30 November 2021

Challenge Accepted, Challenge Completed.


Well, I managed to pull it off. In the waning hours of the month I managed to complete the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) challenge. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of the month of November. The manuscript clocked in at 53,900 words. It's unreadable in its current state. It has multiple alternative scenes in it, complete with alternate paths forward, based on which version I choose. It's practically a 'choose your own mystery' book as it stands. Chapter ten consists of the words "this takes place from her point of view. I'll write it later." I'll let it sit for a few months and then revisit it with fresh eyes.
 So far, the book is utter garbage, as I expected it would be. It's a rough draft, unfit for anything. It would take at least another two drafts before it resembles anything coherent. I have been changing my mind as I make my way through the rough ideas, so the story is incoherent at best. I am also in dire need of a subplot. Possibly two.
The story, such as it is, is based on the murder of Matthew Sheedy. Sheedy was stabbed by persons unknown, possibly stabbed by a pitchfork, during the St Patrick's day riot on March 17, 1858. The inquest into his death was a shambles, with a coroner who was holding his first such inquest, a chief of police who refused to testify, utterly contradictory testimony, and a jury made up entirely of Orangemen and other Protestants. The failure here increased the calls which had begun in 1855 with the Clown and the Firemen's riots to reform the police department and take it out of the Orange Lodge's hands, and helped lead to a change in laws, the establishment of the Police Board and the firing of the entire police force from Chief Constable Sherwood all the way down on a single day in early February 1859.
Sherwood is an interesting figure, I should add. He repeatedly refused to testify against fellow members of the Orange Lodge at trial. Before he was chief of Police he was the brother of a premier in the province. When his brother lost an election in the 1840's to a reform ticket, Sherwood lead a group of men who had gathered at his tavern down to Toronto and caused a riot against the reformers who were celebrating their victory. I believe it left one man dead. That was before he was made police chief. Time did not improve him. It would have made sense if, when faced with the threat of being reformed out of a job he might have mended his ways and tried to prove that he and the force he lead were capable of fairly dispensing justice in the city, but instead he seems to have doubled down. In addition to refusing to testify against Lodge brothers charged with crimes, he released the chief suspect in a bank robbery in the fall of 1858 because they were Lodge brothers. He appointed a man to whom he owed money to sergeant in the Police force, despite the man being utterly unsuitable to the task. When sixteen other constables signed a petition protesting the man's promotion and his unsuitability for the position, Sherwood suspended without pay the men who signed the petition. After he was fired, he was appointed harbour master of Toronto.
In the story I have turned Matthew Sheedy into Michael Sheehan, and it is set a few months after his death, at the time when the planned reform is about to happen, and the police know their jobs are at stake. Sheehan's name has become a rallying cry for the Irish Fenians, (which is accurate- the numbers of people joining Fenian and Fenian related societies shot up after Sheedy's death) who believe they will never find justice under British rule. My main characters are Sheehan's widow and detective Haynes. The idea of Haynes comes from an article I read about the clown riots. When the police were rioting and setting fire to the circus, a newspaper reported that one constable tried to stop the rioting, and was condemned as a 'damned Papist' by his fellow constables- and from that Haynes was born. Historically, that riot was stopped when the mayor (himself an Orangeman) called the military to come and break it up. In my version, the mayor, disgusted a the lawlessness of his Lodge brothers, took notice of the one who tried to do his duty, and began promoting him over Sherwood's objections and protests about political interference with his force. (This is one of my few intentional anachronisms: I don't believe the police force had detectives at that time.)
Historically, Sheedy was stabbed while defending the back of the Deputy Police Chief. In my version, the Deputy wishes to do justice for the man who may have saved his life while he still has time, and is also hoping that perhaps, if they can show that they are capable of doing their job, a few of them might be able to last through the reform of the police that is coming. He also hopes to maybe pull the teeth of the Fenians, who are using Sheehan's name to draw more and more people into their cause- aided, perhaps, by Sheehan's widow and her demands that justice be meted out for her husband. The Deputy gives the job to one of the few men on the department who is known for investigating against his own self interest. Haynes begins investigating and runs into the problems of unreliable witnesses, threats and intimidation, and the division in Toronto between Orange and Green.
As I said, as it is now, it's terrible. For a start, it is 95+% dialogue. That makes sense, as his investigation consists of talking to witnesses. But this is supposed to be a novel, and not a play. For other problems, I was still working my way through what is supposed to happen up tot he very end, and have changed my mind several times already, so large parts do not mesh with other parts. (As a matter of fact, I wrote three separate endings and an epilogue that suits only two.) I'm just hoping I can either pull it together, or just fix it in the next draft or two.
Who stabbed Sheedy? I can't say for certain, though I have some suspicions. When I did some research for the book I discovered several interesting things in the testimony at the inquest. The most interesting was who didn't testify. The riot was a series of localized fights and free for alls. The one where Sheedy was stabbed was in a back alley/ stable yard near the north St Lawrence market. A small crowd had surrounded a councilman, tavern owner and Orangeman by the name of Lennox and his wife who had taken refuge in a wagon. I say 'refuge, but that isn't entirely accurate. Lennox had shown up at the fight waving a pistol around, saying he would wade knee deep in papist blood. The Deputy chief disarmed him, and he headed for his tavern to get more pistols. The crowd cut him off and he retreated. I don't know when his wife became involved. Lennox was standing in the wagon with a weapon threatening to kill anyone who came nearer to him. The Deputy was trying to talk him down and quiet the crowd. Sheedy was behind him when he was stabbed. No one saw the stabbing, because everyone's eyes were on Lennox or the Deputy. The only people looking in the right direction- out over the heads of the crowd and towards the people at the back- who might have seen what happened were Lennox and his wife. Lennox testified at the inquest that he was quiet and peaceful and law abiding, an his actions were all but for the Papists, and that he saw nothing. His wife never testified at all, and, to me, she seems the one most likely to have seen something. In my version, she holds a key, but Lennox will not allow anyone to get near her.

