|CWGC Cemetery in Etaples, France - Photo copyright Melanie Wills
Wandering through this Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) cemetery at Etaples on the north coast of France, I felt a visceral connection to “The Great War”, now ended 100 years ago.
This photo can’t even begin to convey the enormity of the site or the profound sadness that you feel among the nearly 11,000 WW1 graves. Seeing the ages on the tombstones is heartbreaking. They are mostly young men and a few women - a Canadian nurse lies on the front right - who never had much of a chance at life.
|Dud Corner CWGC Cemetery, France - Photo copyright Melanie Wills
There are endless pockets of small cemeteries, especially near the battlefields. Neatly walled, lovingly maintained, they appear like a bizarre crop amid farmers’ fields. The CWGC website allows you to do a search on fallen Commonwealth soldiers, and pinpoint the exact location of a grave. Armed with that info, my family visited my husband’s great-uncle’s grave at Dud Corner cemetery in 2008. He died at the age of 21 in the Battle of Loos in 1915.
But we also mustn’t forget those who survived, and had to rebuild lives shattered in trenches or aerial warfare. Veterans were haunted, but reluctant to talk about their horrific experiences. They often felt guilty that they didn’t lie alongside their comrades.
Families had to carry on without husbands, fathers, brothers, sweethearts, and friends. With about 60,000 Canadian men killed, there was a generation of “superfluous” women who would never marry and so, had to make careers for themselves. For some, the war was never truly over.
My “Muskoka Novels” pay homage to this generation tested by extraordinary times. They’re not war stories, per se, but are about people caught up in the cataclysm - young men who become aviators, soldiers, front-line medics, and their wives, sweethearts, sisters who endure their own hardships as ambulance drivers and nurses, as well as those anxiously waiting on the home front, who also made enormous contributions. It is by seeing the war through the eyes of individuals that we can truly understand the life-altering consequences of that tumultuous time.
|The author paying homage at Canada'a Vimy Memorial - Photo copyright Melanie Wills