Month: June 2017

Short Story

I’ve been talking about Dreams and Promises, a collection of Canadian short stories, on this blog, and about my own story, When the Boys Came Home.

Since KDP rules preclude my sharing the story here, I’ve written a prequel for my readers.  Enjoy.

 

 

 

When the Boys Came Home – Prequel

 

 June 1920

 Pte. George Weston stood on the deck of RMS Olympia, watching the coastline of Great Britain fade to a distant smudge on the grey sea. He knew he’d watched this scene in reverse five years ago, but not a moment of it remained in his memory.

He turned to the woman at his side. “Regrets?” he asked.

Mabel Featherley shook her head. “Of course I’ll miss home and family, and friends.  But this is the right thing to do.”

He drew a deep breath and expelled it in a long sigh. As usual, his nurse made him feel safe.  Had he always been this uncertain, he wondered.  Had he always been afraid?  It was a damnable thing when a man couldn’t remember himself.  For the past couple of years, convalescing in hospital, he’d believed himself a wounded English soldier.  Then Harry showed up and George learned he was a Canadian, Pte George Weston of the Second Division of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  His mother had been notified he was missing in action in 1917, after Passchendaele.  Now he was headed home to Glencove, Ontario.  He didn’t know if he was more excited or scared at the prospect of going home to a place he could not recollect and a family who were strangers to him.

“Only another week.” Pte. Harry Peters, leaning on the rail on George’s other side rolled a cigarette and stuck it in his mouth.  “ One week and we’ll be home.”  He struck a match and held it to the cigarette, then drew on the smoke and exhaled a long, tobacco fuelled breath.  “Whatever that means.”

“Peace? Safety? A loving welcome?” George asked the questions that plagued his own mind.

“Maybe,” Harry smoked thoughtfully, “maybe not. The army despised POW’s.  Who’s to say the country won’t too?”

The rest of the story is available free in my newsletter.  You can subscribe using the button on the right hand column of this page.

POW’s and World War I

  The set up to my  short story, “When the Boys Came Home,” relies on a Canadian Prisoner of War turning up in England.   Here’s a little background on that often forgotten contingent of men.  The story is found in the anthology Dreams and Promises.

Mistreatment, malnutrition, forced labour, and disease were standard among the POW camps in Germany.   Food scarcity, bad food, and inedible food were the greatest complaint of the prisoners. Most sources agree that without care packages from home, either from relatives, or the Red Cross, or other organizations, many allied POW’s would not have survived their incarceration.

Canadians were known as tough fighters but 1400 were taken prisoner in a single day in 1915 when they were gassed by the enemy during the Second Battle of Ypres.

Once taken prisoner, soldiers were expected to resist aiding the enemy and do their best to escape.  Such action often resulted in even harsher punishment, including beatings, being forced to stand at attention for hours, being tied to a post and food deprivation.

Unlike WWII, where liberating armies marched into the camps at the end of hostilities, and freed the prisoners, in 1918 there was no such liberating force.  Once the armistice was signed, German guards at the prison camps went home, leaving the POW’s to fend for themselves. Already physically weakened, these men had to make their own way, with no co-ordinated transportation.  They mostly headed for France aboard trucks, trains or anything else they could board.  Some walked.  Many died from exhaustion along the route.

When British or Commonwealth soldiers were picked up they were sent to reception centres in France where they were fed and clothed.  From there they were sent to channel ports and from thence to Britain. Captured officers were expected to write a report on the circumstances of their capture and why they’d been unable to avoid it.  .  A true soldier, it was  believed, would fight to the death rather than surrender. There was a popular suspicion that prisoners had an easy war, sitting about in a camp, away from the danger and that those captured were cowards

Once POW’s returned home and were able to tell their own stories the truth became clear.  Being a prisoner of war, far from being safe, was one of the most dangerous conditions a soldier could find himself in.

When soldiers finally made it back to their hometowns in Canada many were afflicted with “barbed wire disease,”, a disorder brought on by complete lack of privacy, an ignorance of the duration of captivity, irregular communication with friends and family and restrictions on all aspects of human activity.  Symptoms include irritability, inability to concentrate, restlessness, memory loss, violent mood swings, insomnia, nightmares and impotence.  See A.L. Vischer.

