It was with great sadness that I woke to the news that Canada's last WWI veteran, John "Jack" Babcock, had passed away yesterday at the age of 109. This news comes at a time of great joy for Canada as we host the world in the one event that used to bring armistice in wars, even if for a brief time.
Mr Babcock was born July 23rd in 1990 on a farm in Ontario, one of 13 children. He was like so many young men of that generation... he was feisty and looking to make a better life for himself. He had gone through many hardships as a young lad, his father dying when Jack was only 6 years old. He was of the generation that witnessed and took part in Canada's transition from British Dominion to Independent Nation.
At the age of 15 and a half, he enlisted in the 146th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Forces (lying about his age to do so) after hearing recruitment officers quote from Tennyson's The Charge Of The Light Brigade . He was initially assigned to serve in Canada because of his age, but managed to sign up for a regiment that was headed overseas by stating he was 18. So after passing his physical, he was sent overseas to England but his fib caught up with him and prevented him from seeing active combat. Because he was under age, he was sent to the Boys Batallion, a regiment where young men were trained to fight until they were old enough to fight on the front lines. The war ended just months after he turned 18, and he never did get to fight the Germans.
He regretted not seeing combat in that war, being a "tin soldier"... it stayed with him throughout his life and so he never considered himself a true veteran of the Great War. In an interview in 2007 he said: "I think if I had a chance, I would have gone to France, taken my chances like the rest of them did. A lot of good men got killed."
The people that served in The Great War experienced war at it's most raw and the cost in human life was devastating. Sometimes I think if technology wasn't what it is today we might think twice about walking away from discussions and work towards Peace that much harder.
In the 20s, he moved to the United States and also served in the United States Army. He became a naturalized US citizen in 1946. Dual citizenship was not permitted in those days, so Mr Babcock was forced to give up his Canadian ties but never lost his love for his homeland. In April 2008, during a visit from Canadian Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson, Mr Babcock said he would like to get his Canadian citizenship back. At Mr Thompson's urging, he handwrote a note to Prime Minister Stephen Harper which was hand delivered by Thompson that was reported to have said:
"Dear PM. Could I have my citizenship restored? I would appreciate your help. Thank you, John Babcock."
Governor General Michaëlle Jean granted his request and a Canadian delegation traveled to his home in Washington state for a swearing in ceremony.
"We are proud to welcome Mr. Babcock back into the Canadian family and to honour the service he gave our country," Harper said in a news release.
"He symbolizes a generation of Canadians who, in many ways, were the authors of modern Canadian nationhood." - Stephen Harper.
Mr Babcock died a Canadian citizen... as it should be.
Today, my plans changed. I traded in my red sweater, as I try to wear red on Fridays as much as I can in support for our troops, for my father's Canadian Legion sweater. I wear it proudly in their honour for I owe them so much. I can just see the welcome Mr Babcock must be receiving from his veteran comrades in Heaven. May they continue to watch over our troops and act as their guardian angels.
Rest in Peace, sir. Thank you.
"I think it would be nice if all the different people in the world could get along together so we weren't having wars. I don't suppose that'll ever happen, though."
- John Babcock
I strongly encourage you to watch the following videos from The History Channel... I did and learned a great deal about one boy's journey into manhood at a time of great change. Listening to Mr Babcock share his memories, extremely lucidly might I add, gives me an even greater desire to work for Peace.