I have an account with an online genealogy website. I have the desire to learn more about my ancestors but lack the know-how to really dig into my family history.
As I follow the branches from the known, starting with my own name, up the line to regions unknown, and follow adjacent branches, I’ve noticed ones that just stop.
I’ve wondered about those names, that don’t have any children our spouses listed, that just seem to be cut short. The time for some of them is about right that I wonder if they served in WWI or WWII.
When we talk about the cost of victory, of how our freedom was won, often it is in the numbers of lives lost.
The numbers are unfathomable — although they illustrate the scope of the massive destruction, the numbers are so massive to be impossible to fully grasp and, alone, fail to portray the agony each mother, wife, daughter or son felt when their loved one simply didn’t return home.
Their lines stop, their branches broken forever.
We say, “Lest We Forget.” Have you ever truly contemplated what it is we are vowing to remember?
Their sacrifice, surely, but as a child I always thought we were remembering the senselessness of war so we wouldn’t repeat it.
In the elementary school I attended from kindergarten to Grade 4, what I remember the most from our Remembrance Day assemblies was being shown actual footage of the shelling and explosions in the battle field. Essentially people being blown apart.
In the numbers of lives lost in each battle, all I could see were lives thrown away for reasons I couldn’t comprehend.
That brutal reality struck my young heart and mind deeply. War is horrible and it hurt me to think about.
For many years I didn’t want to remember.
It took time and maturity to feel differently and see Remembrance Day in a different light.
It is still ineffably sad and unspeakably tragic, but I’m also proud to be Canadian, and grateful, too.
There is a reason war stories are so compelling. Some might say a fascination with war history is morbid, but that period in history through the first and second world wars shows the worst, and the best of humanity.
Human kind is capable of inflicting unimaginable cruelty on each other. It is also capable of rising to great heights in the face of adversity.
Perhaps some boys heading out to war in that first, great war, held romantic notions of fighting, but others were compelled by a sense of duty to combat what was a growing evil in the world. They didn’t set out to be heroes, those young boys who simply did what they had to, to try and survive, but heroes they became.
I’m reminded of the Bible verse that says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13).
This year, I wanted to make my remembrance more personal. I asked my father for help, who is a much better family historian than I.
It turns out two of my great-grandfathers served. (Thankfully both survived, or else I would not exist.)
Private Harry Cochrane, my paternal great-grandfather, served as a mechanic in WWII. He enlisted in Regina. He worked in the shops in England repairing heavy duty engines, and it’s believed he was with tank reclamation towards the end of the war. He died in McLean, Sask. in October, 1974.
He was married to my “Granny Great” as we called her. I remember her and have photos of her.
My maternal great-grandfather, Charles Harrison Sims, served in both world wars. He joined the Sherwood Foresters when he was 18. He fought in the battles of Mons and Aisne, where his foot was injured. He was discharged on Feb. 22, 1915.
In 1918, he re-enlisted as a truck driver. He developed malaria while stationed in Malta and was told by his doctor that he could no longer handle the moist English air.
In 1926, he immigrated to Canada with his wife and then three children. They settled in Grand Prairie, where he had been given land by the Soldier Settlement Plan.
Later, the family moved to Magrath, where he died in 1975.
I never met either man, but I am grateful for their service and for the legacy they left — that their branches live on.
For all those who served and those who gave their lives, “Lest We Forget.”