I'm an "involved reader," and an "involved movie watcher" come to that. If you want to watch a movie with someone in peace and quiet--don't go with me; I laugh loudly, jump and cringe, grip the person next to me in scary parts--and cry.
So it wasn't a surprise this morning as I read the final letters home of Private Percy Winthrop (Winnie) McClare, regimental number 488944, 24th Battalion, Canadian InfantryRegiment; to "Mother," "Dad" and his sister Helen; that my eyes began to fill unbidden with tears and a lump rose from somewhere deep in my chest and worked its way up to my throat. I knew--I don't know how-- that this boy of 19 would not be going home to Nova Scotia. His last letter home, dated April 16, 1917; addressed to "My dear Mother," ended with a request for her to not worry, but to "remember me in your prayer. I know you do that and it helps me a lot." He died May 5, 1917.
It was about 3 years since he lied about his age, enlisting at 16, and began initial military training with the Halifax Rifles in Canada. Through his letters home, in the book I mentioned in yesterday's post, A War in Words, I followed his journey, from Mac Nabs Is, Halifax, Nova Scotia, to England and then France, seeing the world of the early 20th century through the eyes of a young man before whom the wide world of adventure was opening up.
He wrote his dad of the beauty of the English countryside--every inch seeming to be hedged and cultivated to a Canadian eye used to vast open spaces. He wrote to his sister Helen that he felt ashamed of his lack of education and was determined to go to school again if he ever got back to Canada. To his younger brother, Herbert; 15; who was anxious to follow in his footsteps and cross the sea to war, he wrote at his mother's urging, discouraging him.
Through Winnie's letters, I got to know him and his family "back home," so that when my premonition of his death was confirmed, I had to put the book down. I couldn't carry on reading--go on to the next journal or set of letters. I needed to put space between my heart and his life.
So I'm honouring his memory here; this young man who was one of 31 soldiers killed and wounded on May 17th a few miles east of Vimy Ridge.Winnie has no known grave.
He had taken part in the great advance and capture of Vimy Ridge and written to his mother about it on April 16th that, "It was some battle and will be one of the biggest things in Canadian history."
He was right about the battle of Vimy Ridge going down in history. The Canadians could be proud of accomplishing what the British and French had tried unsuccessfully to do for two years, although they were supported by the British in taking the ridge. Had this high ground remained in German hands, it would have ensured failure on the battle front generally and cost many more lives.