As I mentioned the earlier, the manuscript is 95% dialogue, which will not do. I also need to go and research some more of the history. Now that the archives are open again, I can do that. I started doing a little of that last week, and immediately had a monkey wrench thrown into the works. Most of the histories I read stated that the entire police force was fired in a single day in February 1859, but that isn't quite the truth. I learned from reading one of the papers of the time that the Deputy Chief, who was a major character in the story I wrote, was fired a few weeks ahead of the rest by the execrable Chief Sherwood. This makes a hash of my timeline, if I want this to be somewhat historically accurate. I also want to do some research from the newspapers of the day to help bring the city to life. News about what ships are in harbour, what news is being bandied about, what plays are on, what crimes are being committed, what the politicians are making a mess of now. That sort of thing.
So, first draft complete, but a long way from being finished. Still, writing a draft of a novel in a month is something of an accomplishment, so yay.

11 November 2021

Remembrance, concluded.

 They shall grow not old

As we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them,
Nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun,
And in the morning
We shall remember them.
We shall remember them.

***
One hundred and two years ago, on the evening of November 10-11, the Canadian Corps had reached the outskirts of Mons and the men began to prepare for the end of the war on the morrow. To their shock and dismay, orders came down for the men to start marching. They were to capture Mons. Will Bird wrote of the reaction among the men that night in his book "Ghosts Have Warm Hands". The men were planning their lives after the war when an unexpected visitor showed up.
*
"Bird!" It was the voice of the company-sergeant-major, harsh as a whip saw. "Get your section ready at once. Battle order. leave your other stuff in your billet."
The Mills brothers sat up. Jones pushed the little girls from his lap. I managed to speak. "What's up?" I demanded.
"We're going to take Mons. No use to argue about it. Get our men ready."
"Just a minute." Tom Mills was on his feet. "The war's over tomorrow and everybody knows it. What kind of rot is this?"
"Watch what you say." The sergeant-major's face was set. He was not speaking in his normal voice at all. "Orders are orders. Get your gear on."
Every man argued bitterly and it was difficult to get them ready. We formed up with the platoon while the men swore over trivial matters, hitched around and changed positions. Two cursed steadily, and with frightful emphasis, the ones who had issued the orders.
Away on the left was the report of shell bursts, and we could see a few long range crumps leaving black smoke trails. Thirteen platoon came along and joined us. Five or six of their men were shouting at us to turn around and attack headquarters. The officers were worse enemies than any German. No one tried to quiet them, and presently we marched down a street along a road and into a field...
*
The decision to attack Mons remains controversial to this day. No one knows exactly why General Currie decided to make one final attack in the last hours of the war. Some say it was because Currie had been attacking all along, and he did not wish to give the Germans any breathing space in case the armistice did not go as planned. Some say the orders actually came from higher up the chain of Command, as the British did not fully trust the Germans to honour the Armistice, and therefore the British forces were to keep the pressure up on the Germans until the last second. Some suggest it was because Mons was the first place the Germans and British had fought in 1914, and Currie felt capturing what the British had lost would be a symbol and inspiration to future generations of Canadians. Others suggest he had been treated roughly by the British in the closing weeks of the war, and he decided to show them up by taking back what they had lost.
Currie's own statements indicated he did not expect any resistance from the Germans. He was not far off: resistance was quite light, but 30 Canadians still died in capturing Mons that last day. Every dead man was someone's friend, or rival, or brother.
*
It had become full day when Old Bill came around the corner with Jim Mills. He beckoned me to him. Jim was wild-eyed, white as if he had been ill. "He says he's going to shoot whoever arranged to have his brother killed for nothing." whispered Bill. "He really means it. He's hoping Currie comes here today. If he doesn't, he's going to shoot the next higher up. He says his brother was murdered."
One of the 42nd officers was walking toward us and I went up to him. He was not the one I would have chosen, but something had to be done. I saluted him and told him about Jim. He was startled, for he had not known Jones and Tom Mills were dead. But he said there was no need to worry about Jim. Take him and get him drunk, so drunk he wouldn't know anything for twenty four hours. When he came out of it he would be all right. He told me to say my piece to Bill and come back to him. Bill agreed to get Jim plastered, and I gave him the money. Then the officer took me up to where the adjutant was standing. He said there was to be a parade shortly, but the two deaths must be reported...
*
