I’m extra verklempt this Remembrance Day, because I’ve been researching and writing about the World War I battle of Passchendaele recently. I’ve read about soldiers trapped in miles of mud, covered in lice, drowning in shell holes, tortured by rats and rotting body parts. I’ve paged through a slew of non-fiction accounts as well as the fictional Generals Die in Bed, and I’m not sure which was more scarring. There was nothing at all pretty about Passchendaele.

I used to identify with the soldiers when I thought of Remembrance Day. I used to think about what it must have been like to march off to a war in which you were a tiny pawn with no role other than to shoot and possibly be shot. These days, I think more of the mothers. I can’t imagine how thousands of mothers survived having their children turned into soldiers and taken away.

There were almost 16,000 Canadians killed at Passchendaele. More than a thousand of them simply disappeared into the mud.


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