This is the Menin Gate at Ypres where the names of those whose bodies were never identified at the Salient in World War 1 are recorded. In 2014, I decided to write an ongoing history of the Great War, as it affected my family. I envisaged this project lasting the entire period of the war. But by late 2015, the facts and the fate of my central characters revealed much more to me than a simple narrative based on time.
What emerged for me was the answer to two questions that have puzzled me all my life. The first was a broad question, why did the elite in Montreal lose their position in Canada? The usual narrative is that the forces of ethnicity overwhelmed them. At one level this is of course correct. But as I understood the devastation that they suffered as a group in the war, I saw a new truth. By their devotion and their unique close ties to each other, the pain of their immense loss, destroyed them. It destroyed their spirit. What was left in Montreal was a vacuum.
The second question that was answered for me was a personal one. My own immediate family has suffered greatly since the end of the war. Now I understood why my grandfather killed himself 40 years after the armistice. Now I understood why my own father killed himself. Now I understand the curse that has visited our family ever since 1918. Now I understood the wound that the war gave us as a family.
I knew by the summer of 2015, that I did not need to follow the daily life of my characters for the rest of the war. The core of their experience took place in the spring of 1915. This is when they learned that war was not exciting. This was when they learned how to endure the unendurable. This was when they learned that their only choice was to soldier on. And when I say soldier on, I don't confine myself to the men. What bursts through is the courage and endurance of the women. They are Spartan figures who hold their men to the task while themselves giving their all to the cause.
And so by making just one book about love and loss, I hope that I have created a work that can help anyone. For whose family has not suffered?
I have therefore written a book from these posts. The task took me another three years. It was not simply a stitching together of my more immediate posting but a true narrative.
Called "Noblesse Oblige" I will offer it for free on this site soon in PDF and iBooks format.
This omnibus of 56 posts takes us from the outbreak of war to the closing of the 2nd Battle of Ypres. Please see them as my working notes. My sketch pad for the book that will be available soon.