We just got back from France a few hours ago and I finished writing a lengthy email to one of my friends.
I want to write a little bit more about Dieppe later, but the part I wanted to mention more than anything else was the Canadian War Cemetery there.
Three busses brought students to Dieppe. About half of the total student population wanted to go visit the cemetery but only one bus was available, so not everyone could go. The profs hadn’t expected that many to want to go.
I lost count of how many gravestones were there but managed to walk up and down each line. It was an emotionally exhausting experience to see all the names of all the people who had died. And the stones without any names, of people who couldn’t be identified and are remembered as a soldier in the infantry, or the air force, or the navy.
Most poignant of all, perhaps, were the inscriptions. “Known Unto God” was the most common one, but there were many personalised inscriptions that made them all the more human — “Remembered by Father and Mother”; “Devoted Wife and Children”; “Broken-hearted Brothers and Sisters”. I cannot remember the other inscriptions, but many ran something like this, “Loved Too Well To Be Forgotten”, or “When the dawn breaks and the shadows flee, I shall know thee again”, or “To remain in memory after death is to live on”. Names that meant nothing personal to me was everything to someone else — “G.P. Chesterton” becomes “my George”. All these people, a vast majority 19, 20, 21, 22 — men who were not older than the people we call boys in university these days. And there were the 30-odds and the 40-odds who left behind their wives and children…
No matter what we think of war, I think when we consider the human factor, the grief of the parents and brothers and sisters and wives and children of these men, it is enough to make us grieve with them.