Sunday, June 29, 2014

World War One Centenary

 I have been hearing about the WW1 centenary on the radio. 1914-2014.  It was a long time ago. I am a bit of a war buff in that I like war movies and books about war. Although I am not an advocate for war. My interest in the topic comes mostly from fiction and old John Wayne movies where the hero always wins. My brother has been researching more about our father and his father's war experiences as we tend to do when we get older.  He sent me some information that he discovered about my grandfather on my father's side that we aren't sure my father knew about.  We had never heard about any of this. So as I was listening to the radio I began to think more about the war my grandfather fought in and went and read through the notes.

As I was reading through the material it struck me how young he was when he went overseas. He was nineteen years old. I knew him as a gruff man, a Deacon in the Baptist church and a difficult man to know or to get close to. My father turned Catholic when he married my mother so there was always a distance between them.

This was taken after he returned to civilian life. His eyes appear haunted to me now.

This letter sent to his father by Corporal Bull refers to my grandfather as having said  "Oh well the Lord is good" when he was wounded. He was a stretcher bearer in No Man's Land and that must have been terrifying to him. I wonder if including this in the letter to his father was to appease his dad? Or was it his way of coping with what he saw.

Mr. Geo. Sawyer:
Dear Sir -
 No doubt by the time you receive this letter you will have heard of your son, Harold. But still it was his wish while getting his wounds dressed that I should write to you and explain.  I am certainly pleased to hear that he is not seriously wounded. It was on the evening of the 19th of June about 8 p.m. when your son Cpl. H. L. Sawyer was walking down the trench, a shell burst in rear and to the left of him, and two fragment hit him. One piece in the right leg a few inches below the knee in rear, and the other piece struck him in the left hip. I might say your boy is well thought of in this battalion and he has a splendid record, and many friends. His words when he got hit were, “Oh, well, the Lord is good”.  His many friends join me in wishing him a speedy recovery, and when he gets better let’s hope the war shall be at an end so that he will not have to come back here again.
 Yours sincerely, Corporal W. T. Bull

 Lyons Soldier, Who Went Overseas With 91st, Wins Honors

Aylmer, June 15 - Harold Sawyer, of Lyons, has been made a corporal and recommended for a distinguished conduct medal for his bravery when acting as a stretcher-bearer at Vimy Ridge. He went over with the 91st as corporal, but discarded his stripes that he might sooner get to the firing line.

The following citation for his receiving the Military Medal, dated July 9, 1917, reads as follows:

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during the operations on Vimy Ridge from 9th to 13th April 1917. This man was a stretcher bearer and showed exceptional bravery in attending to the wounded under heavy fire during the attack on 9th April. He attended to the wounded in No Man’s Land from the commencement of the assault with entire disregard of his own safety repeatedly passing through the enemy’s Counter artillery barrage. On several occasions too, he went out in full view of the enemy and in spite of machine gun fire directed at him, continued his duties. He showed a splendid spirit and is thoroughly deserving of an immediate reward. He was previously recommended for excellent work rescuing some men who were gassed in a dug-out blown in by the explosion by the enemy of a camouflet, but received no award.”

This is the letter he wrote to his father before he was wounded and before he received the medal for bravery.

 Pte. Harold Sawyer of 91st Batt., Writes His Father, Geo. Sawyer, Lyons,
 About Big Fight on Nov. 18

 Somewhere in France, Nov. 21

Dear Father -
 I have not had time till now to write to you.  I sent a field card to you yesterday, maybe you will get it the same time you get this.  Well, Dad, I have had a great experience that I will never forget.  There were men dropping down all around me, wounded and killed and I came through without a scratch.  I thank God for that, as only He could bring me out of it. At the starting of it, it was the happiest moment of my life, and a more glorious sight could never be seen. You could not hear your chum three feet away speaking to you.  My mate that I was working with was killed right next to me, and I tell you we certainly had a time.
 We certainly had our hands full bandaging up the wounded. You know that fellow that owns that watch I sent home. I dare not mention names. He was wounded and his brother killed.  I tell you, Dad, I do feel sorry about these boys.  There are a lot of the 91st lads that will never return.  It seems awful today to hear the mail called out, as some of those that had mail, were left on no man’s land never to return. After it was all over, I cried about it. You can call me what you like.  I was not a bit frightened when the advance was on, I did not have time to think about it.

 Now, Dad, do not worry about me as I am safe and sound. God is looking after me, and if I am to come back He will bring me back.  This pencil that I am writing with was taken out of a German dugout on the morning of the 18th of November and is a pretty good one. I found some pictures on “no man’s land”. I suppose they belong to some poor fellows, so I am going to send them to you, and if you can find anyone that will claim them, give them to them, but if not, keep them. Remember me to mother and Jack.  I remain, as ever, your loving son, Harold.

 He writes about the "great experience" and how at the start "it was the happiest moment of my life". He then goes on to write that his "mate" was killed standing right next to him. I think this was his way of  keeping his parents from worrying about him. And maybe to stop himself from thinking about how awful it was. Almost as if it wasn't real.  Later he tells his father that "he cried about it" and then goes on to say "you can call me what you like". We have no knowledge of his father and their relationship so he may have been trying to let his father know that he could be called a coward or a sissy for crying. He doesn't want his father to worry about him. 

We don't know if he suffered from PTSD after returning although we do know he had a few dark months when he came home but he returned to his faith and stayed grounded in it for the rest of his life.  We never saw any emotion from him surrounding his war experiences but when I see veterans from WW2 speaking about their experiences now and breaking down I have a strong feeling that my grandfather would do the same if he were here to be asked.

We owe all of these ancestors a debt of gratitude.Gregg Braden believes we have seen the last of global wars and I hope he is right. We need to work to prevent all wars. 


  1. Do you have any desire to visit Vimy Ridge or other sites related to the World Wars? PTSD--wouldn't it be inevitable for anyone in any war? But interesting how many soldiers from WW1 and 11 did not want to talk about their experiences.

    1. I think their silence did a lot of damage to families but they had no alternatives. Reminds me of the book Between Two Oceans.

  2. I have not visited Vimy - yet - but found visiting Juno Beach very moving, as well as seeing where Barry's great uncle was killed and buried in the Netherlands. The care which the Dutch and the French care for those graves is awe-inspiring. And I remember reading the stone carvers and feeling a deep pull to see Vimy.

    They were a different generation and you should be so proud!

    1. I am proud although also a little sad the family did not recognize what he had done while he was alive.