The decision to take Mons is the only spot on Currie's otherwise sterling record as a general. It is also ironic to consider that after the war Field Marshall Haig was celebrated as a conquering hero despite having commanded the two greatest disasters in British military history, who wasted hundreds of thousands of lives to save his career, but Currie's reputation was ruined for a battle he won with minimal casualties.
However, not all men remembered the end with bitterness. One soldier wrote of the experience later, in a letter to the editor that mentioned my Grandfather, a soldier in the Great War.
*
I Was There
By a Port Credit Veteran
In the murky darkness of a November morning 41 years ago I was in Mons. Not far ahead in the blackness were the retreating lines of the German army, splitting the night with its artillery as is put up a last desperate barrage against the advancing Canadians. Before dawn had broken I was given the singular privilege of passing the cease fire order to a Port Credit man, the late Roy Finch.
As a Sergeant in No. 3 platoon, 'A' Company, 19th Battalion Canadian Expeditionary Force, Roy Finch, D.C.M., M.M., had been left in charge of the platoon when his officer had been killed 10 minutes before the order was received. Another Port Credit man, the late Fred McNulty, was responsible for carrying the good news to many war weary Canadians. He was a runner with the same battalion.
This incident remains fresh in my mind as other memories remain fresh in the minds of all Canadian relating to both past wars. This is as it should be, and to observe these memories each November 11 is little return for the great sacrifice made by so many. We who were there can never forget, the remembrance is a permanent inspiration to us, as it should be to all.
*
At 10:59, Canadian soldier Private Price was killed by a sniper as he took part in a patrol near Mons. He was the last Canadian soldier killed in the war. One minute later, at 11:00, the guns fell silent for the first time in four years. The war was over.
As that long ago November day wore on, the Canadians found themselves in the middle of celebrations, parades and parties. No man present would ever forget that day and the cheering joy that rang in their ears. The war was over. They had won. For a time they were delirious with joy. But soon their thoughts turned to their distant homes. Much to their chagrin, the soldiers soon found out home would wait, as they were still in the army, and for a time they were to be part of the occupying force of Germany.
The Canadian Corps' record of achievement throughout the war was singular: no other unit could rival the Corps. The Germans apparently invented a new word to describe the Canadian troops: "stormtroopers." But their victories and their reputation came at a price Of the 440,000 men who served in the four divisions of the Corps, 67,000 died, or one in seven. In terms of Canada's total population of the time, nearly one percent of Canadians died on the battlefields of Europe. A further 173,000 were wounded, bringing the total casualty rate to one in two, or fifty percent. Recent studies have indicated that should a military unit suffer a casualty rate higher than twenty percent, the survivors suffer from irreparable psychological damage. By that standard we are left with the disturbing possibility that the next generation of Canadians were raised to a large extent by men who were not wholly sane.
Worst of all, the peace treaty, when it finally came, was a disaster, though none knew it yet. The young men through their blood and sacrifice had bought a chance to make a new world. The old men took that chance and merely recreated the old one. As a direct result of that folly, in twenty years the sons of the veterans of the Great War would be back to fight a greater, bloodier war.
It was 1919 before the Canadians were back in England, awaiting their transport home. Some men couldn't wait for the return. Others began to dread it. The young men had grown up in war, had come to manhood in war. As men, war was all they knew. What were they to be in peace time? Other men began to sense something was different within themselves. They had changed. They were, as Bird wrote in his book, "more or less a stranger to themselves."
Slowly the men began to trickle back to Canada to find a country which had made no preparations against their return. The men were expected to simply pick up their lives where they had left off. Some men found a way to do it. For others the change had been too great. Men of war, they could not cope with the peace. Men like Captain Agar Adamson of the Princess Patricias. Adamson was a very rare bird: he had served almost the entire war. Throughout the war he had written letters to his wife almost every day, telling her details about camp life, battles, and the deaths of friends. He signed all the letters "Ever thine, Agar." "Ever" turned out to be a year. Shortly after his return he found peace no longer suited him. He abandoned his family and traveled. He became a hard drinker, a gambler and an adventure seeker. He died in a plane crash in 1929.
For a time my grandfather waited in England for his transportation home. He got some leave and traveled about a bit, even going to Ireland where he met his grandfather for the first and only time. He returned to camp and waited. On May 14th, 1919 he and the rest of his battalion boarded the ship SS Carolina and set sail for home.
