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Remembering Great Grandfather Halter, WW1

November 11, 2014. The western world is celebrating Armistice Day or Veteranís Day, a time when the Great War or WW1 armistice was signed. And in particular because this represents a period of 100 years, there are special ceremonies. This will get an even greater play in Canada with the recent murder of two soldiers by Islamist Extremists.

Here is some family history that you can share at some point with your own children, stories that prove that ordinary people can demonstrate extraordinary honour and bravery. Your great grandfather Halter joined the War as a volunteer in 1914, and yet he had two young children and a wife. They were your grandmother Bulloch, age 3 and her sister Ray, age 2. He and his young wife, my grandmother Halter arranged with Eatonís, where she was an alteration tailor, to have work sent home when he was overseas so she would have the funds to raise her children as well as his army pay.

I remember as a teenager, when we were studying WW1 during history class, asking him why he volunteered. He said he just felt he had to because Canada had given him a home when he and his older brother left England at age 14 and 15 in 1905. His father had married again and the two boys from the first marriage felt they did not belong, and used a fund established by Rothschild the famous Jewish banker to go to Canada.

Why this is such an incredible act of patriotism is that he did not join because he was pressured in any way. It is a part of our history that although Canada provided a volunteer army for the years 1914 to early 1917, there was enormous coercion to join. Recruiting officers used to call on young people over 18 to stand up at the old movie theatres with their dirt floors. And a national organization of women used to pin white flowers on young people who had not joined up to show them as cowards. Canada had a huge national debate on the issue of conscription in 1917, but that was because so many young men had died. In two major battles: Vimy Ridge, and the Battle of the Somme, 34,000 young men were killed or wounded, and they all had to be replaced.

Within a year over in France, your great grandfather was promoted from Private to Sergeant, and because he was so athletic led soldiers in training through an exercise routine to build up their strength. When he finally went into battle, his experiences were so horrible he had difficulty talking about them. He was a casualty of the War and was sent home in 1917. When he arrived, grandmother Bulloch who was then seven years old and did not know him even though she had a photo of him and her mother had read his letters that arrived each week. He had a big bushy red mustache.

But because of lung damage from mustard gas, it took him 30 minutes every morning of his life to clear the phlegm from his lungs so he could breathe properly. But his real affliction was Buergerís disease, a rare circulatory problem today but common in WW1 because of the long stretches soldiers slept in the trenches. Your great grandfather Halter at one period in 1916 went for three months without sleeping lying down and never taking off his shoes and socks. He underwent over a dozen operations after arriving home and had 20 veins removed from his back and inserted into his legs.

He spent as many as two to three days a week for the next 25 year at the old Veteranís hospital down near Christie street and Davenport in Toronto. His home was only about four blocks away from the hospital. Your grandmother Bulloch was a volunteer at the Christie hospital and worked there on the weekends before and for years after she was married. While mother was working as a volunteer, my Saturdays as a child was spent in the play room for children at the hospital. And of course I spent a lot of time visiting with my grandfather. What changed my life forever, and made me so sensitive to the care of our Veterans was playing checkers at age 6 with a Veteran that had no legs.


Reflections by John Bulloch