Lest We Forget: Sacrifice and the Ultimate Price

When I was a little girl I loved to hear the stories my Scottish granny, Alice Gordon, would share of her parents swapping the civilized life of gentry in Glasgow for the pioneering life of the wilds of northern Alberta.

My great grandfather, William Alexander Gordon, had served as a member of the Black Watch for many years, and when he retired was eligible to take advantage of the Canadian Soldier Settlement Act which provided returned WWI veterans who wished to farm with loans to purchase land, stock and equipment. And so, in the early 1920s, this man of middle age with his wife, Jane, and seven of their 13 children (six had died in childhood) abandoned everything they knew of their life in Glasgow and traveled by boat and train into a great new adventure.

Little did they know what that entailed. Their 200-acre parcel was situated about 100 miles north of Edmonton, Alberta, near a sparsely populated hamlet named Pibroch. The mists and rains of a Scottish city winter hadn’t prepared them for the long, bitterly cold months of the open prairies. Nor were they accustomed to the bombardment of large, angry mosquitoes in the depths of a hot summer. It was a rude awakening. Of the seven children, five were girls between the ages of three and 18. Of the boys, one was an early teenager, the other was five years old. So, this retired soldier was left to clear the land of tree stumps and boulders by himself with nothing but an axe, a rope and a horse. Meanwhile, Jane focused on turning an abandoned pioneer log cabin into a comfortable home for their large, confused family. The whole experience was such a shock that had they the means they’d have returned to the old country after the first year.

Still, they prevailed and granny was proud to tell of their sacrifices, hardships, and the ultimate satisfaction of taming a hostile environment that provided a foundation for future generations to grow and prosper. She was also proud to call herself a Canadian.

In defense of freedom and to serve their new country both boys, Frank and the youngest Archie, joined the war effort of WWII. The latter, at 21, paid the ultimate price. Frank lived with survivor’s guilt the rest of his life.

I am reminded that nothing of value comes without a price.

Here, in my late granny’s own words from a memoir I discovered and typed up a couple of years ago, is a short account of Flight Engineer, Archibald Don Gordon RCAF, Squadron 405 Bomber Command, and the family’s experience of his loss. Though her thoughts are personal it feels appropriate to share, especially in these times when we appear to need to be reminded of the value of a life. May her words be a poignant reminder to us all.

Lest we forget …

~*~

Archie Gordon

Archibald Don Gordon was born December 15, 1919, in Dundee, Scotland ~ the 12th of 13 children (seven made it to adulthood) and the first after dad’s (William Alexander Gordon) return from the war. He was named for a superior officer who was killed. The officer’s name was Archibald Don. Dad wrote to the family in England and asked permission to do so. Archie came from a proud family of soldiers. Indeed, our father was a member of the Black Watch and served out his time in WWI as a Sergeant Major.

He was a chubby, sturdy little boy with hazel eyes and red hair who grew into a good looking young man with a ready grin. He had a sunny disposition and was popular with everyone who knew him. Archie was always ready for a prank. Always willing to go along with his friends in all of their various and, sometimes, daring activities. When he was angry it never lasted for long. However, he had lots of grit and his temper, when roused, was something to see. As he grew up he was very well liked by the girls. He was wonderful dancer and very sociable.

When he joined the RCAF he had been training as an electric and acetylene welder in Edmonton. Frank, his older brother, and he enlisted as volunteers at the same time. Before doing so they set aside a few weeks at home and travelled with dad and sort of did the town. Then they went their separate ways into the services. One Army; one Air Force. Frank tried later to get a transfer to the Air Force, but was unsuccessful.

The war got very grim as history books will tell. Archie started out as ground crew, but studied to become air crew. He was very happy when he made it. He flew in a Halifax Bomber as a Flight Engineer. Those bombers were big and awkward and had very little maneuverability. They were really sitting ducks for enemy planes.

