World War I has become the forgotten war. Its memories have faded or are overshadowed by World War II. On November 11th, 1982, Vincent Goodwin still remembered. The semi-retired New Brunswick businessman recalled its horrors, excitement and the price so many paid. He looked back upon that frosty, grey November 11th, 1918, morning when he was in Valenciennes, France--the morning the guns fell silent on the Western Front.|
Vincent Goodwin observed the Armistice on November 11th, 1982, in circumstances different than at Valenciennes. He sat encircled by Canadian History students at Mount Allison University."They appeared so young," he commented later, "and curiously inquisitive" about this bygone war. "It seemed," he mused, "like only yesterday" that he had been their age. By then, though, he "had already crouched for weeks in trenches on the Western Front, or fought from shell hole to shell hole with Fritz shelling point-blank."
Arrayed in front of Mr. Goodwin lay an assortment of grim,wartime mementos: a captured enemy gun belt and holster with tarnished brass buckle inscribed "Gott mit uns" (God with us), a German Iron Cross, and razor sharp bayonet encased in its scabbard. Beside them lay a shiny, steel matchbox embossed with a Vickers machine gun, his ribbons and service medals, a photo album graphically detailing the torturous course over which his oufit, the 2nd Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade, had fought, and most intriguingly--field maps and tiny pocket diary carried by him in combat. For a solemn hour he reminisced, sharing his thoughts on the Great War, and painfully reliving some unforgettably hideous moments still indelibly etched in memory.
Vincent Goodwin described to the class how he as a youth had been caught up in the war's ghastly reality. Although years separated them in age, the students and he found much in common. They sought peace, but only one of them had, as yet, been called upon to fight and risk life for it.
When the class ended the usual exuberant mass exodus, the frantic lunch time race to dorm cafeteria, failed to materialize. The class atmosphere throughout had remained subdued, muted, almost reverential, and astonishingly, students lingered. One broke the silence and asked quizzically, "Why did you join up--why volunteer?" "I joined up because I wanted to fight,"came the crisp reply. And another asked, "What was the sense of it all-this awful, bloody War?" Again, a succinct response:"Canada had no choice; if Germany had won and defeated England and France--Canada itself would have been threatened" Furthermore, "Canadians possessed a common tradition of strength after the conflict--a remembrance of victory against what at times seemed like overwhelming odds." The Great War gave a sense of self-confidence to his generation, and assurance to coming generations.
The message rang clear. With the record of 1914-1918 before them no future generations of Canadians had cause to despair over their ancestors. Pte. V.E. Goodwin's diary serves to remind Canadians, particularly today's high school and college age generation, of that record which was compiled seventy years ago, and of the challenges and opportunities an earlier generation faced. It tells the story of how a young private from a tiny Canadian village, Baie Verte, New Brunswick, viewed the conflict. It offers insight into the way he and other volunteers contended with a wartime emergency which compelled them to spend--or lose--their youth on Europe's battlefields.
|The text on this page has been taken from Memories of the Forgotten War, by Dr. David P. Beatty.|