“There is just something about World War One,” Norm Christie, author, and creator of the acclaimed History Channel series, For King and Empire, told Kim McInnis. “When people begin to delve into it, it becomes an obsession.”
For McInnis, who has just published the new book, “In a lonely soldier’s grave…”, the famed writer and director’s words have proved prophetic.
In 2009, McInnis began compiling her new book about the generation of young men from Mountain Township, and surrounding areas, who were lost to World War One. Her research was initially sparked by the names commemorated on the Mountain Community Park Hill 70 Memorial. Hill 70, fought near the French village of Lens, proved to be one of the bloodiest and most crucial Canadian battles of the Great War.
Yet today, there is only a single memorial to it anywhere: the park in Mountain.
In 2009, under the strong leadership of Bill Shearing, then honorary colonel (ret.) of the Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders, the North Dundas History Stewards, under Carol Goddard and the North Dundas municipal council, the Mountain Hill 70 Memorial was rededicated.
This ceremony took place on October 31, 2009, in Mountain on what Kim (who was one of the speakers) described as the “coldest, wettest day of the year. Hurricane force winds a lot of the morning.”
A number of dignitaries, including MP Guy Lauzon, then MPP Jim Brownell, members of the History Stewards, veterans and councillors were in attendance. Guests of honour were the SD&G Highlanders, who marched to the ceremony, following a training exercise, led by their officers.
“The original intention in 2009 was to preserve the park as it was, with the marker stone set up in 1922, a commemorative stone from the Highlanders, and a World War One German machine gun,” McInnis explained.
The site was later taken over by the Mountain Lions Hill 70 Refurbishment Committee in 2010. That committee put up different markers in 2011-12, while preserving some of the original artifacts.
With the encouragement of Bill Shearing, Carol Goddard, Ian Raveler and many members of the Historical Society, McInnis undertook, in 2009, to research and write her hard cover book based on the memorial.
She found uncovering memories of World War One a huge, but fascinating task. “I began going through honour roles, finding old documents and stories, tracking down diaries, letters and the military records of the men named on the monument, even listening to old taped interviews.” She became “well acquainted” with Archives Canada, and exchanged two years of emails with many historians and researchers. She even entered into correspondence with the present mayor of Lens, France, whose town near Hill 70 was utterly destroyed by the Germans in 1915.
The more she learned, the closer McInnis felt to the local men lost in the Great War. “I sometimes found the research very sad. There are often no descendants left who can even vaguely recall those terribly young, lost boys. Sometimes, I actually felt drained looking at all their faces.”
Her book includes collections of stories, photos and letters from area Canadian soldiers dating back to the Boer War and 1812.
However, the key focus remains World War One and our men who served. Still, the more McInnis learned, the more she realized that Norm Christie was right.
“Next year it will be 100 years since World War One began, and there is probably no one left alive in the whole world who actually knew the young men as they went off to war. Preserving the memories of those who were lost, and of those who returned but suffered physical and mental scars, is important. And these soldiers all came to life for me as I put this book together.”
“In a soldier’s lonely grave…” is available to order by contacting Kim McInnis at 613-989-2607. The funds raised by book sales will be going to the Chesterville District Historical Society.