Of course, it happened. He and his crew were shot down over the Bay of Biscay while on a mine laying expedition. Six fellows in the crew. Some bodies were washed up on islands in the Bay. He was reported as missing in action for six months, then he was officially presumed dead. The bodies that washed up, including Archie’s, were buried by the French civilians in a cemetery in La Rochelle. Later, after the war was over, they were gathered up from their various burying places and laid to rest in a big military cemetery. Archie’s body, along with those of his crew companions, was reburied at Pornic cemetery in France.

The correspondence regarding these events were thrusts of sorrow and pain to my mother and father, and to the rest of us. So many tears. Archie had met a girl in Brandon, Manitoba, who was in training as a nurse and became engaged to her. Her name was Dot Hurle.

Who can write sorrow? Those who feel sorrow can hardly tell it. It is a leaden weight ever present in the heart. The night Archie was killed, April 6th, 1943, I dreamt I was a way high up in the sky. It was very dark. Then I felt a great crushing on my chest, and I woke up. I felt very strange, but went back to sleep. I then dreamed I was in a great field of very beautiful white lilies. I was desperately searching for a coloured lily, but I searched and searched and didn’t find one. Word came the next day that Archie was missing in action.

Can you imagine my mother’s sorrow; my dad’s sorrow?

My mother was alone when the telegram arrived. She ran to a neighbour who got to my dad at his work. Such a dark day. My mother couldn’t eat or drink fearing that Archie was a war prisoner, or that he had no food or water. I cannot tell all details here of the agony of it. My mother had been listening to the news on the radio the night before. The results of raids and which planes had not come back to England were broadcasted. She heard that the Bomber “P for Peter” had not returned, and said she sort of knew that Archie had been on it. He was 23. My mother didn’t sleep for nights on end. The darkness that descended on us when the dreaded telegram came never did leave. Words cannot express the very depth of our sorrow. Hearts were broken never to heal. Our big, tough dad wept until the tears rolled down his cheeks when his face, he thought, was hidden behind his newspaper. But I saw those tears. We all did, and turned away and wept. I don’t believe (and some others feel the same) that Frank ever got over the loss and the grief.

Trips were made to the Red Cross headquarters in Edmonton every day to find out if anything had been heard. My family were not the only ones who made these sad trips. There were many families hoping against hope.

Anyway, after six months they were all presumed dead. Archie’s clothes came home in a box. Not many. No uniforms. All the shirts and socks needed washing. He’d had some of his pay sent home each month and deposited in my mother’s name in a bank. She didn’t spend a cent of it for many years, until my dad urged her to.

I never forget them, the hosts of the great volunteers. They unselfishly and bravely and willingly offered their all. Their all was taken, but the spirit is beyond harm and death, so triumphantly they live. I know they live. I know Archie lives.

These boys were great. They gave their lives for a great cause. Read about Hitler and concentration camps and the Holocaust of that time and realize that these boys knew why they were fighting and they didn’t die in vain. Read of their joking and laughing as they boarded their bombers for the raids knowing that the big thing was to do the job, and knowing they were facing almost certain death. Archie and his great host of fighting heroes are forever alive and forever with Almighty God in a safe place. Because God loves the ones who give their lives for a good cause. And did not God’s own Son set them an example? Believe me I know that they are all ok and safely home, and we shall all meet again as sure as the sun rises each day. I look forward to seeing Archie. I long to see him. And I will see him. I’ll also see all my loved ones who have gone on before me. Each of us are spiritual and alive and better off than ever, and I know that Christ was with the men fighting for right and that He gave them all a welcome home to their new and spiritual life. He was on the shore at La Rochelle and He guided them in to a safe harbour.

Time goes on and time does heal.

Dear reader never forget these boys and men who paid the full price for the freedom of Europe and for us, too, as had Hitler not been stopped he would have been in England (he already had France and Holland and Belgium and many other countries). These boys had a saying. If crews didn’t return after a raid they said that the crew had “bought it,” or so and so had “bought it,” and so on. So Archie and his crew “bought it,” too. The “it” being our freedom. They considered they were buying our freedom, and that they certainly did. And Jesus also “bought it.” You see? They paid the price. Out of my family of seven raised, one paid for the freedom for the rest of us. And for many others.

