(John Babcock at age 20)
Several years ago, an office colleague shared with me his fascination with routinely reading the obituaries. Not long afterwards, I found myself scanning that section of the papers more often. While it seems a morbid diversion, since the time I was a kid I’ve always appreciated biographies and obituaries are a wonderful opportunity to reflect upon lives well lived.
In that vein, comes news in many of the papers (even this far south) that last week John Babcock, the last Canadian veteran of World War I, passed away at age 109. While his age alone is amazing, his connection with the so-called Great War prompts searching thoughts about how very terrible for its time that event was. I am sure World War I monuments exist in many places, but I distinctly recall these most in Canada and here in the American South. These monuments have a special majesty and on each that I’ve seen there are too many names inscribed for one not to feel moved by the human toll exacted by that sad conflict.
Concealing his actual age of 15, Babcock, originally an Ontario farm boy, enlisted and was sent overseas. Before he could be deployed in combat, it was discovered that he was still a minor. Interesting to contemplate whatever sense of derring-do, adventure, patriotism, economic need or the like would prompt a young man of 15 — a boy, really! — to do such a thing. But that, of course, was a different time when calls to duty perhaps weighed more on the collective mind, particularly of budding young men.
His passing was sufficiently noteworthy to Canada that Prime Minister Harper acknowledged the occasion and referred to Babcock as the last living link to World War I, “which in so many ways marked [Canada’s] coming of age as a nation.” So much so that, reflecting on this, it is understandable and puts into context why Canada celebrates a specific holiday, Armistice Day, commemorating its involvement in World War I.
May John Babcock, and all the souls who valiantly sacrificed so dearly, be remembered well.