| Apr 12, 2007


Feature Article - April 12, 2007

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Feature Article - April 12, 2007

Honouring and understanding their memoriesby Melanie Rosenblath

I have been blessed with friends from around the world, many with military backgrounds. They've fought with the armies of many nations, in conflicts from West Africa to Central Europe to the Middle East. They've seen terrible and beautiful things, things that defy explanation. Without fail, these experiences have changed them - they're quieter, more aware. They're haunted by dreams and memories, and they're more appreciative of life having born witness to the realities of death. They know something - something that I will never know, as hard as I listen and as much as I want to understand.

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Charles Adam Gregg was my great-great-uncle. He died at Vimy Ridge on the 17th of April 1917 at the age of 20. When Charlie enlisted in the army in 1916, the world was very different - I cannot imagine what he was like, how he thought, what he dreamed or hoped or loved. I know little about him and the world has forgotten about him, save a few letters and medals. He joined the army and left to fight a war that no one understood. In an instant, the world must have become so small – the horrific capabilities of mankind standing in sharp contrast to his life in Vennachar. I often wonder how he felt, what he thought - but I'll never know. No one will.

When we speak of those who go to war, we often refer to "sacrifice". I wonder if Charlie imagined that he would never come home again. I wonder if he took a last look at the barn, at his mother, committing those images to memory. John Leslie Ball, a life-long friend and neighbour, took the courageous journey with him. Letters home indicate that they spent their last days together in the same trench. John lost his life at Vimy Ridge just a few days prior to Charlie's death. I will never know Charlie nor John. Those who did know them were robbed of their brother, son and friend. It has been said that more people died in conflict in the twentieth century than any other in history - a sad statistic of which none of us can be proud. Humankind did not achieve peace in Charlie's or John's lifetime, and it's unlikely that it will in mine. Throughout time, and throughout these conflicts, young men and women continue to join the military and fight our wars, and inevitably some will lose their lives in doing so. It is essential that I, and all of us, remember Charlie and John and their historical and modern peers. While we may not agree with the politics or the spin, we owe it to them to remember and respect. Charlie and John's war ended nearly a century ago, but perhaps not much has changed - the sacrifice that they and their families made certainly has not. And so, I will remember. I will remember that they left Vennachar for the other side of the world, and were confronted with realities that they couldn't have imagined. I will remember that it was in this chaos that they died, and were laid to rest. I will remember for them that the world is capable of greatness, and I will hope that they didn't lose faith in this at Vimy Ridge. I will remember that the events of Vimy Ridge devastated families and a community. More than anything, I will honour their memories and try to understand. Viewing them through the modern lens of friends that have endured these horrors makes it much easier, and infinitely more heartbreaking.

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