To conclude, Granny penned this beautiful poem tribute to the lads who lost their lives in defence of freedom. It appeared in the Edmonton Journal some time in the 1950s during a Remembrance Day feature. Sadly, I don’t know the specifics, still her words live on.

~*~

A Lad and a Lark

Alice Gordon McDonall

Upon the death of Flight Sergeant Archibald Don Gordon, RCAF,
405 Squadron, killed in action April 6, 1943, over the Bay of Biscay.
Buried in Plot 1, Row AB, Grave 5 Pornic War Cemetery, France

1
From far off shores they wrote and said,
“Your boy lies here among the dead
With softest care and gentle hands
We laid him with Canadians.”

2
See how the grain is bending low.
See how the rivers cease their flow.
The wild flowers drop their saucy heads
The winds hide in their mountain beds.

3
Silent and sighing the whole land
Grieving my lost Canadian
Bowed in sorrow and despair
Broken my heart beyond compare.

4
The land, the sky so very dark,
But, what is this? A meadowlark?
Hear it! Hear it! Through the haze?
“I love dear Canada,” it says.

5
“He is not dead!” he bravely tells,
“He’s here! He’s walking in the dells.
He wanders by the river wide
He’s here! He’s here! He has not died.”

6
His little voice, so sweetly true
I must believe! Oh, wouldn’t you?
The meadowlark my laddie loved
And deathless Life to me was proved.

7
Oh, leap you rivers, run you fast.
You flowers lift up your heads at last.
Blow, blow you winds and toss the grain
I know my lad is back again.

8
I raise my head and bow no more
Lift up my heart and am quite sure
He is not dead. He walks the land.
For is he not Canadian?

9
Oh, meadowlark you little bird
Who in my darkest night was heard.
Love you my Canadian lad?
“I love all Canada,” he said.

~*~

Lest we forget …

My grandmother’s generation is gone now, and with them the terrible burden of memories they carried of a most brutal time in our world’s history. I pray, for all our sakes, that the price paid by those who gave their lives in pursuit of freedom, and the sacrifices and sorrows of those who loved and lost them and had their lives forever changed because of it, shall not be in vain.

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2020Aimwell CreativeWorks

Giving Thanks

It’s Canadian Thanksgiving. The hills around our home are splotched in orange and red and gold; the palette of autumnal splendour. The sun burns white to the southeast and the sky is lined in wisps of silver, a veil to soften that burning light.

My studio window looks out over an almost naked birch, faintly adorned in the fading gold of last summer’s dress. Beyond it the valley gently falls and rises in a wave of glacial remembrance, golden light bouncing from burnished maple to burnished maple. The great celebration of life before the big winter sleep.

Autumn … the season of letting go; of surrender.

I surrender.

I am in the autumn of my life. The great letting go. Releasing the toxic need to be perfect; to please everyone; to be anyone other than myself.

I embrace my non-manicured working hands, toughened by hours of labouring on the farm. Hands calloused from mucking stalls and cleaning paddocks and raking grass. Stiff and sore from weed whacking almost every day all summer to keep the edges on 20 acres of paddocks tidy. Hands charged with gentle muscle memory from finessing my feel of the reins while training my feisty mare, Sophi. Hands no one would call pretty. My wedding rings are married to that finger now. These are working hands.

I am thankful.

My hair, burnished by summer’s sun, is at least four inches longer than it was in March. It falls idly down my back or gets tucked in a pony tail as it hasn’t done for years. It’s ever-longer layered mass is silvering, my own non-chemical ombre created with what remains of last March’s salon colour. Somehow I look more myself than ever with this messy, care-free mop.

I am thankful.

The summer of Covid was harsh and yet kind. I’m down two dress sizes and fit from all the hours of farm labour. I sleep well. My health is more resilient. My mind is clear. My spirit buoyed. I have felt no need, nor desire, to be exposed to situations that might compromise that. I know what debilitating illness feels like. Adrenal fatigue is an ever-present ghost prompting me not to take unnecessary chances. I listen ~ for my own sake and for the safety of those around me. I feel healthier than I have in years.

