There is tragic irony with the news that Canada has suffered our greatest single-day loss of troops in Afghanistan with the deaths of six soldiers in a roadside bombing. A seventh Canadian suffered serious injuries. Regardless of our views on Canada’s role in this conflict our hearts cannot help but ache for the victims’ families, friends and colleagues. Easter Sunday in Afghanistan.
The military later released the names of five of the dead soldiers. Four were with Gagetown, N.B.-based 2nd Battalion, the Royal Canadian Regiment:
- Sgt. Donald Lucas.
- Cpl. Aaron E. Williams.
- Pte. Kevin Vincent Kennedy.
- Pte. David Robert Greenslade.
Cpl. Christopher Paul Stannix, a reservist from the Halifax-based Princess Louise Fusiliers, also died. The identity of the sixth victim, Cpl. Brent Poland of Sarnia, Ont, was released Monday.
To his credit, NDP leader Jack Layton, called in to CBC Newsworld studios after hearing of the tragedy while participating in the Beaches (Toronto) Easter Parade, rose above a leading question of anchor Andrew Nichols – who seemed to want to draw him into articulating the party’s much-discussed position on the war. Jack described the news as a tremendous emotional blow, noting that – politics aside – these soldiers were serving on behalf of all Canadians.
“Well, we don’t believe that it’s a mission that ultimately can succeed militarily, and I think there’s more and more evidence of that,” he later told CTV Newsnet, adding today wasn’t the day for that discussion.
“I think all of us are very much focused on the comrades, on the families of the fallen soldiers,” he said.
“These are very, very brave individuals who do whatever our country asks them to do, and that’s the reason that Canadians are so supportive of all of those who are on the front lines.”
The irony is that Canadian media , , , children and history buffs alike are marking the 90th anniversary this week of the World War One Battle of Vimy Ridge – a war in a different time, under different circumstances, and naively believed to be ‘the war to end all wars’. Indeed Prime Minister Harper, in France with his family broke the news of today’s tragedy during a speech near Vimy where commemoration ceremonies will reach their climax tomorrow.
The tremendous media coverage of this anniversary has me recalling what little I know (and I do want to know more) about my Great-Uncle Tom who was killed, in 1917, on the World War One battlefields of France roughly five weeks before the final assault on Vimy.
My father, who died nearly five years ago, was given the first name of his late uncle (Thomas), just as I was given the first name of my uncle, Dad’s brother Kenneth, who died suddenly in hospital in his thirties before I was born – Perth’s Great War Memorial Hospital, to be precise.
Thomas Earl Butler was my paternal grandmother’s brother. Any memories of Grandma talking about him are filtered through the eyes of the less interested child that I was when these stories were told. How I would love to hear them now. The closest I can come is to speak to my aunt, Dad’s older sister, who is still alive well up in her 80s.
Grandma was primary homemaker for her father, a widower, when news came of Tom’s death – as reported in the Perth Courier:
I remember Grandma had a commemorative plaque which paid tribute to Tom. My aunt might have that now, I’m not sure, although I seem to recall some mementos may have been donated to a local museum. I know for certain that my sister has a formal portrait of Uncle Tom, in his handsome uniform (different from the one in the press clipping), taken in Perth before his deployment, as well as a cloth belt which was sent home completely covered with various regimental pins from across Canada.
The newspaper clippings come from Veterans Affairs Canada, as do these copies of Uncle Tom’s ‘attestation papers’. (Looking at his signature, I can see an amazing resemblance to my grandmother’s penmanship, as well as my Dad’s!)
Only tonight, watching the first part of “The Great War”, a film on CBC-TV by Brian McKenna, did I learn that “Complexion: Fresh” was racist code used to distinguish non-white soldiers, gladly accepted when county-by-county quotas were low, from their ‘fresh-faced’ comrades. That is sick!
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) web site provides these stark ‘Casualty Details’ (I have added links):
Regiment/Service: Canadian Infantry (Central Ontario Regiment)
Unit Text: 75th Bn.
Date of Death: 01/03/1917
Service No: 787151
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: VII. D. 17.
Cemetery: VILLERS STATION CEMETERY, VILLERS-AU-BOIS
There’s a bit more of an online tribute, however generic, here.