Remembrance Day: It’s Personal

photo of WW1 soldier G L Torrens

courtesy Imperial War Museums

This is my grandfather, Lieutenant Colonel George Leslie Torrens. I never met him, though I was in my teens by the time he died. He’d left the service under a cloud during the Second World War, after diverting tightly rationed resources – army vehicles and gasoline – to a family wedding. This was so scandalous that he and my grandmother parted and he was rarely spoken of. Growing up, I was given the impression, without ever being directly lied to, that he had died long before we were born from wounds received in “The War” (though which war was conveniently unspecified.)

Nevertheless, he did serve with honour — in the war before, the war that was supposed to end all wars, WWI. In the delightfully archaic, Downton-Abbeyesque language of the day, he was “gazetted” for bravery:

Capt. (T./Lt.-Col.) George Leslie Torrens, D.S.O., Lane. Fus. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in handling his battalion with the utmost skill in the defence of the line, and also when in command of the rearguard, and being closely pressed by the enemy, in covering the withdrawal of the brigade. In subsequent actions he always had his battalion well in hand, and displayed splendid leadership and courage. (D.S.O. gazetted 3rd June, 1916:)

It awes me to think that The Great War, the war of mustard gas, grainy film footage and murderous, futile charges across no-man’s land, is a century in the past, and yet just two generations of our family away. And to realize that the random drop of an artillery shell or sweep of a machine gun could have lopped off George Leslie’s life and our entire branch of the family in an instant — as they in fact did for millions of others.

My grandfather served in the British Forces, but I am Canadian. So this Remembrance Day, I urge my fellow Canucks to remember with respect the sacrifices made by members of the Canadian Armed Forces. And not just in global wars long past. Remember also the recent conflicts, those where our soldiers have sought to restore peace and help rebuild societies less fortunate than our own. In leaving the safety of our country, they have risked their own lives and the futures of their families. My deepest gratitude to them all, past and present.

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