Isabel Fox sent me the clipping above of her father Norman Melville Guthrie and said:
“Found this clipping among family memorabilia. My Dad did not talk about the war, at least not to his daughters”.
My Grandfather did not like talking about the war. I never realized just how strong his feelings were until one evening when we were watching a documentary about the first World War and I turned to ask him something I saw tears in his eyes. Grampy Knight had never been one to show his emotions easily. He must have seen horrible things in the war, but he rarely spoke about it.
Despite my Grandfather’s reluctance to talk about the war, it seems to have been his peak experience; and sometimes it appeared to me that he found the rest of his life, as a successful business man, and man of the community anti-climactic and vaguely disappointing. Like many he had a hard time sleeping at night.
Grampy Knight had fought with the British Army in WWI in France and had been one of the first soldiers to be poisoned with mustard gas in the trenches. My father had participated in WWII with the Canadian Army, and his greatest disappointment was that I never followed suit.
I often wondered why my father wanted to follow my Grandfather Fred Knight’s footsteps as he returned from the trenches in France after WW1 with medals and and a lifetime encyclopedia full of stories that he rarely spoke about. But he returned from training in Georgia sadly never to set foot on foreign countries he so wanted to defend.
War was a serious business in the Knight family– even when we were at peace. From a young age I was lectured from time to time on the devastation of war. My Grandfather had lived in the muddy trenches of France for long periods of time and then spent the rest of his living years dealing with the repercussions of being gassed. He called the use of gas “a cynical and barbarous disregard of the well-known usages of civilized war”— even though they had no idea what had happened to them at the time.
To Frederick J. Knight of Cowansville, Quebec who had valiantly fought in the British army there was something more soldierly about using a sword or a gun. Gas had a profound psychological impact on soldiers – it terrified and killed many of them. Watching him hold his temples in pain from migraines every few days upset me and constantly made me question if war had been worth it. The mind of a child wondered if it had led to a better tomorrow, or had it just been a terrible waste of life to those who had lost family. Was the silence engendered by the soldiers themselves, was there pressure on them to remain silent, or was there a drift into leaving it all behind?
In reality what did the families who were not there actually want to hear? While relatives needed details of time and place in order to make meaning out of their loss, did they really want to know of the conditions and final moments of those who were lost?
My Grandfather finally admitted to me one day that he did try to save his friend Bernie who was hit by the German shelling in the trenches. In tears he told me what his dying friend’s last words were:
“Don’t touch me. Leave me. I’ve had enough. Just leave me’,” he said.
Maybe they never talked about the war because they just could not explain how they felt anymore. All this horror, sadness and fear was so mixed up in their heads that they didn’t even understand their memories anymore. So how could they explain them to anyone else? Every person has a breaking point and I think all of them reached theirs.
Isabel I found this and maybe you did not have it in your files. Your Dad is mentioned.
February 23, 2002
The Citizen, Ottawa, ON
Norman Melville Guthrie-Born on Friday, August 29, 1913 in Lanark, Ontario
Former member of the Royal Canadian Electrical Mechanical Engineers who served his country with distinction for the duration of W.W. II. including many years on the front lines of Europe. Peacefully in hospital, Almonte, Ontario on Saturday, February 23, 2002 in his 89th year. Norman Melville Guthrie, beloved husband of the late Iris Maud Cropley. Loving father of Isabel (the late Donald Fox); Madeline (Dr. Kingsley Mahon); Iris (Dr. William Weiss); Gary (Georgina) Guthrie; Grace (Col. Kenneth Ross Betts); William Charles (Guylaine) Guthrie. Predeceased by a son Robert (Mrs. Colleen Guthrie). Dear grandfather of Bruce Guthrie, Naydene Gardiner, Roderick, Sandra and Douglas Fox, Alison Mahon, Kingsley Mahon, Polly Ann Couture, Josephine Mahon-Hodgins, James and Patrick Mahon, Courtney and William Weiss, Jeffrey, Gina and Jason Guthrie, Dr. Bradley, Craig and Andrew Betts, Lucie, Catherine and Charles Guthrie. Great-grandfather of Brooke, Noel and Shea Guthrie, Jaclyn and Johanna Gardiner, Natalie and Elizabeth Fox, Kingsley and Madeline Mahon, Lauren Mahon-Hodgins, Jamie and Joel Mahon. Brother of James Jr. and Murray Guthrie. Favourably remembered by Nicholas Tunnacliffe. Friends may call at the Kerry Funeral Home, 154 Elgin Street, Almonte for visiting on Monday evening from 7 to 9 p.m. and Tuesday from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. Funeral Wednesday in St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Almonte at 2 p.m. with the Ven. Robert Davis officiating. Interment St. Paul’s Anglican Cemetery, Almonte. In memory of Norman, memorial donations to the Almonte General Hospital or the Heart & Stroke Foundation would be appreciated. A very special thank you to Dr. King, Dr. Murphy and all the caring staff at Almonte General Hospital. The Ottawa Citizen, 25-02-2002
My first office sign was painted by Mr. Norman Guthrie. It was traditional gold lettering on a glossy black background. I hung the sign outside my office. One Hallowe’en the sign disappeared. Weeks later a young gentleman named Mr. Kevin Finner (who then worked in the engineering department of the Almonte General Hospital) arrived at my office with my sign. When I asked him where he found it, he said in the back seat of his car. When I asked him how it got there, he said through the back window of his car. Kevin and I naturally became fast friends! From 40 years later The Millstone- Click here