My stepfather never talked about the war years, he would march in the Remembrance Day parade when he was younger, however when he got into his eighties it was simpler to stand in the front window and watch the parade from his living room. When he was 84, he was the last living First World War veteran in our community. We lived in Fruitvale, which was not a large community but still provided a significant number of enlistments in both wars.
My stepfather was born in 1898; he grew up on a farm in Niskew, Alberta. There was no high school in Niskew and he moved to Edmonton to complete high school in his early teens. He graduated at age 15. He went onto Normal school, (teacher’s college) in Camrose, Alberta in 1914 and graduated with a teachers certificate at the age of 16. His first teaching position was in the one room grade school in Niskew where he had first gone to school.
When he turned 18 in the fall of 1916 he enlisted in the army – the Army air core, hoping to learn to fly, but about three weeks after he got to basic training they discovered he needed glasses and wisely decided flying an airplane was not a good career choice. He was soon transferred to the regular army.
By the luck of the draw of being born in 1898 and poor eyesight he never got to Europe to fight and spent his time in Trenton, Ontario. I often wondered if the reason he did not dwell on his military experience was that he felt guilty that he had no injuries, physical or mental and got to marry, start a business, raise a family and live to a relatively old age, when so many of his contemporaries died or were permanently scared by battle injuries and never got to enjoy a long healthy life.
There were no other mementos of the war other than a boar’s hair military hairbrush in his possessions when he passed away. He had used it for as long as I knew him and it was still in excellent shape when he died. I didn’t want to part with it and soon found that it was the perfect hairbrush and it has been with me ever since. Ribbons and medals don’t mean much really and perhaps that was why that hairbrush was so important, it tied him to the past and reminded him everyday to be grateful for what he had.
My son would often use that old hairbrush because it worked so well on his thick hair. Out of curiosity we Googled hairbrushes, and after a couple of search enquiries found the same brush of pear wood and boar’s hair made by Kent in the UK. Only $120 Canadian.
In spite of the cost I did get my son a similar hairbrush for his birthday a few years ago. Although well worn, mine still has a trace of the Kent mark on the side, it could very well last another 100 years.
All this is purely conjecture on my part, however. I honour all those who fought and died for our country and express humble thanks for the sacrifice.
Few if any of those men who enlisted at 18 in the army in 1914 – 18 made it to age 100. Today even the Second World War is now a distant memory. We must not forget what these men sacrificed in order that our nation could flourish. A generation died on the battlefields of Europe on our behalf and Remembrance Day, November 11 marks the day of Armistice in 1918. Let us all with reverence and humility stand in silent tribute to those brave young men who may have returned home with nothing more than a few medals, a hairbrush and memories that never left them for the rest of their lives. May it never happen again.
– Colin J. Campbell, CLU, Ch.F.C. is Managing Partner of Guidance Planning Strategies Ltd. in Cranbrook he can be reached at [email protected]