Once the prisoner made it safely home, some of their families wanted a brass band welcome, but most soldiers just wanted to quietly reintegrate into their old lives with as little fuss as possible.

While “When the Boys Came Home” doesn’t feature a POW, an understanding of this group of soldiers will help the reader more closely relate to the characters involved.

 

Sources:

http://histclo.com/essay/war/ww1/cas/w1c-pow.html

https://www.bl.uk/world-war-one/articles/prisoners-of-war

Hero or Villain – You Decide

 

Matthew Begbie was the first Chief Justice of B.C. following Confederation in 1871.  He has been characterized as a  resolute and fair upholder of British law and order, a true Victorian who did his duty, and as a cruel and arbitrary jurist.

His Career

  • Nov. 16 1858 Begbie arrived in Victoria on. The following day he left with Gov. Douglas for Fort Langley on the Fraser River,
  • Nov. 19, 1858 new colony of British Columbia was proclaimed. Douglas and Begbie swore each other into office.
  • 1859 Begbie, though a member of the judiciary, was appointed to the Executive Council of British Columbia. This unusual blending of the judicial and executive functions was necessary because Begbie was the only man in the colony with legal training
  • 1859 Aliens Act, written by Begbie, passed into law.  Allowed for naturalization of aliens after three years residence in B.C.
  • 1859 Gold Fields Act also drafted by Begbie set out the rules and regulations for the mining of gold in British Columbia.
  • January 1859 he accompanied Colonel  Moody and a party of Royal Engineers up the Fraser River to quell an insurrection that had broken out among the miners at Yale and Hills Bar. Begbie convened court and tried ringleader, Ned McGowan.  Begbie imposed a fine for assault.
  • February 1859. Begbie walked from New Westminster to what is now Lillooet and back (a journey of approximately 350 miles) to familiarize himself with the mining population of the Fraser River.
  • 1860 Pre-emption Act, the main feature of the Colony’s land-settlement policy, also drafted by Begbie.
  • 1860 He  walked from New Westminster to Kamloops and back to explain the Gold Fields Act to miners and gold commissioners.
  • Along with Sir James Douglas he worked to counter the move to American annexation.
  • 1865 alone he rode about 3,500 miles to hold assizes in mining camps and small towns all over the colony.
  • He espoused the rights of Chinese  opposing a head tax on Chinese immigrants.
  • In 1860 he told Gov. Douglas that Indians (First Nations) held land rights that must be recognized.
  • Fought efforts to displace Indians from their homes.
  • Became fluent in Shuswap and Chilcotin language in order to understand they cases without an interpreter.
  • Persuaded Ottawa to preserve native fishing rights on the Fraser River.
  • Wrote provincial legislation giving Indian common-law wives of white men a share of his estate if he died intestate.
  • 1864 “Chilcotin War” breaks out. Fifteen whites are killed.
  • Aug. 15, 1864: Eight Chilcotin warriors including chiefs Klatsassin, Telloot and Tapitt come into meet Gov. Seymour. They are arrested.
  • Sep 28-29, 1864: Judge Begbie presides at the trial of Klatsassin and the eight others. Five are found guilty of murder.
  • October 26, 1864: Klatsassin and four others are hanged.

“We have all heard of the sacredness of the pipe of peace … among the Indians,” Judge Matthew Begbie wrote to the governor of B.C. on Sept. 30, 1864. “It seems horrible to hang five men at once, especially under the circumstances of the capitulation.”

  • July 1865 another Chilcotin chief is tried and executed in New Westminster
  • 1872 Begbie commites four Indians convicted of attempted murder to the custody of a missionary rather an impose the death penalty.
  • 1875 He is knighted by Queen Victoria in a private ceremony at Balmoral Castle.
  • 1890 Begbie refuses to imprison a group of strikers at the Nanaimo coal-mines despite their repeated violations of court orders.
  • Throughout his career he championed the underdog. Under his judgements, 22 Indians were hanged  He obtained a reprieve for 11 others.
  • He tried 52 murder cases but hanged only 27 convicted murders, despite rigid sentencing rules of the time.
  • Oct. 26, 2014: B.C. Premier Christy Clark and members of the Tsilhqot’in Nation  (Chilcotin) participate in a redress ceremony, the 150th anniversary of the hanging of five of the six chiefs. The province issues an apology.
  • April 13, 2017 Law Society of B.C. announces it will remove statue of Judge Begbie from its lobby.