Home was becoming real for the men now. Many of the men, mainly the newer recruits who had only arrived just before the very end, looked towards home with unbridled enthusiasm. The older men had mixed feelings. Will Bird wrote of his journey home:
*
In my fine sheets I could not sleep and began to forget where I was. I seemed to be in an atmosphere rancid with stale sweat and breathing, the hot grease of candles, the dampness of the underground. I saw cheeks resting on tunics, mud streaked, unshaven faces... men shivering on chicken wire bunks. Then, from overhead, the machine gun's note louder, higher, sharper as it swept bullets over the shell crater in which I hugged the earth... the rumble of guttural voices and heavy steps in an unseen trench just the other side of the black mass of tangled barb wire beside which I lay... the long drawn whine of a coming shell... its heart shaking explosion... the seconds of heavy silence after, then the first low wail of a man down with a blood spurting wound... It was too much. I got up and dressed, although it was only four o'clock in the morning.
It was cold but I wore my greatcoat, and to my amazement there were other dark figures near the rail. We stood, hunched together, gazing ahead into the darkness. Presently another figure joined us, then another. In an hour there were fourteen of us, and no one had spoken, although we were touching shoulders. The way we stood made me think of a simile. Ah-we were like prisoners. I had seen them standing together, staring over the wire into the field beyond, never speaking. And we were more or less prisoners of our thoughts. Those at home would never understand us, because something inexplicable would make us unable to put our feelings into words. We could only talk with one another.
All at once the watchers stirred, tensed, craned forward. It was the moment for which we had lived, which we had envisioned a thousand times, that held us so full of feeling it could not find utterance. Far ahead, faint but growing brighter, we had glimpsed the first lights of home!
*
But Halifax and the East Coast of Canada was not home to my Grandfather. Home for him lay two thousand miles to the west, with a woman he had not seen in three years, and a son who had been but two or three weeks old when he signed up. Many of the milestones marking a child's progress were long in the past. He had missed his son's first steps, his first tooth, his first words. The two would not recognize each other, and would meet as strangers.
If he looked into the future, he might have seen three more sons (my father being the first of those three, born in 1922) and one daughter who died in infancy. He would return to his job of making fireworks. The job was dangerous, and explosions were common. Every Saturday night would see him at the local legion hall with the other veterans. Will Bird was correct: they could only speak to each other, and sought the regular comfort and company of each other.
My Grandfather never spoke of the war to his sons, not even my father, who followed Grandfather's journey across the ocean to serve in the Second World War, and was a vet like his father. My Grandfather had even received a medal from the war for some act of bravery, but no one knows for certain what it was, or why.
Grandfather and his battalion disembarked at Halifax, boarded a train and began a long journey to Toronto, home drawing nearer. The men were excited to be returning, but they knew they were leaving something behind. Gone was the camaraderie of the trenches, the bleak humour, the brotherhood. Gone was a life lived only in the present, where the next moment may not exist and therefore was unimportant. For years or months they had lived only in the present moment, the future being an unreal possibility. Now a normal span of life stretched out before the men. Once again they would grunt and sweat under the weary burden of the future, a future that seemed more of a question mark now than ever before. They would find a way.
The train carrying the 19th and 20th battalions arrived in Toronto on May 24th, 1919 at the Toronto station of the CPR, now known as Summerhill station. The men were formed up in parade formation and they marched together for the last time. Crowds in the street cheered and threw confetti at the men as they marched to the old Varsity stadium, where there was to be a reception. Officials and politicians had gathered planned to give speeches to the men and their families before the men were dismissed.
But at the sight of the long lost men the crowd could not contain itself. They burst past the barricades and rushed the men. The police tried briefly to retain order, and then gave up. The politicians threw their hands up in despair: they never would give their speeches. No one noticed. No one cared. Once again the men of the army found their ears filled with a roar and noise; once again they stood in the midst of chaos. But unlike the noise and confusion of the war which carried fear and death, this was the noise of Joy and Life. People wept and kissed as they met again after years apart. Some soldiers found time to say good-bye to old comrades as they went off with their families. The men forgot the past, forgot the future as they reunited again to the present, only the present. Here was another day no one would ever forget for as long as they lived, for the men were home.
The men were home.