And I am thankful.

The months have seen the passage of many people out of my life as they negotiate these unprecedented times in their own way. And yet I have also been gifted with new friends who choose to travel this path of uncertain times with like heart and mind. Supportive in spirit and community. On the farm with the horses this is important. We help one another so together we thrive.

And I am thankful.

Our journey through the pandemic these past few months has endured its own challenges, but we have chosen the path of faith over fear; of gratitude over greed. To experience the joy while honouring the sorrow. Some days are easier than others, still the intention is to thrive not merely survive. And so it is. Solution-oriented rather than problem solving. There is a difference.

And so, I give thanks for all that is. For a big-hearted caring husband of integrity who loves me; for family and good friends who support me; and for a plethora of four-legged furry kids who keep my feet firmly planted on the ground.

For Canada, the country I call home, I give thanks.

We cannot know the end from the beginning. We can only determine our attitude as we negotiate the path and surrender to the experience of it. There is great power in letting go.

Be well.

Happy Thanksgiving …

Dorothy

~*~

©Dorothy E. Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2020 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

A Lesson in Thrival

Choice 1200

~*~

This past year has been a lesson in thrival. Yes, I have just invented a word. From survive and survival we go to thrive and “thrival.”

You’re welcome.

This time last year instead of setting new year’s resolutions as I would normally, I set the intention to thrive. 2019 was going to be the year I stepped out of my kick-ass survival boots and replaced them with comfortable thrival shoes.

It’s been interesting, because in setting that intention all my survival moves have been challenged.

February proved a jumping off point, first because I was re-introduced to the work of neuro-scientist and author, Dr. Joe Dispenza, who challenged me, through video and the written word, to fire and re-wire neural pathways in my brain. Basically, to replace old thought habits with new ones so I could create my desired reality based on new, more holistic information, rather than continue to struggle (a survival mode strategy) doing it based on old patterns of being. So illuminating!

He then challenged me to raise my awareness by starting each day with a 20-minute meditation. (“Rest and Renew” on YouTube). I’d meditated before but not with the commitment I now felt to thrival. So,I turned my Ikea footstool into a meditation spot and made it a practice to go their early every morning to quiet my mind and connect to my heart. With each passing day it became easier. In fact, I looked forward to it and enjoyed it so much that it very quickly it became a habit, one I’ve committed to every day to help establish and maintain equanimity. It has served me well. Getting into thrival mode has created a good deal of chaos as the people and feelings that were a product of my survival scurry out of my life. It’s like I just don’t have room for them anymore and somehow they know it.

Believe me, it’s a thing. Look at the people around you. Are they a crutch in your desperate need to survive and let you down when you don’t fulfill their agenda, or do they lift you up to a higher understanding of yourself and support you in your quest to thrive, no strings attached? There is a difference, and I learned that in spades this year.

Indignation be gone!

Part of my learning has been understanding the part indignation has played in my survival strategy. Indignation, or reacting in the heat of the moment, is rarely our friend. How often has someone or something annoyed you so much in the moment that you’ve risen to defend yourself against a perceived injustice and then regretted it? Or it backfires on you?

For me it was another moment last February when my husband and I were walking on our property and watching one of the current trainer’s horses making a meal of a spruce tree in its paddock. Horses don’t eat trees unless they’re hungry. It was mid morning and as I looked around the snow-covered paddock I noticed there wasn’t a speck of hay to be found. My back was instantly up. Horses need access to hay when there is no grass. Without realizing it I started ranting at my husband about winter turnout and how horses need hay and why don’t these horse people know this, and on and on. When he’d finally had enough, and after I’d texted the person in charge in as calm a voice as I could muster (please give this horse some hay so she’ll stop eating our tree) he forced me to look at myself and my reaction. Why was I so quick to react instead of simply observe and then respond? Why was I so hot under the collar about something that a simple conversation could fix?

