Last night, my friend Kathy – the gifted musician who played at my book launch in March – invited me to hear her play in an orchestral concert downtown. The evening was a double treat, as the concert took place in one of Halifax’s beautiful historic churches, Fort Massey United, where I’d never been before.
History geek that I am, whenever I attend an event in an old church, I make a point of arriving early to explore the building and read the memorial plaques on the walls. In particular, since I began Shattered I’ve been seeking out the plaques in memory of soldiers who fell in the Great War.
Every old church in the country has these memorials. Out of a total population of eight million, Canada sent over six hundred thousand young men and women to the Great War and more than one in ten didn’t return, so that’s not surprising, but I got a surprise at Fort Massey. It has three plaques in memory of five brothers who died overseas between 1914 and 1918. Four of the Stairs boys were killed in action over the course of the war, and the fifth, who had earned a Distinguished Service Order, died of influenza less than two weeks after the Armistice was signed. I stood there looking at the names on the tarnished brass and wondered how their parents were able to go on living.
Then I settled into my seat for the concert. As the orchestra sent Mozart’s ‘Magic Flute’ ringing into the rafters, I counted my blessings. I suppose part of the poignancy of old tragedies is that there’s nothing we can do about them but imagine.
Lest we forget.