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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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Blogging, Canada, DCMontreal Commentary, DCMontreal Light, History, Montreal, News, Nostalgia, Opinion, Scotland, World War One, World War One Centenary

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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My Grandfather’s Lexicon

Put the guard up, Willie!

Put the guard up, Willie!

I’ve always liked the word lexicon, defined as the vocabulary of a language, an individual speaker or group of speakers, or a subject. I wonder if the words and terms used by denizens of Guadalajara make up a Mexicon? Or if those witty utterances of the wee lucky green people from Ireland constitute a Lexichaun? If it involved six languages would it be a Hexicon? Or if it’s local to El Paso would it be a Texi … OK, you get the idea.

My maternal grandfather was an interesting man, with his own interesting lexicon. Not to imply my paternal grandfather was any less interesting, but getting to know him would have been tricky as he passed away four years prior to my being born.

Why his alleged quorum-surpassing convening of urban inebriates would cause anyone to change their plans has never been  clear, but in his mind this was something to be avoided at all costs.

Like many of his vintage, that’s to say those born in the mid-1890s, my grandfather volunteered to go “overseas” and fight for King and Country in the First World War. So in September of 1914, at the age of twenty, he trekked down to Bleury Street in Montreal and enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force with the Black Watch of Canada and off he went to war. During his four years overseas he was diagnosed with shell-shock in Ypres, was gassed, suffered gun-shot wounds to his eyes and legs during the Second Battle of Arras, eventually resulting in the loss of the sight in one eye, and contracted numerous other afflictions common to trench warfare, including pleurisy, influenza, boils and septic sores.

Oh yes, he also managed to meet and marry my grandmother. On November 22, 1918 he was granted leave to get married “at public expense”.

Mid-1940's looking like James Joyce

Mid-1940’s looking like James Joyce

Whether as a result of his time in the trenches, or his time with my grandmother, he was always a very nervous and terribly negative man. Nothing good could ever happen and apocalyptic occurrences were always just around the corner. He had a number of expressions to illustrate the impending doom that enveloped him that are still talked about within our family.

Every drunk in the city will be there

As far as he was concerned everyone should just stay put; going places, doing things, would surely end in disaster. If there was an event, anything from a parade to an outdoor concert, in an attempt to discourage his family members from attending what would, in his mind, certainly be an invitation to catastrophe, he would say “Every drunk in the city will be there”. Not one or two, but every drunk. Why his alleged quorum-surpassing convening of urban inebriates would cause anyone to change their plans has never been  clear, but in his mind this was something to be avoided at all costs.

I can recall as a young lad of eight or nine, one New Year’s Eve my aunt, his daughter, was going to take me to a display of ice sculptures in a park located on the other side of downtown Montreal from where we lived. He was not at all keen on this plan and, sure enough, employed his every drunk logic. Given it was New Year’s Eve it may have had some credibility on this occasion, but all I can remember is thinking what a great spectacle it would be. To hell with the chiseled frozen chipmunks and swans, bring on the piss tanks!

Way the hell up and gone
… he would describe the destination as “Way the hell up and gone” – as if it were located in the tundra above the tree line.

Sixty or seventy years ago Montreal, as is probably true of most cities, had yet to creep outwards to the surrounding areas. Urban sprawl was still in its infancy. Locations that are now reached easily by expressways and expanded modern public transit systems, were then, for the most part, undeveloped. Further to my grandfather’s desire to keep folks near at hand, should anyone have need to venture to one of these outlying areas he would describe the destination as “Way the hell up and gone” – as if it were located deep in the tundra above the tree line. Of course no one in their right mind would ever choose to go way the hell up and gone, that was unthinkable to him.

His wife’s name was always a bit of a mystery. Various documents, from birth certificates to baptism and marriage records had her listed as Margaret, Madge, or Madeline. This never posed a problem for him, as he chose to refer to her as Willie. Why? No one has ever figured that out.

Put the guard up Willie
Mid-1970's having a beer on the balcony.

Mid-1970’s having a beer on the balcony.

Sunday dinners were often hosted by my grandparents, who lived down the street from us. These were always large, very filling and delicious meals. My grandmother would stand at one end of the table and carve the inevitable huge roast while others distributed the umpteen vegetables, Yorkshire puddings and gravy. The fork my grandmother used in conjunction with a wickedly sharp carving knife had a guard that could be flipped up to protect the user’s fingers should the knife slip. She never remembered to flip up the guard which led to my grandfather, at virtually every Sunday dinner, saying “Put the guard up Willie”! To this day members of my family can’t see a carving knife and fork set without someone saying that.

A blind man running won’t notice
His benchmark for success was if a blind man running by wouldn’t be able to notice his mistakes, that was good enough for him.

