“No war, no matter how just, is less than evil,” Hemingway wrote, but within that there can be heroic and sacrificial moments.
One thinks back to the third rector of Christ Church, Vancouver, (now Christ Church Cathedral), the Rev. Cecil Owen and his son Harold whose sacrifice is commemorated in one of the Cathedral’s stained glass panels.
As we celebrate Remembrance Day, 2008—with Canadian soldiers again in the field, some dying—we might remember the Owens. Father and son had volunteered for service in the First World War. On April 22, 1915, at Ypres, Belgium, Canadian troops were for the first time to come under fierce German fire.
A few days later, Harold Owen wrote his mother: “I have lost nearly every personal friend within the contingent... It may sound unutterably selfish, but war is robbed of all its tinsel, glory and pomp when a hero friend smiles his last, while another hypnotized by the spirit of wholesale sacrifice steps into his place with no hope of ever coming back...
“The Canadian division put not only its hand but its body and soul into the breach and suffered it to remain, broken and mutilated. Those who survived ask themselves: ‘What right have we to live when the rest have been taken?’”
The memorial window at Christ Church Cathedral honouring Harold Owen
The war dragged on. The elder Owen, chaplain of the British Columbia regiment, was promoted to rank of major. Harold Owen served as a lieutenant.
On February 1, 1916, a telegram written by the senior Owen came to Vancouver from Belgium. “Harold is promoted to service with God. OWEN.”
The previous day the rector’s only son had been killed near Flanders by a rifle shot to the head while covering the retreat of three of his men he had led through “No Man’s Land” to the German wire. The 22-year-old had been buried the same day two miles from Messines on the edge of the grounds of a chateau. His father had ridden hard for three hours to be at the funeral.
In Vancouver the next Sunday, Christ Church was full. The rector-in-charge, Charles S. McGaffin, preached from the text, Hebrews 2:10 “It was fitting that God...in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Captain of their salvation perfect through suffering.”
In 1924, Major Owen, in the presence of 25,000 people, dedicated the Vancouver Cenotaph on Hastings Street. He said: “Those whose sacrifices this Cenotaph commemorates, were among the men who, at call of King and Country, left all that was dear, endured hardship, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of men by the path of duty, giving their own lives that others might live in freedom. Let those who come after see to it that their names be not forgotten.”
Lyndon Grove of St. Margaret of Scotland, Burnaby, suggested this story.