I’m very proud of my late Grandpa. His name was Joseph Edward Killingback and like millions of other boys, he headed off to fight for freedom and democracy in 1914. His attestation papers say he was 16, but so eager was Grandpa to fight for his country that he lied. He was actually only just 15.
I remember Grandpa telling me about the First World War – leaving out the worst bits but still conveying a sense of just how terrible it was. He talked about rats, the dreaded trench foot, canned bully beef and how “sometimes the food wagons didn’t get through”. He never talked about losing friends. I asked him about it once when I was very young and he simply answered “Yes I did.” I never asked again.
Grandpa was wounded near Amiens in France just before the end of the war. He lay in the mud of no man’s land for hours, not daring to move for fear of being shot by snipers. When the medics found him after the battle had moved on he was in pretty rough shape. Once he was stablilized in the field, Grandpa was sent to a hospital in Bristol and later to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital at Bear Wood in Berkshire, England for treatment.
Bear Wood was one of the many British country mansions turned into hospitals during the First World War. Today it’s a school, just a few miles up the road from where I live in Berkshire, England.
My Grandpa was sent back to Canada as the war ended and reported to the London, Ontario Armouries where he had trained to be discharged. In yet another example of things coming full circle, I can see the Armouries (now a luxury hotel) below me as I stand on the balcony of our apartment in Canada. I wonder what my grandfather, barely 18, a survivor of four years at the front, was thinking as walked out these doors on the day he was discharged so long ago.
I know Grandpa felt lucky that day. After all, he survived. Millions – including his own stepfather – did not. And still today many service-people lose their lives fighting for our freedom and keeping the peace. Then there are also those who do come home alive, but for whom everything is forever changed – the wounded, permanently disabled, and those with mental scars that may never heal.
And of course there are the military families, so many of whom have lost loved ones and so many who wait at home and pray. There are millions of these wonderful souls all over the world doing something amazing for us every day by “keeping the home fires burning”. They are braver than I can ever imagine having to be.
My days can be pretty busy but I know what I will be doing at 11am on the Eleventh of November. I will stop in silence and remember the millions of people who fought and are fighting for my freedom. I will remember those who died, those who live – and their families – and I will say a silent thank you.
Because of them we enjoy the kind of freedom many in the world only dream about. I owe them a far greater debt than I can ever repay. The least I can do is spend two minutes silently paying tribute to them. I hope that wherever you might be at 11am your time on November 11 that you will join me.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”
Laurence Binyon 1869-1943