This new awareness gave rise to a personal commitment to get ahead of this triggered reaction. Over time I realized that my indignation was born of a sense of injustice and this was related to the survival mode in which I’d been living my entire life. With years of therapy under my belt I already knew the whys and wherefores, now I needed to deal with the ingrained coping mechanism ~ the propensity to lash out to protect my personal and emotional space.

So, it’s been interesting. With lots of triggers on and off the farm this year, never mind out in in the world-at-large, I have had to learn to get in front of my reactions. To take stock of the moment and choose my response rather than get lost in my reaction. Wow, is that ever hard. But it’s been such a valuable lesson. I now know the moment my indignation is about to rise. I can feel it first in my chest like a thud. And then my mind clicks in and the wheels start to turn and my heart rate elevates and my mind spins and … and … and … if I don’t get ahead of it BOOM! it’s out there. And the funny thing is, it’s no kind of release, it just ramps things up even worse so that in the end I’m actually doubting what I did and then beating myself up for being reactive. In the end, I lose!

Observe . Breathe . Wait

Getting ahead of my reactions means observing, breathing and waiting. When I wait I give myself time to even consider whether or not I want to dignify the perceived offense or injustice with a response. I give myself the choice of ignoring it or responding to it later from a more solid, less volatile place. One of my strategies is to write everything down to get it out of my system. Journaling. A personal record from the heart that I can then put away and not think about again unless given a very specific reason, say, as evidence. (It also provides great resource material for other writing projects.)

You see, to live in thrival mode we must release all the survival instincts that have kept us stuck in old patterns of behaviour and re-program our vast intelligence to function more efficiently and dynamically. Interestingly, living in thrival mode is less energy sapping than survival. In survival mode we’re always alert and waiting for the other shoe to drop and believe me, that’s an exhausting and debilitating way to live. The Complex-PTSD and adrenal issues I’ve experienced did not appear by accident. However, in thrival mode we have the option to live a more edifying and enjoyable life without placing conditions on everything and everyone to be exactly as we need them to be so we can survive. Isn’t that the bane of our world right now? The fact that many of our leaders are so burrowed down in survival and fear that they must control everything to the point of utter destruction in order to make themselves feel better and more in control?

Thrival is impossible as long as we allow ourselves to be influenced and buried in the deep fear and survival mentalities of people we can’t control. This has proven a difficult challenge for me. Survival mode made me a terrible control freak and I’m still working on letting this part go, but at least I’m aware of it. At least I can get ahead of my negative momentum and stop it before it impacts another. I can thrive on my own terms, in my own happy heart, and there’s nothing you or anyone else has to do to make it happen.

In thrival mode, we claim our power at no one’s expense. In survival mode our power flails to the detriment of all.

As we head into 2020 I set my intention to Thrive 2.0. The next, more advanced level of living a full life ~ flourishing, growing, prospering. Even more comfortable thrival shoes.

May I wish you the same. Happy New Year!

Be well and thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy E. Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2019

 

Mirror

Water abstract

And if the view’s not to your taste …

Don’t blame the mirror.

~*~

Image: Dock relic in large pond … Tylney Hall, Hook, Hampshire, England

~*~

©Dorothy E. Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2019
Aimwell CreativeWorks

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fallow

 

Under the Rainbow

~*~

Fallow soil,

Hallowed ground.

Nothing grows here ~

Not yet.

The seed planted

Rests peacefully

Within a fertile

Bed covered by

Hope; fed with

Dreams.

Awaiting the

Moment

To rise; to greet

The sun.

Its day will

Come.

In the meantime,

Fallow.

~*~

Sometimes there is absolutely nothing to be done to create forward momentum. In those times, rest.

Thanks for visiting,

Dorothy

©Dorothy E. Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2019 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

Sunshine Maiden

Golden Glow LR

She glowed upon a soft horizon,

The Sunshine Maiden.

