Each soldier tells a story. So does each family left behind.
Cathy Cummings (a GW100R follower) has graciously permitted me to share a post she wrote last month about her great uncle:
Today I am remembering not only my great uncle Gordon Gibson who gave the ultimate sacrifice at Vimy, but his little brother Tom, my grandfather, and what it must have meant to him.
Imagine you are a 13 year old boy living in gorgeous Nelson, British Columbia. Your days are filled with fishing, hunting, school and fun. Like all 13 year old boys the world is your oyster and you are invincible. Your older sister, Irene, is still at home with you in Nelson and your older brother Gordon, is a handsome soldier who writes to you regularly from camp. “I don’t know whether we would like to go to Bermuda or England. Bermuda would be a nicer climate alright.” (October 7, 1916). By November, he has in fact gone to England rather than sunny Bermuda.
Your letter received yesterday with Irene’s and I was sure glad to hear from you Tom. That was quite a letter. Aunty wrote me saying you were going to write regularly, Ahem????
I was sorry I didn’t get something in London but saw no toy shops in all our wanderings and didn’t have a chance to look one up we were so busy seeing the sights.
How are you getting on at school? Alright I hope. There was an air raid just north of London night before last and they brought down two Zeps, The following noon they brought down an aeroplane. Eggs are $1.20 a dozen over here some price eh.
Will close now and hope to hear you once in awhile Tom
Your loving brother
The war has crept into the letters but they are still sunny and optimistic. Christmas ’16 greetings share the news that “Gus thinks that we have the upper hand in every way and that the war ought to be over in spring.” By February he has been sent to France.
Well I will be blowed. Here we are up on the line at the other base and I just today discovered this in my time pocket.
Well we took two nights and one day to come up ending by a march of about 12 or 14 miles from the rail head to where we are now – within hearing of the guns. They say we are only a few miles behind the line but it is 10 miles
In, by the way they go. We are beginning to see what mud is, we are billeted in a small town in the small buildings of a Chateaux down in a cellar, 8 of us in a little room about 20 x 20 but it is quite OK only that we need candles even in daytime to see.
Saw Don McVicar today – last eve – one of the Lundy Boys and fellow by the name of Moore from Nelson were in to see us (from 54th) they are in the transport so the 54th is not at these billets.
Suppose our mail will be chasing around the country after us so we won’t get any for a week.
Send tobacco every once in a while, as it is hard to get up here also socks never go amiss as if one can’t use them some of the boys are always glad to a home knit pair.
We came up in coaches part of the way and part in a boxcar and it was some trip. We passed a hospital train taking the “Blighties” down (wounded) and they are swell trains.
By Jove everybody ought to take off their hats to the boys who have been over here since the first.
Well no news except we are feeling A1 and having a good time.
Love to all
“Well no news except we are feeling A1 and having a good time.” This letter would have arrived in Nelson sometime in March.
April 10th 1917, Gordon is killed at Vimy Ridge, along with thousands of other Canadian boys. Imagine the thoughts of his little brother Tom when they receive the knock on the front door and the telegram telling them of Gordon’s death when he has just a few short days before heard “we are feeling A1 and having a good time.”
It would have been surreal and what 13-year-old boy truly understands death. Unfortunately, it was not to be his last lesson in the harsh realities of the world. 26 Oct 1918, just 17 months after Gordon is killed at Vimy, Tom’s sister Irene is struck down by the influenza that has ravaged the world killing 5% of the world’s population. According to Wikipedia, the font of all knowledge, “most influenza outbreaks disproportionately kill juvenile, elderly or already weakened patients; in contrast, the 1918 pandemic predominantly killed previously healthy young adults.” Which is the same as war. It is the young and healthy that go off to defend our nation.
Now 15 years old, still living in a beautiful location, but no longer living an idyllic life. Suddenly an only child. Although he lived to be 87 I’m sure those lessons were never lost. What did it mean to how he saw the world? Those are the questions I think about when I am remembering Vimy Ridge today on the 100th anniversary of the death of John Gordon Wardlaw Gibson.
Tomorrow at 11 am, Tom Gibson’s family will gather in the Memorial Chamber on Parliament Hill in Ottawa to see the page in the WW1 Book of Remembrance on which Gordon is honoured. His name is also inscribed on the Vimy Monument and on the Ring of Remembrance at Notre Dame de Lorette.