Every Mile is a Memory -Linda Knight Seccaspina
My Grandfather didn’t like talking about the war, or really, anything about the past. I never realized just how strong his feelings were until one evening while we were watching a documentary about the first World War— 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, or his childhood.
Despite my Grandfather’s reluctance to talk about anything, World War 1 seems to have been his peak experience. Sometimes it appeared to me that he found the rest of his life, as a successful businessman, and man of the community, anticlimactic and vaguely disappointing. Like many, he had a hard time sleeping at night as there had been years without a lot to smile about throughout his life.
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 in my Grandfather Knight’s footsteps as Grampy had returned from the trenches in France after WW1 with medals and a lifetime encyclopedia full of stories that he rarely spoke about. But, my father came back from training in Georgia sadly never to set foot on the foreign countries he so wanted to defend. He too rarely spoke about his time in military service, but I assumed he was disappointed in his achievements.
War was a serious business in the Knight family– even when we were at peace. Once in a very blue moon I was suddenly lectured 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 used a quote that the use of gas was “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.
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 the mind of a child wondered if it had led to a better tomorrow. Was there pressure on them to remain silent, or was there a drift into leaving the memories all behind for mental peace. Their self reliance and courage sometimes bent in all sorts of shape but never broke, but most times they just never talked about it
Many generations of our families endured wars, Spanish Flu, Diphtheria, Polio, droughts, depression and yet they survived it all. They made do during the bad times and suddenly they experienced changes they thought they would never see. But, I always remembered to ask about things, and sometimes I got a story to remember, and sometimes I didn’t.
This week I reminded folks to talk to your grandparents and capture the stories for generations to come. It seems a lot of us haven’t been very good at listening to the stories from the past, and in most cases they are the reason for our success. Remember some of us might walk a lot faster, but our elders most certainly know the road and the memories of living through it. There is no doubt they became stronger through their experiences. Everyone has a story to tell, whether they want to tell them or not, and all someone has to do is just ask. Legacy is not leaving something for people. It’s about leaving something in people, remember that.
In Memory of Carman Lalonde, one of the greatest story tellers of Lanark County.
On the outbreak of war in August 1914, the fortress engineers moved to their war stations in the coastal defences, the Cornwall Fortress Engineers coming under the command of South Western Coast Defences HQ at Devonport, Plymouth. Shortly afterwards, the men of the TF were invited to volunteer for Overseas Service and WO instructions were issued to form those men who had only signed up for Home Service into reserve or 2nd Line units. The titles of these 2nd Line units were the same as the original, but distinguished by a ‘2/’ prefix. They absorbed most of the recruits that flooded in, and in many cases themselves went on active service later.