I spent the first 2 weeks of my summer vacation in fields and cemeteries in Belgium and Northern France. As part of a group of Canadian teachers, I had the opportunity to explore Canada’s contributions to the First and Second World Wars where the battles actually took place.
I was expecting to learn a lot: I did. I was expecting to have some of my opinions challenged: they were. If nothing else, a close examination of war illustrates that it’s a complicated, messy process where sometimes the best that decision-makers can do is select the least-worst option. What I wasn’t expecting was the close connection our group would establish with the soldiers we researched as part of our course. It’s their stories, many of which have remained untold through the years, that bring the reality and the tragedy of war to life.
The story I told was that of William Latham Blacker Hamlin, an NT alumnus.
A long time has passed since Latham attended NT, we’re preparing for the NT’s Centennial celebration and he was here in its infancy, but he would have had many things in common with you: walking to school, studying, and hanging out with friends. He graduated and went on to university at McGill before answering the call and going to war. He joined the 87th Battalion at their position near Arras, France, on August 24th, 1917. He would serve with them for only a month: On September 25th, he sustained extensive shell wounds and died 3 days later. He was 22 years old.
So on November 11th, while we’re standing in the auditorium listening to the Last Post, I’ll be thinking of Latham Hamlin. I’ll also be thinking of Bob, a solider from BC, and of the Chenier brothers from Quebec, and of all of those young Canadians whose families waited for a homecoming that never happened. And I’ll remember a field in France, row after row of white stones stretching out before me, the flags gently flapping in the breeze.