10 November 2021

Remembrance, continued


 Modern Topography.

"Well, you see, here's the church and there's the post-office."

Once again, we see the complete destruction of the countryside in this comic. Many towns and villages were completely wiped off the map in the war. When the Canadians finally captured Passchendaele village in the Fall of 1917, the 'village' was nothing but some holes in the ground- the foundations and basements of the buildings that once stood there. The destruction was so great that some villages were never rebuilt.

9 November 2021

Echoes of Times Long Lost

 Something that came to my attention again this morning


Appendix to the Roman Ritual (1921)
 
(Revised and reissued by Order of the Fathers of the First Plenary Council of Quebec)
 
Part I, Chapter II — Special announcements
On the Sunday following an election, the Parish-Priest shall say:
Now that the elections have taken place, Dear Brethren, I ask you to forgive each other for any lack of mutual charity, as you hope to be forgiven. Humility and Charity are two essential virtues for all true Christians, and members of different political parties are not dispensed from their observance.
Put your dissensions on one side, Dear Brethren, and work together with loyalty and goodwill for the well-being of your parish and your country. Do not bring your political divisions into parochial, municipal or educational questions — still less into dealings between relatives.
“God is charity,” says the Inspired writer, “and those who dwell in charity dwell in light”; they have life in them : charity is the fulfillment of the law, and for this reason those who have not charity are dead in the eyes of God.

I find it nearly impossible to believe that this was written a mere century ago, and that there are people alive today who may remember having heard it spoken to them. Today, it seems like an intercepted message from another world.

Remembrance, continued


 
"Watch me make a fire-bucket of 'is 'elmet."
 
Not all of Bairnsfather's comics are of the lighter side of the war, at least not to our eyes. The men were subtly changed as the war dragged on, and what was once unthinkable and not to be spoken of would become common and even grimly humorous. Canadian officer Agar Adamson (born to a wealthy family not far from my old home was a rare bird who served almost from the beginning to almost the very end of the war. He wrote letters home to his wife every day, and those letters are a common source of information for historians and directors of documentaries on the war. Originally he hid from his wife the horrors of what he was witnessing, but as time wore on, he would casually write of what he saw. In one famous letter, he wrote of the death of friend and comrade Talbot Papineau. Papineau and Adamson had been standing together waiting to go over the top at Passchendaele. They were quickly separated, but a few minutes later Adamson and a friend found the remains (which was a more accurate word in this case than most) of a man whose entire body from the waist up had been blown away. The two men noted that the puttees on the legs had been tied in a distinctive fashion that Papineau used, and, searching the man's pockets, they discovered that this was indeed all that was left of their friend. Adamson then signed off his letter 'ever thine, Agar.'

8 November 2021

On the lighter side

 

Yesterday at Mass I sang 'O God of All the Many Lands,' which has a line that begins 'The Northern Lights...' and I had to stop myself from completing the line as '... have seen queer sights!', which lead to me realizing that the entirety of The Cremation of Sam McGee can be sung to that hymn tune, which pretty much means I can never sing that hymn again.


Remembrance, continued.


The Offensive.
What it looks like—and what it feels like.

Unfortunately, the second picture was, all too often, more than merely what it 'felt' like- it was what actually happened. At the Battle of the Somme, the British launched the largest artillery bombardment ever at the the German lines. For seven days their guns blasted away non stop in sustained barrage that was supposed to wipe the Germans off the face of the earth, allowing the British to advance unhindered. Then, on July 1st, 1916, the guns stopped, and the men went over the top and were massacred. The barrage had been a failure. It had not blown up the German trenches. It had not destroyed their guns. It had only warned the Germans that an attack was coming, and they reinforced their lines during the bombardment, so their position was stronger at the end of the bombardment than before. The British Generals couldn't believe the massive artillery shelling had not done its job, and continued ordering attacks, resulting in the single bloodiest day in British military history. A year later, they unleashed another massive bombardment in the Ypres sector to clear the path for another proposed advance. They simply could not conceive that such a bombardment would not work, but it too failed, and tens of thousands died for it.