Commencer/To Begin/Le Retour
March 7, 2017 § Leave a comment
To begin, what do I know about my Uncle Léo? He was born November 17th, 1893. At 22, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Regiment, August 21, 1915. He disembarked, November 1915 in Boulogne. He was reported missing then killed in action, Belgium,Ypres, June 5th, 1916. He was 23 years old. Between the arc of those two events, he had his life on this earth.
What else do I know? When he enlisted with the Over-Seas Canadian Expeditionary Force at 22, he put down his trade as Grocer. He was not married. He was described by the examiner as being five feet ten, his chest girth when fully expanded was 37 and 1/2 inches, for distinctive marks he bore a large, circular scar on right leg, his complexion dark, his hair black, his eyes blue grey, his religion, Roman Catholic. What is not reported is that he was the eldest in a family of 11 children. He lived in the small, Acadian fishing village of Pubnico on the south shore of Nova Scotia. He had attended the College Sainté-Anne (now the Université Sainte-Anne) for two years. He was a good student. The one photo I have of him shows him with friends in Meteghan. According to Celestine, writing on the back of the photo, The boy next to me is Leanor, next is Léo d’Entremont,”Ain’t he cute?” He’s got my muff. Next is le petit Robert.
My ghostly Uncle Léo. And why do I care? Many reasons, one being that I am probably the last generation who will remember, even at this remove, a relative who died in the Great War, as we anglais refer to it, and, also, because I’ve spent most of my adult life, up to and including this year of 2017, resisting war. I am drawn to its human story. What it does to families. How we look for and try to find the missing. How we grieve for those who do not come home and for those who do come home. How we calculate what is gained and what is lost. Le Retour as well as its predecessor, A Generation of Leaves, wrestles with these questions.