100 years ago today my great-grandfather Joseph Ford was on the Western Front when Armistice was declared in World War I. At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, fighting was finally suspended in man’s most inhumane act toward man.
Joseph Ford’s service, and that of all Allied soldiers, was solemnly honoured at ceremonies across France this weekend, which were timed to coincide with the Centenary of Armistice. The somber memorials to the declaration of truce in the most savage act of butchery in history (at that point) were attended by the most powerful, influential leaders of the world – which is to say that Donald Trump either skipped the proceedings he specifically traveled to France to take part in, or showed up so insultingly late he missed the convocations.
Instead of honouring the fallen and wounded American soldiers of the Great War at a Saturday ceremony planned months in advance, Trump decided at the last minute to stay in his hotel room like a sulky tween. The President of the United States spent the day Rage Tweeting, ordering room service and watching television – ostensibly because it was *raining*.
Trump chose not to pay his respects to the American soldiers interred at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in Belleau, and his propaganda people offered up the excuse that he didn’t want to be driven 50 miles to spend an hour under an umbrella in a cashmere overcoat. He followed up that stunning display of disrespect with snubbing the entire U.S. Marine Corps by not even acknowledging their 242nd birthday, and their tireless commitment to keeping America safe.
I do not yet know if there is any truth to the rumors that Trump met with Putin in secret when he was supposed to be honoring fallen American soldiers from WWI. But I DO know that the very best spin you can put on this ugly brush-off of our Armed Forces is that Trump just couldn’t be bothered to pretend he gave a damn about the sacrifices made by the troops he commands.
As a dual citizen, I have never been so PROUD to be a Canadian as I am today – and so ASHAMED of how Donald Trump has disrespected America and our soldiers who gave the last full measure of devotion for their country.
Beyond the raging vanity about his hair not getting wet, and the seeming inability to operate an umbrella, the entire world knows Trump lives in a bubble of hubris and only cares for the adoration of the ever-smaller crowds at his vanity-driven rallies. The international community is fully aware that Trump is so insecure he becomes enraged at the lack of deference from world leaders who are more capable, powerful, self assured and respected than him. But even they were astounded that Trump blew off the Centenary Memorial of The War To End All Wars, and after spending the entire day holed up in his hotel room he showed up 2 hours late for a State Dinner. His follow-up act was to refuse to meet with other world leaders for breakfast on Armistice Day itself, and then to arrive after 11 am for the 11-11-11 Armistice Commemoration.
Trump did all of these things without an ounce of self-awareness, ignoring that the world was stopping to remember – and say out loud – that a malignant ego serving only itself destroys international relations, causes untold suffering, and sparks needless global conflagrations.
My Great-Grandfather Joseph Ford was born in County Cork, Ireland, in the mid-1870s. His mother died when he was a small child. When his father remarried a few years later his new stepmother immediately shipped young Joe off to a military boarding school. During those years at ‘school’ he was likely little more than a servant to the upper-class Irish second-sons who would not inherit, but whose families could afford to buy them a commission in the British Army. Joe’s first assignment was to be a drummer boy for the officers-in-training.
Joseph’s education came to an end when he was about 15 (circa 1890), when his father signed him to a commission with the British Army – legally binding Joe to the Royal Artillery for the next 12 years.
My great-grandfather served his time in the British Army honorably, and spent the last 4 years of his commission in South Africa fighting in the Second Boer War, from 1889-1902. When the war ended Joe returned to Ireland, and married my great-grandmother Lillian. In 1908 Joe accepted his Volunteer Bounty Act land grant in Canada for serving in the Boer Wars, and moved his growing family to Ontario.
My grandmother Honora Bridgette was the youngest of Joseph and Lillian Ford’s 7 children. She was born in a large white farmhouse in Sarnia, Ontario, in early 1914 – just months before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and the start of World War I.
Joseph Ford didn’t need to answer Brittan’s call for soldiers for the Great War – the white farmhouse was proof enough of his bravery, and his service to Crown and Country. But he felt it his duty to protect Europe against German aggression and their declaration of war, and so he answered the call and served his King and countrymen, yet again.
Joe left his family and his adopted homeland to go to war once more, and for nearly five years he faced the greatest of all inhumanities – The War To End All Wars.
My great-grandfather left parts of himself and his soul on the battlefields of Flanders, Somme, Passchendaele and Vimy so that those who came after him would know freedom and peace.
Canadian brigade-surgeon Major John McCrae immortalized the sacrifice of my great-grandfather’s fallen brothers-in-arms with his immortal poem In Flanders Fields. Devastated by the death of a close friend and fellow Canadian Army Officer during the Second Battle of Ypres, McCrae’s heartbreaking verses forever cemented the red poppy as the international symbol of Remembrance.
In 1919 Joseph Ford was lucky enough to return to his wife and adoring family in the big white farmhouse in Sarnia. But he did not come back a whole man. A hale-and-well-met-fellow of many friends, Joe was jovial by day but would forever suffer the night terrors of PTSD – what was then called Shell Shock. Joe’s lungs and eyes were scarred, and he was partially paralyzed from the chemical weapons that were the hallmark of WWI.
As a member of the Canadian Forces he was exposed to Chlorine gas in 1915, phosgene in 1916, and in 1917 they were hit dozens of times with mustard gas during the 5-month-long Third Battle of Ypres. His left arm was permanently shriveled and atrophied, and he limped in pain. For the rest of his life Joe’s body was weak, and he was never able to take a full breath.
My great-grandfather sacrificed for the good of the world. He gave of himself when he could have rightfully said, “Let someone else do the heavy lifting this time. I did my part for the war.” Instead, he left all that he’d worked for and held dear, and quite literally fought for the things he believed in.
The only thing Donald Trump fights for is the right to abuse and threaten the Press, consolidate Nationalist power, and keep his comb-over-weave from getting wet in the rain. That’s because he doesn’t value anything my great-grandfather fought for – and 16 million people died for – in WWI. Trump can’t stop himself from showing how much contempt he has for Equality, Fairness and Peace, any more than he can hide his naked aggression, thirst for power, and craven need to always be the center of attention.
I would be devastated that Trump chose not to honor the Veterans of WWI, as well as the service of my son, my father, 2 of my brothers, my father-in-law, and my uncle – if he were anything but the Pretender President, who is PROUD of being incapable of feeling empathy.
Frankly, I’m overjoyed my great-grandfather was Canadian, so that his sacrifice will NEVER be sullied by Donald Trump’s ugly soul, deliberate cruelty and malignant desire to start another war.
I will be forever grateful that my Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, humbly honored how much of himself Joseph Ford left in the trenches of France and the Fields of Flanders.
My great-grandfather was subject to unimaginable deprivations in the muddy trenches of the Western Front, and he suffered half-a-decade of unthinkable depredations for the cause of Liberty and Freedom. Joseph Ford spent the rest of his life replaying the horrors of war in his dreams, his body wrecked and wracked by pain, so that Justice could survive during a few decades of grudging truce.
May his sacrifice – and the sacrifice of all who served – never be forgotten.
In Flanders Fields
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
–John McCrae 1915