Here’s Where I Started

Gillespie Family horse team circa 1920's Durban, Manitoba

Gillespie Family horse team circa 1920’s Durban, Manitoba

Maybe I didn’t pay attention when my parents were telling stories, I’m not sure. Here’s what I knew about my grandfather when I started.

He was a farmer
His father was a farmer

He was a soldier
He fought in France
He married a war bride
He returned from war
He was a farmer

He like to read
He liked to dance
He taught my mum to dance
They were farmers

He lived through the depression
They were farmers

He got sick
He died of cancer
He was fifty-four

War was a game the boys played

Playing Soldier circa 1907

Postcard: Star Series: published by G.D.&D. London. Shared on Flickr Creative Commons by Pellethepoet

When I was growing up, war was a game the boys played. It was filled with arguments over who was dead and who was not, who was in charge, who was good, who was bad. The boys played in the mud of an eroded ditch on the far side of the school playground – they called it The Trenches. They played in the rain and in the snow. They used sticks, clumps of dirt and their imaginations to make their Howitzers, MK-III’s and grenades. They seemed endlessly fascinated and engaged in it.

The girls were sometimes invited to play as nurses, or if you were lucky (in some eyes), they let you be a medic. Nurses hovered on the sidelines ready to comfort the soldiers. The medic’s job was to help lever boys out of the knee-deep silt then go back to rescue their rubber boots from being sucked down as dozens of boys squelched around in the muck.

As I grew into adulthood, it was easy to  tune out in history classes at university, change the channel when war movies came on, and ignore news stories as wars erupted overseas. It was all unpleasant and I was disinterested and untouched —

“You’re dead! You have to fall down, I shot you”
“No, I got you first!”

I’m older now and wiser — I watch the news, I’m a teacher librarian, I’m interested in History — and now there is a gap. I have questions and I want to document my learning and my research as I look for answers. That’s why I started this blog.

It’s been 100 years since the Great War. My grandfather – like nearly every other young man from the Dominion of Canada – went off to fight. I don’t know how and I don’t understand why and I’d like to make some sense of it all.

I never knew my grandfather— he died before I was born. And that’s the other reason for taking this research journey. I hope that as I piece together information from ‘out there’ with what’s been passed down in the  family, I will get a sense of who he was.