109 Years Old: Last Canadian WWI Vet

John Babcock with his wife, Dorothy
(Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press)

Ninty-four years ago, a young fifteen year old boy named John Babcock, enlisted in the Canadian forces. He had lied about his age so that he could serve his country, or perhaps for the exciting adventure he thought he might have. A little of both maybe.

“He arrived in England a few months later with the 146th Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, but in August 1917, after the truth about his age was discovered, he was sent to the Boys Battalion — a corps of 1,300 young soldiers training until they were 18.

The war ended before Babcock was old enough to go to the front lines in France.” (CBC News)

Now 109 years old, Mr. Babcock is the last living Canadian WWI veteran. He is the very last one who, although he didn’t see the front lines, was still there when it happened. He is the very last one who can tell that story from a personal account.

Is it wrong of me to want to assail the elderly gentleman with a recording device and a million questions? Its funny how you can sail along thinking that time is irrelevant. Your grandparents with their memories and stories would be around to answer your questions next week – no worries, Venice and all its glory won’t sink tomorrow – no rush, you can always catch Michael Jackson in concert next time – oh…wait…

Then you read about the John Babcocks of the world and suddenly you see the urgency of never sitting on anything. Don’t wait! If it means something to you, do it now. And you resolve to always carry a notebook, a camera, and your bucket list. Sorry to end this abruptly but…gotta run…things to do, people to see…

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13 thoughts on “109 Years Old: Last Canadian WWI Vet

  1. And soon, the First World War, the war that shaped so much of the current world order – especially in the Middle East, will pass out of living memory and into history.

    Even WWII veterans are now well into their 80’s passing on quickly. I know you can’t stop the march of time, but I also wish we could go back to these people to tell us their stories forever.

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    1. Brigand, thank you for your comment. You know, when I was in highschool I remember working on a project that took me to an old-age home. I interviewed 4 or 5 different people on the 1930’s depression. It was utterly fascinating. People have so much that they want to tell if only someone would ask. Sometimes I feel regretful that I don’t ask more questions or at least take time to record the answers of the questions I do ask.

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  2. I have no idea how you do it but you keep doing it anyway. What a fascinating post! So true what you say. So simply true. We often forget how insignificant we are if it were not for the collective memory of those before us.

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    1. Well, Abufares, didn’t you just sum up my post in a few very precise words!! Thank you!! I always feel such an urgency to gather information when I’m suddenly confronted with how little time I actually have to do so. A year ago my maternal grandmother passed away…a Canadian war bride…a woman who lived a very difficult yet full life. I regretted not asking her more, spending more time to hear about her life, and understanding a life that could only happen once.

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  3. Isobel, it is so important to learn from this generation! My grandmother went to serve as a nurse in WWI, she had a diary of the patients she served from SO many countries, with so many soldiers’ words, illustrations, languages. It is a family treasure.

    We interviewed all the men and women of that generation before they died, and have a legacy to pass to our children of their honor and sacrifice.

    Wise you are to hold their legacies dear.

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    1. Its wonderful that you have all of this information, Kinzi…absolutely!! That was very smart and organized of your family to do that…and what a treasure for future generations! Thanks for coming by!!

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  4. This post meant mixed emotions for me: my maternal grandfather died at 99, 3 years ago. He was like living History, not only because of his age, but because he always was aware of what was happening around him.
    In the past days I realized, all of a sudden and that late, he’s no longer around to answer my questions. Had I only realized that when he was alive, and completely lucid until the end.
    But this is true not only for old aged people. My dad died at 41. There are so many things I don’t know about him, for I was 8 when he passed away. My uncle, his only brother, passed away six years ago, so so may of the questions about my father will remain forever unanswered.
    Your post made me reflect.

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    1. I’m sorry to hear about your father, Gabriela. So young. And you’re right, people of any age have something valuable to be recorded in history. We should take the time to listen to everyone’s stories. You’re grandfather had a wonderfully long life…I’m sure he had a lot to tell. Thank you so much for dropping by and your comments.

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  5. very nice post Isobel,i like the end of it so much..my maternal grandfather is 95 years old, his life is ever exciting and motivating for us..he faught with others french occupation to Syria..escaped to Iraq..and escaped death so many times..then returned to syria and became a parliament member…then started a journalism career…although he did write his diaries..listenning to him telling the stories is a very different experience..as you said about the man in your post..i feel he will be eternally there..he belongs now to his memories never get tierd to repeat those stories with the same words and emotions they evoked….we(me and my brother and sister) were naughty enough to laugh at the repetition…but now i see it like a replayed movie.. great one..

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