Brotherly Love in First World War

Brotherly Love in First World War

Posted on November 5 by Elinor Florence in Non-fiction
Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on Pinterest

 

November 11, 2018 is the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day, marking the end of the First World War. It was also one hundred years ago that my grandfather’s life was saved on the battlefields of France by his younger brother, Jack.

 

It seems like ancient history now – but I knew my beloved grandfather Charles Light very well, since he lived into my adulthood.

 

Born on July 20, 1894, Charlie was the eldest son of three boys and six girls. After finishing high school he worked for his father, who was the postmaster in Battleford, Saskatchewan, in a brand new red brick building that still serves as the post office today.

(This post office appeared in my novel Bird’s Eye View, since one of my characters was the postmaster’s daughter in a small Saskatchewan town).

 

1. Battleford Post Office.

1. Battleford Post Office.

 

Sorting mail was a dull occupation for a young man. Just days after war was declared in August 1914, my twenty-year-old grandfather left for France, expecting to make short work of the enemy. “I’ll be home for Christmas!” he cheerfully told his anxious mother.

 

2. Charlie Light in uniform.

2. Charlie Light in uniform.

 

Charlie was soon joined by his brother, Jack, who lied about his age and enlisted when he turned seventeen. (Apparently this was not uncommon – if you looked full-grown, the army didn’t ask too many questions.)

 

When Charlie learned to his dismay that his younger brother had joined up, he “claimed” him – that is, he made a request to the authorities that Jack join his unit as a family member. This was allowed in the first war, in the belief that it improved morale. But since several family members were often wiped out in a single battle, this practice was stopped in the Second World War.

 

3. Jack Light in uniform.

3. Jack Light in uniform.

 

The two boys served together in a famous Canadian cavalry unit, Lord Strathcona’s Horse. In 1916 Charlie was shot in the leg, recovered and returned to the front.

The second, more serious wound almost cost him his life on April 1, 1918. In what was the last great cavalry charge of the First World War, Lord Strathcona’s Horse led by Lieutenant Flowerdew (who was killed and received the Victoria Cross posthumously in honour of his actions that day) recaptured a section called Moreuil Wood and the smaller area called Rifle Wood to the north. This is an oil painting of the battle, titled “Charge of Flowerdew’s Squadron,” by Alfred Munnings.

 

4. Charge of Flowerdew’s Squadron, painting.

4. Charge of Flowerdew’s Squadron, painting.

 

In the heavily-forested Rifle Wood, the cavalry dismounted and engaged in fierce hand-to-hand combat with fixed bayonets. A shell exploded behind Charlie and fragments of shrapnel pierced his lower back.

 

Jack lost sight of his brother in the battle and found him unconscious, lying facedown in a pool of blood. Frantically, he ran through the gunsmoke and exploding shells in search of the medics. When he saw them lifting another wounded soldier onto a stretcher, he screamed: “Come and take my brother! He’s dying!” The medics refused. They told him that they were only allowed to take men who were still conscious.

 

At this point, Jack drew his service revolver from his holster. Training it on the two medics, he screamed: “You come and take my brother now, or by God I’ll blow your heads off!”

 

At gunpoint, the terrified medics found my grandfather and bore him away. He was treated at a field hospital and then shipped to a hospital in England where he spent several months.

 

Miraculously, both brothers survived the war. Jack escaped unscathed, and Charlie recovered from his terrible wounds and returned to the front for the second time, where the two young men fought together until the war ended in November 1918. This photo was taken in Belgium, one hundred years ago.

 

5. Jack and Charlie on horseback.

5. Jack and Charlie on horseback.

 

Charlie came home to work in the post office (an occupation that now didn’t seem quite so boring), and eventually became the postmaster himself, while Jack pursued a successful career with the Alberta Provincial Police. My grandfather married Vera Scott and had five children, one of whom is my mother June Light.

 

Many of the Light family’s wartime souvenirs, including Charlie’s uniform, can be seen in the history museum created by Frederick Light, the youngest of the three brothers. The Fred Light Museum now belongs to the Town of Battleford.

 

6. Fred Light Museum, Battleford.

6. Fred Light Museum, Battleford.

 

I own three precious mementoes from Charlie’s war years.

 

First, his shaving mirror. This is a tarnished piece of stainless steel in a leather case that could hang on a tree branch and reflect my grandfather’s handsome face. It had another purpose as well. Kept in the left breast pocket, it protected his vulnerable young heart from a bullet.

 

7. Shaving mirror.

7. Shaving mirror.

 

Second, his brass field glasses. The magnification isn’t very good. I’ve tried looking through them, and wonder how anybody ever saw anything, let alone a German soldier in a trench.

 

8. Field glasses.

8. Field glasses.

 

Third, a piece of embroidery. While spending the long and weary weeks recovering in an English hospital, Charlie took up needlework. The soothing repetition helped stitch together his mind as well as his body. He chose a subject dear to his heart: the Lord Strathcona’s Horse regimental crest.

 

The crest is crammed with images. It bears the motto “Perseverance,” along with a beaver chewing a tree, the British lion, a hammer and nail, and four men in a canoe, all surrounded by a wreath of English roses, Scottish thistles and Irish shamrocks.

 

9. Embroidery.

9. Embroidery.

 

One hundred years after that terrible war ended, Charlie’s wartime souvenir hangs on my wall, a permanent reminder of a badly-wounded young man who found solace in his squadron’s motto: “Perseverance.”

 

* * * * *

 

Elinor Florence tells true stories of Canadians at war on her Wartime Wednesdays blog here: www.elinorflorence.com/blog. Dundurn Press has published both of Elinor’s popular novels. Bird’s Eye View, published in 2014, tells the story of a young woman from Saskatchewan who joins the air force and becomes an aerial photo interpreter. In Wildwood, published in 2018, a single mother from the big city inherits an abandoned farm in northern Alberta, on condition that she lives there for one year, off the grid. Both novels are Dundurn bestsellers.

Elinor Florence

Posted by KathrynB on December 6, 2014
Elinor Florence photo

Elinor Florence

Elinor Florence is an author and journalist. Before publishing her bestselling novel, Bird’s Eye View, she edited several daily newspapers and wrote for many publications, including Reader’s Digest Canada. Elinor lives in Invermere, British Columbia.