Edmonton - Monday, November 11, 2002 - by: Ron Thornton


He was a rather independent fellow, this young 18-year old native of Stirling, Scotland. His step-father had recently announced that no one in his family was to join the war effort, but within days this teenager was in uniform. John McWilliam had joined the 2nd Battalion of the Kings' Own Scottish Borderers, a regiment with a tradition that goes back to 1698.




His battalion went into action almost immediately as they fought in Mons, Le Cateau, the Marne, and Ypres. Within months, if not weeks, our soldier was badly wounded and found himself back in Britain to mend, only to return to the line a year later under his mother's maiden name. He went on to fight alongside some Canadian soldiers in April of 1917, as Pierre Berton described in his book, "Vimy."


"On their left, the fresh British brigade had also moved into the line. One of the regiments, the King's Own Scottish Borderers, formed up in front of the Nova Scotia Rifles. To the astonishment of the Maritimers, taking cover in the trench, the Scotsmen stood tall, following the sergeant's command to "right dress ranks", as if on a parade-ground, totally oblivious to the presence of enemy snipers."




This sergeant left a part of an ear on the battlefield, along with suffering a shrapnel wound to his head, yet he managed to return home, emigrate to Canada, marry the daughter of a Saskatchewan preacher, raise some sons and daughters, yet never really settling down to his house on the prairie.




When Canada sent out the call to arms, this 43-year returned to the service and his former rank to stand guard at a prisoner of war camp in Lethbridge. He remained somewhat an independent free spirit. As the winds swept through one day, the CO's tent was amongst those flattened. As the sergeant surveyed the crumbled canvas, he wondered aloud to a mate if the SOB was still in there. From somewhere beneath the tarpaulin, a voice roared out that
"Yes, the SOB is in there, now get me the hell out."




I remember sitting on my grandfather's lap, listening to his rich Scottish brogue as he described a war and a time I was yet too young to properly comprehend. I vaguely remember him telling me stories that touched on his life in the trenches and answering my questions regarding the wounds he had suffered.




As the years past, he greatly enjoyed taking part in the Remembrance Day memorials, standing and marching beside old comrades. It was during one such march that my grandfather collapsed, the victim of a stroke that would affect his speech and his mind during the final five years of his life.




I was just entering my teenage years when his health failed, but in my eyes this old warrior remained a great man. He was to me what all grandfathers should be, loving me as deeply as I loved him. More than thirty years have past since he last marched on Remembrance Day, yet John Campbell Thornton still walks in my dreams.



age 31

Not all our warriors returned to us. In a cemetery in Italy lies Corporal Earl Goslin. I never had the opportunity to meet him, but I've seen his picture. He seems tall and lanky, with a rugged yet pleasant smiling face. He had moved from North Cooking Lake, near Edmonton, for Tete Jaune Cache, British Columbia, when got the call. He was just 31 years of age when he was killed in action on December 16, 1944. My mother was a child of 8 when her uncle died. In 1965, a small mountain in the Fraser River Valley was named in his honour.




Honour, duty, sacrifice. These concepts meant something to such men as my grandfather, my great uncle, and all those who have served under arms in defense of freedom and our way of life. It means something to my brother-in-law, L/Smn Bruce Bagley, who has more than once toured the Persian Gulf in serving our Royal Canadian Navy. I hope, during this day, this week, and the coming months, we remember them well. It is the least we can do, for it is only through their sacrifice that we continue to enjoy the freedoms we today take for granted.




Lest We Forget.


Ron Thornton




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