A warming, golden light

That shone o’er

Shivering hills and

Truth bare-boned. No

Hiding from the glint

In her amber all-seeing

Eye. And yet, no judgment

There. Simply a place

Holder shedding light

On dark corners of

Spirit. Healing.

De-mystifying the

Mysterious. Revealing,

Through her bright beam of knowing, the

Bounteous beauty born of

Bleak internal landscapes.

Her light; her love, radiating and

Conquering the dark.

~*~

In Memorium

Wendy Golding, mentor and friend. Recently deceased lover of life and co-founder of
Horse Spirit Connections in Tottenham, Ontario. A guiding, healing light, and force for good, to all who knew and loved her.

wendy and thor copy

Always in my heart.

~*~

©Dorothy E. Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2019

Dust to Dust

Goodbye, we say again, goodbye,

Beneath a sad and sullen sky.

A year has passed

Since you drew breath;

Surrendered to untimely death.

My judgment, for I miss you so ~

I was not ready to let you go.

Still,  life goes on as well it must,

So I release your dust to dust.

Your spirit soars while tears I cry

Beneath a sad and sullen sky.

~*~

©Dorothy E. Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2018 … Aimwell CreativeWorks


No Last Goodbye

There are no words,

What can I say

About that cold

November day?

*

Here one minute,

Then you’re gone.

I didn’t know how

I would carry on.

*

We’d chased the wind

We’d jumped the moon.

Our journey ended

Far too soon.

Bear, I lost you, Bear.

Bear, sweet Bear.

We didn’t get

To say goodbye,

And now all I can

Do is cry.

*

You changed my life;

You healed my heart;

Then our sweet world

Was torn apart.

You are no longer here, my Bear

And yet, I sense you’re everywhere.

Bear, I love you, Bear.

Bear, I miss you, Bear.

(Lyrics from the song “No Last Goodbye” by Dorothy E. Chiotti)

~*~

Shakespeare

Every once in a while someone comes into our lives and shakes us up in all the right ways. My horse, Shakespeare, affectionately known as “Bear,” was one of those someones. Over almost 12 years together he did indeed change my life and heal my heart. He was a great teacher, a great friend and a beautiful soul. He made me look at the broken parts of my life and piece them back together again. For that I will always be grateful.

This week marks a year since Bear died from torsion colic, and it’s time for closure. All the firsts are behind us. Time to scatter his ashes to the wind from whence he came and allow my life to move forward.

The words of the poem were written for the loss of this dear friend, however I’m aware of the universal nature of the sentiments expressed. “Here one minute, then you’re gone …” who hasn’t known the feeling of sudden and inexplicable loss.

I dedicate this to all who have lost a sweet loved one and didn’t have a chance to say goodbye.

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

~*~

©Dorothy E. Chiotti … All rights Reserved 2018 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

Lest We Forget …

Archie GordonIt is that time, once again, when our thoughts turn to the great sacrifices, whether through loss of life or limb or sanity, of those who fought in wars to protect our freedoms. I’m re-posting this from last year because my grandmother’s voice, as she talks about the loss of her brother, Archie, during WWII needs to be heard.

Hers is just one voice.

Lest we forget.

Thanks for visiting …

Dorothy

©Dorothy E. Chiotti … All Rights Reserved 2018 … Aimwell CreativeWorks

In So Many Words

When I was a little girl, I loved to hear the family stories my Scottish granny, Alice Gordon, would share of her parents swapping the civilized life of gentry in Glasgow for the pioneering life of the wilds of northern Alberta in the 1920s. A family of nine stepping into the unknown to start anew under some of the most undesirable conditions possible. The longest, bitterest winters. The angriest mosquitoes. The biggest, immovable field stones. What a shock to the system! I’ve heard lately that if they’d had the money they would have returned to the old country after just a year of these, and other, challenges. Their life was just that hard.

Still, Granny was proud to tell of their sacrifices, incumbent hardships and the ultimate satisfaction of taming a hostile environment that provided a foundation for future generations to grow and prosper. She was also proud to call…

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