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in-flanders-fields

Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae wrote the famous “In Flanders Fields” poem in May 1915, less than a year into the brutal four-year First World War

On November 11th, Armistice Day is celebrated in many countries around the world. A moment of silence at 11 a.m. commemorates the signing of the armistice between the Allies and Germany on November 11, 1918. In Canada, we now refer to it as Remembrance Day, but regardless of what you want to call it, its meaning remains the same.

On May 16, 1916, a 27-year-old farmer named Harold Ross Chamberlin of Nokomis, Saskatchewan enlisted with the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force. Private Chamberlin, regimental No. 908132, was my great-great-uncle.

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He was killed in action on August 15, 1917 in France and is one of the thousands lying in a grave — probably unmarked — at Vimy Ridge.

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harold-ross-chamberlin-killed-in-action-form2-printableAnother relative — my great-uncle Ross Earl Chamberlin — was born at midnight on November 11, 1918 to Harold Ross’s brother, Cephas. He was registered as being born on November 12, but since the family felt it was technically still Armistice Day, it seemed appropriate to name him Ross in honour of his fallen uncle.

Harold Ross was posthumously awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal (Inter-Allied War Medal). He is also commemorated on page 214 of the First World War Book of Remembrance.

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The gallery below is comprised of images from his digitized service file. Bless you, Government of Canada, for making these documents available. Something I found to be of particular interest was the medical history documented on the Casualty form. Referencing all available documents, it seems he was wounded in early April, 1917. (The exact day is unclear to me, as I’ve seen a few different dates. One document lists April 1, while others cite that the base reported him wounded on April 9.) What is clear is that he rejoined his unit on April 18. During the one-month period of early April through May, he suffered from nervousness, influenza, debility (defined as physical weakness, especially as a result of illness), and neurasthenia: “An ill-defined medical condition characterized by lassitude (physical or mental weariness), fatigue, headache, and irritability, associated chiefly with emotional disturbance.”

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No where does it specify how he was wounded, but from the data provided, it seems to me that he just never fully recovered. It saddens me to picture this man, not only wounded physically, but also mentally and emotionally ravaged by a bloody, seemingly never-ending war.

Pouring over these hundred-year-old records is surreal. Seeing his last three months on this earth documented in such a clinical manner is a bit sobering, especially seeing that last line: “Killed in action, August 8, 1917.” Knowing how I feel reading these papers now, my blood runs cold at the thought of his immediate family reading them back then. His father. His mother. Brothers and sisters. Having to accept his death with not even a body to lay to rest.

War is never something to be glorified. It’s ugly and bloody, and even when one side “wins”, everyone loses. There is no glamour, there is no glory. It’s so easy to forget the horrors of war when it isn’t our generation who paid the price for the freedom we enjoy. As time goes on, we become complacent. The more we have, the more we want, and the more we feel is owed to us. It’s hard to know what true sacrifice is when you live in an entitled society whose privilege was bought and paid for by others.

But today, let’s all try and remember what it was all for. Remember why men and women gave their lives. Why mothers gave their sons and fathers gave their daughters. Let us be eternally thankful for the hundreds of thousands of sacrifices lying in unmarked graves on battlefields too often forgotten. And let us never take for granted the freedoms and rights that we are blessed with today. We’d all do well to remember that we weren’t born entitled to them and they certainly didn’t come free. The lives we enjoy now were bought with blood. A lot of it. Both from soldiers past and present, and originally from the One who also shed His blood that we might someday have an eternal life.

God bless them all, the living and the dead; spirits, ghosts and those who are still of flesh and blood. Remember them today. Remember them tomorrow. Always remember. Lest we forget what it was all about.

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