Angus Martin, killed in Belgium, July 9, 1916
By Glenna Burns
It's been over 100 years since the horror of World War One shattered the hopes and dreams of millions of people.
It's been 100 years since 35-year-old Angus Livingstone Martin perished from a trench mortar at Sanctuary Wood on the Ypres Salient of Flanders in Belgium.
On Nov. 11 we strive to remember the tremendous costs that war wages on life, and we pray that our children never have to know the horror. We gather at cenotaphs and in schools and nursing homes, wearing our poppies and laying wreaths.
Many family stories from the past are gone. But Angus’ tale of joy and loss was captured in his many letters and poems, which have since been preserved for generations by his granddaughter, Jean Pollock in a book, Letters from Angus (Trafford Publishing, Victoria, BC, 2005).
Angus was a pacifist who hated killing. Angus was a poet with the heart of a lion. He was an Ontario Champion wrestler, and a sculler on one of famed Ned Hanlon’s rowing teams.
Angus was a mature man of 34 when he felt compelled, after the death in France in 1915 of his best friend, to leave his wife Cora and three children for The Front.
Angus “followed the drum,” joining the Canadian Expeditionary Forces, 74 Battalion in 1915. He trained at Camp Niagara, marched to Toronto from Hamilton and finally disembarked from Halifax to Britain in the spring of 1916.
All along the way, Angus wrote letters, cards and poems to his family. He collected small mementos from nature like rocks, feathers and flowers.
Whenever I'm out for an evening stroll,
As I pass through Haselmere
And see the children playing,
Then I think of you my Dear.
And wonder if you and ‘Casey’
And that old Fergums scout
Are playing around on old Kew Beach
Romping and tumbling about.
As you did in the days when I was there
And often a picture dear
Of my babes and only Cora girl
Comes back to my memory clear.
On July 9, 1916, only a few months after arriving at The Front, Angus died from the repercussion of a Trench Mortar. He survived a brief 20 minutes after the shock. There was not a mark on his body. He never fired a shot in the war.
“If anyone survives, we’ll be a nation of cripples if it ever ends,” he wrote in a letter.
How prophetic Angus’ words are still today.
World War One was not “the war to end all wars,” but the beginning of something horrific. We now know the legacies of war linger for many generations and impact the children and grandchildren and great grandchildren of veterans.
That war set into motion major revolutions, the rise of the fascist dictators and another world war, ongoing conflict in Middle East, income tax and a rash of other issues.
By remembering Angus and the millions of others like him we honour them, not war.
Wear a poppy and remember.