‘I just can’t figure out why our boys had to go through that’



Those 13 words speak volumes about the why of war. Particularly since they were uttered at a 1936 Vimy Ridge Pilgrimage by Canada’s first Silver Cross Mother.

Charlotte Susan Wood was speaking to King Edward VIII as they gazed across the former killing fields subsequently planted with uncountable white crosses row on row.

Mrs. Wood was a Winnipeg laundry worker whose son Percy had perished at Vimy Ridge before he turned 18, one of her five sons killed in World War I.

“Please God, Mrs. Wood,” replied King Edward, “It shall never happen again.”

Canada’s famous war mother died three years later, weeks after the start of another catastrophic war. She was buried in an unmarked grave in Winnipeg’s Brookside Cemetery. Though a new gravestone was erected over 60 years later, Mrs. Wood’s story has for the most part faded into the mists of history.

This need not be so. Nor should we be content to allow stories of war to be dressed up in glorious patriotic garb as they were last year. That is when our current government spent some $30 million on the War of 1812 and its 200th anniversary.

Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the unspeakable tragedy that took Mrs. Wood’s sons – and so­­­ many millions more.

Anniversaries offer the opportunity for reflection. What can we learn from watershed events of the past? Should we celebrate war as a glorious, nation-building experience? Or lament it as an awful failure in human affairs?

As 2014 approaches, the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Office of the Sisters of Providence is helping to organize “PeaceQuest.” The symbol is an inch-square piece of white cloth that anyone can fashion for themselves to wear as we encourage Canadians to complete a simple – yet difficult – sentence:

“In our quest for peace in the world, we need to….”

PeaceQuest, initially based in Kingston, will bring together people from faith communities, civic institutions and cultural groups – anyone with an interest in promoting a peaceful world – to talk together about what we need to do in our quest for a peaceful world. We will reaffirm a commitment to peace as a core Canadian value.

In the years leading up to 2017, the anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge and Canada’s 150th birthday, we will initiate a nationwide conversation about peace and Canada’s role in peacemaking.

Mrs. Wood, we hope, would approve of PeaceQuest. We will be honouring her memory and the sacrifice of her boys.

Jamie Swift is the director of the JPIC office and the co-author of Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety. The book was recently nominated for the Dafoe prize.