Neighbourhood of Sacrifice
A few years ago the Glebe Report published my map of the Glebe’s fallen soldiers, airmen and sailors of the Second World War. The map gave us a revealing and very personal insight into the true trauma our beloved neighbourhood endured in those five years of cataclysm. However, I always felt it did not tell the full story because the men and women of our community who died in the First World War were not included. When the Second World War started in 1939, many Glebe families were still recovering from “the war to end all wars” — parents still shattered by the loss of their children, veterans coping with the effects of wounds, gas poisoning or “shell shock” or as we now call it, PTSD. The marks of that trauma were everywhere in the Glebe in 1939 when the worry and pain of a new paroxysm of violence shook it once again.
While the men and one woman who are located on this map all died in the service of Canada during those terrible wars, it is actually their mothers, fathers and lovers who would be conscripted to carry the burden of that sacrifice until the end of their days. This map is not about the dead per se. It is a map of the addresses of the next-of-kin of those who died. It is a map of sorrow, a geographic depiction of the carnage on the home front and a way to change the abstraction of remembrance into a visceral understanding of the emotional damage done to the Glebe over that 30-year period.
I have made no judgment on the manner of death. If they were on a casualty list or in the Canadian Virtual War Memorial, they were included. Some died of diseases, automobile and train accidents and even murder. The vast majority, however, can be said to have died in action or on military service. In the last two years of the First World War, I discovered more deaths from disease — influenza and pneumonia were sweeping the trenches and accomplishing what artillery and mustard gas had not yet done. In the Second World War, there were fewer deaths by disease, but far more deaths caused by aerial combat.
It puts things into perspective when we reflect on the challenges we face today — homelessness, employment, housing, healthcare, child care or work-life balance. Our stresses are real, but we don’t live in fear that our sons and daughters will be killed in a war. We live in a self-centric and entitled world, and it’s important to know that other families have survived far worse pressures and tragedies; that others postponed their happiness or even forfeited it for a collective cause. In the First World War it was for “King and Empire” (as misguided as that was) and in the Second to fight absolute tyranny, cruelty and oppression.
Time, as it always does, heals all. It has put temporal distance between these events and our own lives. New families have replaced these families in the Glebe’s houses, and in turn they have been replaced. Though these men and one woman are now long dead, our neighbourhood is still home to their ghosts and we should acknowledge their presence, should remember them in the name of their families. It’s our duty to know what happened here.