Monday, 10 November 2014

Remembrance Day 2014

As this year's Remembrance Day ceremonies will mark the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, I'd like to dedicate this post to the memory of my grandfather, Harry Brook.

Born in Acton, west London, England in 1888, Harry was already a twelve-year veteran in the Middlesex Regiment of the British Army when he shipped out with the rest of the 4th Battalion as part of the British Expeditionary Force dispatched to France in 1914. Landing at Boulogne on August 14th, Harry and his comrades saw action at Mons and Le Cateau, and were dubbed by Kaiser Wilhelm as "General French's contemptible little army." Proud to be known thereafter as one of The Old Contemptibles, Harry fought at the Battle of the Marne, the Battle of the Aisne, and the First Battle of Ypres. The worst was yet to come, though -- the Battle of the Somme in 1916, one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history, in which more than a million soldiers were wounded or killed.

Harry suffered a severe burn on his leg from mustard gas, a wound that never adequately healed for the rest of his life. My mother remembered him chasing her out of the kitchen when she was a little girl as he struggled to change the dressings on the wound, gritting his teeth at the pain that never went away. For his service in the Great War, he was awarded the Mons Star (with bar), the British War Medal, and the Victory Medal, which he wore proudly every Armistice Day until his passing in 1960. It was our understanding that he was last surviving member of The Old Contemptibles in Canada at the time of his death.

This week, as we remember the service of everyone who placed themselves in harm's way to defend their country and our way of life, I'm proud to salute the memory of my grandfather, Harry Brook.

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