Canada has in excess of 7,500 war memorials, only a few more than two hundred of them feature the life-sized figure of a soldier in stone or metal. Some of the best of these – by the most accomplished artist-sculptors working in Canada in the 1920s – are to be found in the Maritime Provinces: the Emanuel Hahn grieving soldier at Westville NS, Hahn’s Tommy in Greatcoat at Moncton NB, George Hill’s bold trio of Canadian infantrymen in front of the Island Legislature at Charlottetown.
I might have hoped to sell out the remaining stock of Remembered thus compelling my publisher into undertaking a second printing. Just as well that I had trimmed my ambitions to simply this: motivating attendees to pay closer attention to their monuments and raise awareness of the enduring shadows Vimy, the Somme and Passchendaele left in the region’s communities.
Selling a few books turned out to be one of the lesser rewards of the tour. A better one was to have people tell me after a talk that they would look at cenotaphs in a different way and with raised appreciation. Better still were the stories I heard about grandfathers and great-uncles who went off to war in 1915 or 1916 and never came home again, leaving a legacy of grief and regret in families that endures to the present. Or stories about those who did come home again, altered forever by what they had experienced in the battlefields of Belgium and France.
The most momentous of the six talks was the one that didn’t occur in a library at all. Pal Garth arranged to have me speak to a session of the every-Wednesday-morning Fredericton Golden Club, mostly older guys who like to get together for what Bob Nagel liked to call “good Christian fellowship” and to hear a guest speaker talk about matters likely to interest to men – there are no women in the Golden Club – above a certain age. Eighty-six attended.
Garth promised I would like the folks I met at the Golden Club. I did. Folks like Lyle, a life-long Maple Leafs fan who held no grudge when I admitted to preferring Les Canadiens. The affair opened with a rousing rendition of Oh Canada then the Master-of-Song led the boys through more song: When You’re Smiling, Molly Malone. Far as I could tell, no one held back. I certainly didn’t. We rattled the windows.
After reports from the Ways and Means, Bowling and Finance committees it was my turn. I had been warned that long-winded people get short shrift: go too long and you will get the hook. I spoke for 28 minutes. No one left. A number of the lads came up to say good things about the talk and to tell me more stories about fathers and grandfathers. I even sold books, five of them.
Writing Remembered was highly rewarding for me. Speaking about war memorials and those they are meant to remember is rewarding too. When Stephen King launches a new book I suppose he gets to entertain audiences somewhat bigger than mine at the Baddeck or Fredericton libraries. I hear the print run of Hillary Clinton’s new book What Happened is 300,000, oh, about a hundred times that of Remembered. That’s alright: I hope they have as much fun in their book tours as I’ve just had in mine.