There is only one Canadian soldier from World War I to whom my family has a personal connection -- Charles Walker, who was mortally wounded at the battle of Vimy Ridge and died a month later on May 8, 1917, a hundred years ago today.
Charlie Walker was born in Scotland in 1891 and emigrated to Canada as a child. He came to our country as a "Barnardo Boy" -- one of a vast legion of destitute, orphaned and/or abandoned Victorian-era British children who were shipped to the colonies by a British charity called Dr. Barnardo's Homes. Designed to serve as an abundant pool of cheap labour, the boys were trained to be farm workers and the girls to be domestic help. These unfortunate "home children" (as they were also called) were often overworked, underpaid and maltreated in their new lives.
Charlie Walker spent his teenage years working as a farm labourer in southwestern Manitoba. Apparently he was not treated well by his various employers until he started working for my grandfather. He became very close with my grandparents and worked for them for several years until World War I broke out.
In the winter of 1916 when he was 25, Charlie Walker volunteered for the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force. He was sent to France with the 44th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry (Manitoba Regiment).
My grandparents sent him off to war with the gift of a pinky ring to remind him of home and those who loved him.
Before he died of his wounds received at Vimy Ridge, Charlie Walker arranged for the ring to be returned to my grandparents as a keepsake. He died unmarried, with no children. The ring has come down through my family and is today in my care, along with his enlistment and military unit photos.
As with all families whose loved ones were killed in the war, my grandparents were devastated by the news of his death. When their only son (my father) was born in 1924, they named him Charles Walker in tribute to their lost young man. My father also did his best during his life to keep Charlie Walker's memory alive. And now that responsibility is mine.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
--From "For the Fallen" by Laurence Binyon