Monday, November 9, 2015

The Man Who Enjoyed Vimy Ridge

As far as I know, we only have one war hero in the family - my great great uncle Harry Ellwood George. He was my paternal grandmother's uncle. His family were the Georges, who came to Canada in the 1840s from Hessen, Germany. By 1914 they were Canadian enough for Harry to volunteer in Saskatoon for active service to fight against his parents' homeland (having changed their name from "Georg" to the more British-sounding "George").

And serve he did - Hill 60, the Somme, Paschendaele and Vimy, and a lot of places in between. He was wounded, declared dead for a week and rose from private to the rank of Lieutenant before retiring a Captain and dying in the 1950s as a reservist Colonel. He constantly survived the middle of the various meat grinders of The Great War while others weren't so lucky, and as the most senior man left standing he rose through the ranks. No shirker, he picked up a bullet and a piece of shrapnel that left one arm almost useless at war's end. And he was "mentioned in dispatches" for something gallant, although we don't know what.

One quote from his letter home after being in the thick of the fighting at Vimy Ridge gives you a sense of the man:

"Vimy Ridge was the best fight I have been in. Our casualties were light and I really did enjoy it. We made three attacks in the week. It was great to go over the top at them, and there seems to be no thought of danger.”

So there you have it - a relative of mine actually enjoyed the battle of Vimy Ridge.

Through it all he didn't have any animosity towards the Germans. They were just doing their duty trying to kill him as he was trying to kill them. They cheerfully waved at each other over the parapets when a shot went wide to let the enemy know they had missed. He was full of less love for the French villagers, who he saw as sullen, unhelpful and willing to jack up the price of an egg when the buyer was in uniform.

I never knew him, but he came home and readapted quickly to civilian life. Was he tormented by the war that took most of the friends he had signed up with? Who knows? It was before my time, but people who knew him said he remained kind and funny until a heart attack spectacularly took him away while driving, and he and his car went over the side of a bridge.

Here's to you Harry.