a series of posts counting down to the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month
Three Historica Canada videos on “Think like a historian” dealing with WWI
The Battle of Vimy (also known as Vimy Ridge) was fought April 9 — 12, 1917. French and British troops had failed in previous attempts. Now . . .
“It was the first time all four Canadian divisions had fought together. Intense training, thorough planning and coordination, superior intelligence gathering and determination carried Byng’s Boys [Lt-General Sir Julian Byng] forward-at times through driving sleet-to take the Ridge..” Library and Archives Canada
featured image: valourcanada.ca
“It was the largest territorial advance of any Allied force to that point in the war — but it would mean little to the outcome of the conflict. More than 10,600 Canadians were killed and wounded in the assault. Today an iconic memorial atop the ridge honours the 11,285 Canadians killed in France throughout the war who have no known graves.” Richard Foot, Canadian Encyclopedia
I find myself back in the era of the “great war.” Scrawled/scrawling for mlmm’s Sunday Writing Prompt: “speak now or forever hold your peace.” (posted May 25, 2021)
The Shape of Her Heart
Myra wrote him daily; long letters filled with her observations and activities. Her diary to him. She did not speak of love and longing; how he was the shape of her heart. When they bid farewell, he kissed her lightly with little passion. Not fully a sweetheart, yet more than a friend.
For a while, he sent postcards with short, scrawled messages: “me in my new uniform”; “Big Ben chiming”; “under the Eiffel tower with my mates”; “company is off to the front.” A letter or two from the trenches; terse missives devote of feeling.
Then, nothing. She swore not to read the causality lists; not to indulge in fantasies of him lying in a faraway hospital bed sick with fever, or clouded by amnesia. What was there really between them? Yet, she still wrote daily letters, never posted. It was a habit, a life-line to what might have been.
An envelope arrived for her addressed in a hand she didn’t recognize. It was brief: a troop train, one for the injured and maimed, would stop in her city. Although he had not asked for the nursing sister to write, she took it upon herself. “He has treasured your packet of letters these long months in hospital,” the woman wrote, “I am sure he truly wants you to meet his train – he has difficulty finding words at present.”
She asked for the day off work; meeting your sweetheart soldier was an acceptable excuse. She hadn’t the most fashionable clothes; just shirt waists for the office. Lacy said “Here, I’ll not be wearing this frock for a while,” laughing and patting her baby-swollen belly. The dress was frippy; all summer and chiffon. The absolute latest from last year’s catalogue. Passing the milliners on the corner, she spied the perfect hat, even if it cost more than two week’s wages. She shined up her shoes lessening the scuff marks.
She was up before dawn on the arrival morning. She didn’t indulge in fantasies of how he would sweep her up into his arms; she concentrated upon her toilette and dress. Trembling fingers pushed stray strands of unruly hair into a low chignon; shakily pulled on stockings. Nervously satisfied, she allowed herself one appraising glance in the plate-glass window mirror of a shop.
The platform was organized chaos: small knots of women with clinging children; sweethearts and parents; reporters; local politicians; even a brass band. All there to greet the returning heroes. With a swoosh of steam and dust, the engine pulled in. Men, or rather half-men, limped or were carried from the train cars.
She need not approach him – he would never know she stood watching him. She remembered a line from Lacey’s marriage vows: “Should anyone present know of any reason that this couple should not be joined in holy matrimony, speak now or forever hold your peace.”
How could she hold any peace if she did not call out his name; make him aware of her presence? He might reject her or embrace her. Either way, she would know.
“Gerald,” she called. A solider moved towards her voice, tapping the ground with his white cane, “Myra,” he said, hoarsely, “Is that truly you?”
“Gassed,” John Singer Sargent