Not So Far Away

Today I accompany Lydia and other friends to the city of Ypres in western Belgium, near the North Sea.  Tonight we will stand and hear a trumpeter play “The Last Post” in honour of all who died there in World War I.

In 1917, after three months of fighting, the Allied forces captured a ridge east of Ypres in the Battle of Passchendaele.  Nearly 500,000 young men – German, Belgian, French, British, Australian, New Zealander and Canadian – died.

As a teenager in Eastern Canada, all I really knew was Toronto.  The glorious Rocky Mountains to the west were merely shiny photos.  And Europe?  It was across the ocean somewhere.

***

In high school, a little old lady was our librarian.  Sometimes in class an air raid siren would go off (practicing for Armageddon).

Suddenly the librarian would throw herself out of her chair and dive under her desk.  We laughed.  And so the legend of “Mad Mary” was born.  It was so convenient for us of low self-esteem to have a new target.

Years later I learned that Mary was a survivor of the Blitz, the Nazi bombing of London.  I lowered my head and apologized.  And I’m still sorry I hurt you, Mary.

***

In 2018 I took the train east from Toronto to see more of my country.  I was heading to our most easterly province.  I stayed overnight in Sydney, Nova Scotia.  My eyes were wide in bed as I imagined tomorrow’s six-hour ferry ride on the Atlantic Ocean to Port-aux-Basques, Newfoundland.

On landing, I was enthralled with the view.  Voilà:

The peace of God streaming from the sky, glowing the horizon.

I noticed a small sign near the ferry dock.  Surely it was worth a glance or two.  It said approximately this:

In World War II, a ferry that preceded the one you just took from Sydney was sunk by a German submarine, with a great loss of life

In Canada …

***

Before Belgium became my home, it was a place for me to visit my friends Lydia, Jo, Lore and Baziel.  Right now I’m on the same journey, riding the train from Ghent to Ronse.  Just before Ronse, the train will enter a tunnel.  While walking on the country roads, I’ve paused near the entrance to that tunnel … and pondered.

You see, one of my dear friends told me that Hitler and his train hid from the Allied forces there.

***

Now it’s all very close to Bruce

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