Globe and Mail: "It was time I discovered my own family’s war story", by Bill Sullivan

The train from Gare du Nord in Paris to Arras takes about an hour. I travel 100 years during that time. Through the window I see, but don’t really see, the French countryside, the trees, the newly ploughed and seeded fields and the farm houses. I think on how little I knew of this person, my mother’s brother, whose grave we are about to visit. I am not even sure why my wife Joanne and I are doing it, other than our son Matthew had said: “You are going to visit Grandmother’s brother’s grave, aren’t you?”

Cap badge of the 72nd Battalion (The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada)

Cap badge of the 72nd Battalion (The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada)

In 1918, my grandmother, Frances Hurley, received a notice from the Canadian Militia giving details of her son’s death in France. “Private Hurley was severely wounded by enemy machine gun fire on the 27th of September 1918, while taking part with his Battalion in Military Operations near Bourlon Village. His wounds were dressed by a Stretcher Bearer and he was carried out by German Prisoners but succumbed to his wounds the same day in No 30 Casualty Clearing Station.”

The start of that awful day was described in a 1920 book about the history of his battalion, the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada: "The staccato rattle of machine gun fire broke out as the swinging line of kilts swept up the rise. Under that pitiless long-range fire there was nothing to do but advance."

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W Michael Patience