100 Years Ago Some of the Young Thought World War Was Fun (An excerpt from A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void by Margaret Kell Virany, based on the diaries of her father, an Ontario farmer’s son)

JAC Kell in WWI cadet uniform

JAC Kell in WWI cadet uniform

Students debated whether the liquor trade was worse than war The First World War broke out in 1914 when JAC was in his last year at Barrie Collegiate. He was boarding with the family of his friend, Ezra Parkhouse, and busy with math, history, sciences, English, Latin, literary society, school newspaper and debates. (One topic was “Resolved that the liquor trade is worse than war.”)

The cadets marched to the railway station to see their teacher off Social life revolved around the church, picnics and skating. All male students were issued the khaki uniforms of the Cadet Corps and drilled regularly. Then came the day when they marched to the railway station to see “the boys” off, including their favorite teacher.  

JAC  signed up but his father said “No” JAC and his older brother, Clifton, signed up at a patriotic meeting but John said “No” to JAC; he had to stay on the farm. For nineteen months, while the Parliament Building in Ottawa burned and Clifton fought overseas in the trenches, JAC hayed, hoed, hauled, chopped trees, sawed wood, shoveled manure, repaired fences, dug up potatoes, took cattle and pigs to market, picked beans and plowed with four horses at a time.

Trying to stomach being humble and getting no glory He told himself that a man in the most humble place could be a credit to the worth and dignity of the human race. A work horse got no glory but was just as valuable as a race horse who made the headlines at Fort Erie. ‘The Runt’ grew into a strong, 163-lb, five foot ten inch man.

Finally free and off with his buddies  JAC and his pals, Bill Orchard and Ezra Parkhouse, saw a poster-sailor looking them in the eye, pointing and saying “Help Britannia Rule the Waves.” They took a train to Toronto to enlist in the Royal Navy Canadian Volunteer Reserve (RNCVR.) Never mind that news of fatalities was pouring in, their teacher had been killed or that farmers were exempt.

It was the sporting thing to do and a real deal It was the sporting thing to do and quite a deal. No experience was necessary. You just needed to be the son of a natural-born British subject and between the ages of eighteen and thirty-eight. You got a free kit, free uniform, free trip abroad, sweethearts kissing you good-bye, military bands playing and $1.10 a week in pay.

The Kaiser was barring the seas and cutting England off  The brutal truth behind the posters was that German submarines had sunk one-hundred and sixty-nine British ships, including merchant and combat ships, in one month. The Kaiser was barring the seas and cutting England off from the rest of the world and all her allies.

Eager to go to the aid of a motherland in distress The British responded by building forty-eight trawlers and one hundred drifters for anti-submarine work and put out a call for volunteers. Seventeen hundred Canadians came to the aid of a motherland in distress.

Sad, enigmatic send-off When they parted, John told his son he would never see him again. “Oh, I’ll be all right,” JAC replied.

Thank you for dropping by. This blog for all lovers of life and language aims to be useful and entertain. Topics vary from how to build a canoe to how my mom moved from “prince to preacher and fog to bog” as a war bride after world war one. Writing advice is squeezed in between. Find out more about A Book of Kells: Growing Up in an Ego Void,  Kathleen’s Cariole Ride and Eating at Church on Amazon,  Goodreads or my website.

Happy Reading from Cozy Book Basics!

I’ll be at Britton’s Glebe, 846 Bank St., Ottawa on Sat., Aug. 9, 2014, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to honor the WWI 100th anniversary. Please drop in if you would like to chat and pick up a signed copy of my book.

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