Today is the day. That day. THE day.
You know, the one where we all tack on a fake flower, pretend we’re recognizing something that most of us can not even remotely understand and, at best, we get wrapped up in our weatherproof parkas, pick up a nice gingerbread latte and drive our late-model SUV down to the local community center for free cookies and coffee and a 30 minute ceremony benefiting a handful of nonagenarians in dress regalia.
In lieu of that I’d like to share something.
This is Arthur Lettington:
Arthur Robert Lettington is my great-great grandfather. He was, by all accounts, an excellent bloke of English extraction. Born in Bromley, Kent, UK in 1872. He served something like 14 years in Her Majesty’s 6th Dragoon Guards (we believe) in Bengal, India. In 1902 he had left the military and married the lovely Emily Monk, with whom he fathered seven children. In 1907, with no work to be found, he left his beloved England and he moved his family to Canada, where he worked for E.D. Smith in Winona, Ontario.
In 1916, at age 45, he re-enlisted of his own accord to fight in the Great War happening half a world away. At his age, the only option open to him, despite his extensive experience and record with the Royal forces, was the Canadian Labour Corps. Undettered, Arthur left his family to fulfill his vows to Queen and Country.
On October 2, 1917, Arthur Robert Lettington (we share the same middle name) was killed, while repairing a bridge to allow supplies through, east of the Ypres canal. The repair crew was bombed heavily by German planes. He was buried the following day in Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetary – Row H, Plot 5, Grave 16
My great-grandfather and his 6 brothers and sisters grew up without a father. My great-great-grandmother lost her husband. None of them even knew what happened to him for months. Just one family of millions ravaged by that Great War. He’d been a good man, a strong man, a decent and honorable man. By the time I was born, his story and his memory was down to that one picture above, which hangs proudly in my father’s hallway. It’s an heirloom I’ll be glad, and heartbroken, to receive.
Everything else that I know about Arthur – he was 5’8″, had an “olive complexion” and dark hair. He had a tattoo that simply stated “A.L.” on his left forearm. He had green eyes like me. – came from one half-page of military records I found on the internet. That’s his legacy now.
Every family has a story like Arthur’s. YOUR family probably has a story like Arthur’s.
And there, but for the grace of God… as they say. If you don’t know the stories, if you have a hard time relating to the idea of Rememberance Day, at least keep that one thing in mind. It could still have been you. It could happen to you, or me, or your sons and daughters. Millions dead. Millions more broken and forlorn.
Here’s my traditional Rememberance Day post. Or you can get the gist below. The bottom line for all of this is to be respectful of the loss, the blood, the pain and the suffering, the terror and ultimate misery of war. Do not take this day lightly. Honor those who’ve served, and suffered, and died… and all those they left behind.
If you can’t be bothered to keep it in your mind, or in your heart, every day, or even for one measly day out of the year… Take that one minute. ONE out of half a million minutes in the year. Take that one minute and think about some poor 20 year-old kid… thousands of miles from home, scared, alone and dying in the middle of a man-made Hell on Earth. Think about that kid for one single goddamn minute. Imagine it was your kid. Imagine it was YOU. And then appreciate every little thing you have in this life, because we ALL owe it to that kid and a million more like him that did what they thought was right to keep their own families safe. They are still out there. In Afghanistan and Iraq and all over this troubled planet, our children, our brothers and sisters, even our parents are out there doing what they think is right. And they do it all for us. I think that’s worth at least one minute a year. It’s worth every minute.
I’ll leave you with what I believe is one of the most poignant records of that war, a song that never fails to rend my heart asunder: