Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Moreuil Wood Saga (Part 4 of 4)

March 30th, 2008, was the ninetieth anniversary of the Battle of Moreuil Wood. On that date the author and his wife stood beside the spot where Willoughby’s body was found. With us were thirty French villagers, a small band, and French veterans. A minute’s silence was punctuated by a distant gunshot. Then, as we stood with heads bared in the cold, damp wind, the skirl of a pipe was heard. Two figures, a piper and a bugler in First War Highland uniform appeared over the ridge and marched toward us. The piper’s lament gave way to the bugler, and the Canadian flag was raised over Willoughby’s memorial beside the Bois du Moreuil. The French veterans bearing regimental flags stood at attention as wreaths were laid.
Jean-Paul, wearing his Strathconas jacket and cap, spoke to the gathering about the Canadian sacrifices made on that spot ninety years before. Even twenty-two years after the discovery of Willoughby’s unmarked grave, tears rolled down his cheeks. The determination of Jean-Paul and those citizens of Moreuil to commemorate Canadian sacrifices forged a bond for all present. Jean-Paul moved us all that day, Canadians and French alike.
In 2010 Jean-Paul visited Fort Steele, the home of the present-day Strathconas. There, in an emotional ceremony before the commanding officer, he presented relics found with the body of the trooper killed in 1918 to his namesake, John Willoughby, and other members of his family.


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