Perhaps the oddest of his axioms was “A blind man running won’t notice”. This he would say in reference to having done his best on any project, be it painting a kitchen, the installation of a balcony awing or the fitting of stovepipes (this last endeavor ended in his ripping down the piping and jumping on it, or so I’m told). The outcome may not be perfect, but it was the best he could do, and more to the point, it was all he was going to do. Any imperfections were, in his opinion,  minor and were going to stay put. His benchmark for success was if a blind man running by wouldn’t be able to notice his mistakes, that was good enough for him.

One of these days I’ll let you know about some of his superstitions. Things like never trim your fingernails on a Sunday, or if you returned home to retrieve something you had originally forgotten, you had to sit down before going out again.

Today’s Daily Post is about lexicons

Me DCMontreal 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 Freans and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DC on Twitter @DCMontreal and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

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Off Target on Poppy Selling

McCraeTalk about missing the Target! You really have to wonder sometimes what people are thinking. I don’t mean that guy who just cut you off, or cruised through a red light; evidently he wasn’t thinking at all. I’m talking about those folks who are paid big money to think: public relations professionals.

Since the early 1920s the Canadian Legion has been selling commemorative poppies to honour those who were killed in war, starting with the First World War and continuing to the present victims in Afghanistan. The concept comes from the poem In Flanders Fields the opening lines of which refer to the many poppies that were the first flowers to grow in the churned-up earth of soldiers’ graves in Flanders, a region of Europe that overlies parts of Belgium and France. The poem was written by Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae on 3 May 1915 after witnessing the death of his friend and fellow soldier the day before.

With this heritage, what in the name of God were the people at Target Canada thinking when they released a statement saying that the sale of poppies, traditionally done on street corners and in larger stores, would be restricted to an area outside their stores (they were kind enough to elaborate and explain they would tolerate the seller standing between the two sets of doors if the weather turned ugly – all heart these folks).

Was the idea to create a small kerfuffle in one part of the country then issue a nation-wide statement and come off as heroes? If so they certainly misread Canadians as I suspect more will remember the original banning of the poppy sales  than the too-little-too-late welcome.

Granted they have now bent over backwards in an attempt to remove the bad taste left in some potential-clients’ mouths and have in fact welcomed the Canadian Legion to set up in any of its stores across Canada and sell poppies. But the question that still boggles my small but fertile mind is who would have thought about banning the sale in the first place.

From a public image standpoint, there is nothing safer than commemorative poppies. They are non-denominational, paying respect to fallen soldiers of all, or no, religious backgrounds, they are not political, and the funds raised go to various veterans’ causes.

So what was it that made someone wake up one day and tell this huge retailer, one that is currently making a major foray into Canada, that banning the sale of poppies was the way to go? Was the idea to create a small kerfuffle in one part of the country then issue a nation-wide statement and come off as heroes? If so they certainly misread Canadians as I suspect more will remember the original banning of the poppy sales than the too-little-too-late welcome.

Today’s Daily Prompt is HONOR; I believe this post fits that category.

MeDCMontreal 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 Freans and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DC on Twitter @DCMontreal and on Facebook, and add him on Google+
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World War One, Coincidences and Family Birthdays

DCMontreal

DCMontreal

This recent post fits today’s Daily Prompt: Home as home and family go hand-in-hand!

Talk about coincidences! This Sunday, September 22nd, 2013, will be the 99th anniversary of the day my grandfather signed his attestation papers at Valcartier, Quebec in 1914 agreeing to serve overseas in the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in what we now refer to as World War One (before WW II it was the Great War). As the section of his attestation paper below will … dare I say it … attest. He is listed as being 20, but in September he was still 19 and would only turn 20 in November.

Meanwhile on that very same day in London, England my grandmother was celebrating (I like to think she was celebrating, but maybe just marking) her 21st birthday – although there is some question about her age it is usually assumed by family members that she was two years older than my grandfather. Little did either of them know what the next few years held for them, not the least of which was that they would meet and marry and move/return to Canada to start a family.

The picture at right of my grandparents was taken on the street I live on now. My grandfather’s right lens is blackened as he lost most of the sight from shrapnel.

One more little coincidence – September 22nd is also my birthday. Yes indeed, I was a gift to my grandmother (my late father’s birthday was September 21st, so it would seem I was determined to be someone’s gift).

To sum up then, September 22 is the day my grandfather attested to serve overseas, his future wife was born on that day as was the youngest of his grandchildren.

CEF_GEB

Logo_3DCMontreal 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 Freans and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DC on Twitter @DCMontreal and on Facebook, and add him on Google+
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