Updated: Jan 6, 2021
This is a photograph of my son, Meacham, as he approaches the Dury Mill Cemetery, in Pas de Calais, France where his namesake, my great-uncle Meacham, is buried. Meacham is the surname of my great-grandmother on my father's side, Mary Evaline Bruce Meacham or Minnie for short. In 1896, at the age of 23, Minnie married James Malcolm Denyes (24) and together they had five children.
One month after his 17th birthday, Minnie and James's eldest and only remaining son (Malcolm died at 1 day old), Meacham, enlisted in the First World War. After training, he only arrived in France in the Spring of 1918 and was immediately set to war. On September 2, 1918, at the age of 19, he was killed in action, just two months shy of the end of the war. The battle took place on a farmer's field and was considered to be one of the bloodiest of the war, if such a comparison can even be made.
What possessed this teenager to sign up for certain death? By this point in the war, he must have known that almost no one was coming home alive or, at a minimum, unscathed. In his small town of Milton, ON, many young men were already casualties.
Did he run it past his parents first? If so, did James and Minnie offer words of encouragement or horror? Because of Meacham's age, they possibly thought he would be safe; that he would complete his high school studies and then move on to university and life, literally "dodging a bullet."
They shared letters over the two years Meacham was away. Newsy and affectionate snippets of life in Meacham's hometown, admonishments to stay safe. Until this letter arrived one day in the mail. It was James's last letter to his son, returned to him from the Dead Letter Office. Meacham never received it.
I remember the day my dad shared this letter with me, several years ago. I cried. How could I not? In that moment, it didn't matter that we have no blood relationship to James or Minnie or Meacham. I named my own son after him, to honour his short life, his foolish, courageous teenage bravado, and the horror of his death.
When Meacham visited his great-great-uncle Meacham's grave stone in France, it felt to me like the past and the present had come together for those few short moments. It felt like something had come full circle. A full healing circle.
Together, Paul and I have three sons. They have each lived longer than Meacham did. They graduated high school and went on to other things, making life choices, falling in love, living in different places but keeping in touch through text, phone and visits. I can only imagine the pain when James and Minnie comprehended that their son had died in a war so far away, so unfamiliar, and so unlike home, and without the loving and affectionate embrace of his family.
I am forever grateful that our sons, and our daughter, still get to come home.