnet is a private business. It is a whole different situation, even if the games are broadcast nationally.

However as a Montreal Canadiens fan perhaps I should keep schtum; who knows, maybe the Hockey gods don’t like the homer approach of the CBC and have been taking it out on the team and fans for fifty years!

DCMontreal – Deegan Charles Stubbs – is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+