You be the judge. Is Sir Matthew Begbie a hero or a villain?  Leave your vote in the comments.

Note:  I have used the word “Indian” rather than “First Nation” as that was the term used during Begbie’s time.  I have also used the spelling Chilcotin, rather than Tsilhqot’in, for the same reason.

SOURCES: Canadian Heritage and University of Victoria

Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/begbie_matthew_baillie_12E.html

http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/chilcotin-tsilhqotin/

Dreams and Promises

 

This is the cover for an anthology of six Canadian short stories/novellas written to celebrate Canada 150.  In case you hadn’t heard, my country is celebrating a big birthday.  The British North America Act was signed into law on July 1, 1867.  Under its terms, the land we now know as Canada ceased to be a colony of Great Britain and became, instead, an independent nation – with certain caveats.  We were still part of the British Empire and Britain controlled our foreign policy.  Thus, in 1914, when Britain declared war on Germany, Canada was automatically at war too.

The story I’ve contributed to this anthology is set in the aftermath of the Great War and is titled, “When the Boys Came home.” The title references a famous song of that era

Keep the Home Fires Burning, 

While your hearts are yearning,
Though your lads are far away
They dream of home.
There’s a silver lining
Through the dark clouds shining,
Turn the dark cloud inside out
‘Til the boys come home.

 

There are no WWI veterans still alive in Canada, our last known veteran, John Babcock died in 2010 at the age of 109. Still there are many families, including mine, who have old photographs of relatives who went to war. When they came home, most of them refused to speak of the unspeakable hell they had endured.

Perhaps they hoped that keeping silent would help them forget.

Perhaps they wanted to protect their loved ones from the terrible knowledge of trench warfare.

Perhaps they suffered from shell-shock and were ashamed.

Yes, I said ashamed. In our time, media, movies and books ensure the public knows about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), as a consequence of witnessing horrible suffering. Military personnel, first responders, firefighters, police officers, even jury members at a horrific murder trial may suffer from PTSD. Gen. Romeo Dallaire, a model of compassion and courage, is one of the most well-known victims of the disorder. It is a condition that never goes away, never sets the sufferer free, and demands empathy and understanding from all of society.

After the Great War, 1914 – 1918, what we call PTSD was known as shell-shock. It was spoken of only in hushed tones. Sufferers were considered somehow culpable and inferior. “Men” were expected to take whatever evil came upon them and get over it. Society in general had little understanding of their nightmare.

I believe it is unfair for one generation to judge another based on our modern sensibilities. Corporal punishment was deemed normal for centuries. In 2008 the Supreme Court of Canada upheld section 43 of the criminal code which states Every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child, as the case may be, who is under his care, if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.

And don’t forget that a parent who resorted to spanking as a last resort may also have read bedtime stories to his children, rocked them in her lap and scrimped on his own needs in order to buy his child a Christmas gift. Our notion of “abuse” has changed drastically over the last fifty years.

So, while I am loathe to foist our modern political correctness on previous generations, I admit the treatment of some WWI veterans, especially POW’s, broke my heart. Subjected to mud, filth, enemy fire, rats, lice, bad food, the screams of dying men and wounded horses, pounding of artillery and the often incomprehensible order to take 50 yards of ground at the cost of a thousand lives, it is a wonder any came home sane.

1867 was the year my country became independent but much of our national pride and our belief in ourselves as Canadians was forged in the battlefields of Europe. Ypres ,Vimy Ridge, The Somme, Passchendaele, Hill 70. . . those names resonate in our national conscience.

Sir John A. MacDonald had the vision and the will to create a new country.

“Our Boys” earned it a place in the world.

I hope my story warms your heart and reminds you of the terrible cost of war.

Dreams and Promises is available here

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