If Ye Break Faith

This blog is dedicated to the promotion of educating about the Canadian experience of World War One. To discover who we are as a nation in the 21st Century, we must understand our past.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Bringing Humanity to History

Some of this intended work, due in part to the generalities of extant factual data must rely on supposition.  Very often in war, and especially so with World War I the circumstances of one individual escape the documentation we reserve for those whom history judges as important.  There are numerous books with regards to the generals, politicians, large bodies of men under arms, the overt causes, execution and effects of the war.  With the  exception of a few books, soldier's diaries such as Bird and Frasier and the notable work by Richard Holmes, "Tommy" in which he attempts to disseminate the life of an ordinary British soldier on the Western Front, the single person's story is not given much voice.

In the case of the lives I have set out to document, there is much of which we can never be certain.  As living memory of this war is all but gone, details which will be presented in the published volumes that may have faded in time will be gathered through a depth of research calling upon records from various archives and other primary sources as may be available.

We can never know, or even presume in some cases the nature of how these lives came to an end; or what each person thought, felt or believed as they came upon death in war at its most severe.  In preserving these stories I sincerely hope that I don't assign a narrative that is contradictory to actual events or misaligned with fact.

One fact is that the First World War cost Canada 64, 944 lives in the service to what was understood at the time to be a cause for national freedom and sovereignty of threatened European states with the ideal conclusion a victory for that cause leading to a long preserved  and equitable peace.  The first volume of this series will contain the stories of sixty-two of the number (those of Oakville, Ontario) who made what is idealised as the ultimate sacrifice.  Hoping neither to fall prey to extreme notions of nobility such as that, nor paint the loss of life in war as a futile waste, it is the intention of this project to deliver tangible humanity to history.  In effect, it is to assure that those who went to their deaths are long remembered as people who "lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow."

This type of human history should give us reason to consider the personal cost of war, especially if we understand them more as folks like you and I, less than a number in a totaled statistic.  This in turn might allow us to consider how better to resolve issues that might take countries to war and thereby justify the loss of life that was made to that very purpose.

Public support is needed to bring this project to print.  Comments of support, especially expressing desire to see this work continue and grow in the form of a published manuscript should be forwarded to ifyebreakfaith@gmail.com.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The Intent

The line "If ye break faith" as expressed by John McCrae in his seminal poem "In Flanders Fields" is a compact between the dead of the First World War and the living, in perpetuity.  It states rather plainly that if the ideals for which they gave their lives are not upheld by those who remain, their sacrifice is negated.

Each November, the loss of life in the Great War, and all wars is remembered.  People stand for moments of silence, solemn ceremonies take place at monuments to the fallen, Lt. Col McCrae's poem is recited and sung in verse.  I have often asked myself if those few days during which poppies are worn and the cost of war pondered is enough to say we are meeting our end of obligation with that compact.  At no detraction to the effort we make on Remembrance Day, I believe there is more to be done to fulfill that commitment.  My concern is not that these acts will perish in time, it is that those individuals from whom that line is spoken will not be remembered as individuals but be relegated as a number counted as a statistic.

Canada lost 64 944 killed in action during World War I.  Each one who died had their own story.  There is the life they led before the war, the capacity in which they served their country's effort during its time of need and each sacrifice that they made, eventually with their lives for what they thought would be and everlasting peace.  The goal of this project, "If Ye Break Faith" is to uphold that compact, to remember our fallen as individuals; to tell their stories and so perpetuate their remembrance for those that follow in subsequent generations.  It is a monumental effort; one that I alone can not hope to complete and will eventually have to leave to my successors.

Each volume in this series will take the names of the war dead which are inscribed on the monument of a single town or city and tell as much as possible about their lives and their sacrifice.  What this will do, besides preserving individual memory, will also give us pause to think on the human cost of war and thereby justify the great amount of loss that was made to the purpose of a long preserved and equitable peace.

It is the intention of this letter to inform my countrymen to my purpose and to ask their moral support in its undertaking.

The Purpose

I've often asked myself who were these men whose names are etched in marble and stone on plinths and monuments, town to town, city to city across this great land of ours?  My hometown of Markham, Ontario even has streets, the signs marked with poppies named in homour of some of the local fallen.  Though, I don't imagine anyone who lives on those streets would be able to say anything of note about the men from whom the names are taken.

The living memory of the First World War is escaping us, and strong efforts are needed to help preserve it.  Most importantly as regards who gave their lives, for to remember their sacrifice is to put a human element on the cost of war, and that might help us reconsider the reasons to wage war at all.