This Veteran’s Day marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, the War to End All Wars. It marks the end of a very dark time in global history and celebrates the victory of “good over evil.” As I am reflecting on this, I am reminded that my own story was shaped by this war, well before my birth. My great grandfather, whose was known for his kind and gentle nature, fought in this Great War… on the side of the Germans.
He always said he was conscripted, and his German military documents show that he was enlisted on October 18th, 1914. He served with the German Pioneer Corps, which meant that he helped to engineer the roads, bridges, and transportation of the Central Powers. His “Militarpak” lists out his activity, where he served, when, and in what capacity throughout the war. It is an incredible snapshot of his military career.
Also included in my great grandfather’s papers were a series of war photographs. Most were of the aftermath of battles and the destruction of towns. One photo was exceptionally striking to me though. It is of a damaged church with gravestones barely visible in front of it. The caption on the back reads in part: “Church where 1000 Canadian French and German soldiers buried”. I don’t know if it was a battle he saw personally, but it impacted him enough to carry that photograph for the rest of his life.
One of the stories he shared was of how he received an Iron Cross during battle for shooting down an airplane. That would be an Allied airplane, British, French, Canadian, or American. The downed pilot of that plane may have been an ancestor of someone living today, he could have been a husband, and he certainly was someone’s son. I don’t know if he lived or died, but I do know that my great grandfather’s actions that day deeply affected someone’s life.
Even though my ancestor may have played a part in history that he was not particularly proud of, it was one that shaped the man he became. It helped him leave a legacy that his descendants can be proud of. My great grandfather was a good man, but he fought for the enemy. War is not black and white, but many shades of grey, where good men fall on both sides of the line.
This morning I asked my nearly six-year-old son what it meant to be in the military. His response? “Saving the world!” So today we thank our service men and women, those active, those retired, and those who gave all. Your sacrifice has not been in vain and we remember.
|Church where 1000 Canadian French and German soldiers buried|