Etc. -- Bridal Roses
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From pages 1 and 10 of the 16 Aug 1917 Simcoe Reformer:

How Bridal Roses came to 
Norfolk Heroes' Graves

Private Francis Murphy describes pathetic incident which concerns an aged French priest, 
a bereaved girl and Norfolk's soldier dead

Somewhere in France,
June 25th, 1917.

To St. Williams' Women's Institute:
Dear Friends:--A most pleasant surprise came to me the other evening, when the orderly corporal handed over to me your generous gift. 

What a jolly time Willie Green of Langton and I had, for Willie is all of old C Company I have left with me now, and he worries for fear he will be drafted away again and not have any chums from Norfolk.

We got the package open at last and counted the pile of socks and comforts. We had 16 pairs and each had a comfort and some a pair of shoe laces (very much appreciated). I picked up the sack and began to wander over the camp trying to find as many from C Company, 133rd Battalion, as possible, for I knew what it would mean to them more than the others.

You cannot imagine the big smile. Something from home -- Norfolk. Girls knitted those socks and comforts, and, best of all, Norfolk's women had remembered!

I did manage to keep a pair for myself and the comfort was hemmed with golden silk, and the tops of the socks had red, white and blue stripes. You bet I was selfish. Couldn't help it; I wanted that pair.

This is my first letter beyond those to my own people I have written since leaving Camp Borden.

Norfolk's Own is no more. It hit me hard. I was so proud of my ballation. But the spirit of Norfolk is with us and even though scattered all through the Canadian divisions, Norfolk's sons will go through. Yes, and hold their own. This is the world's greatest war. It is the biggest thing that has ever happened since the great flood. We want to be in it. We are in it.

I have often wondered what will be the situation in Norfolk when peace is declared. Before Vimy Ridge I visited the 14th Canadians and old C Company was again in solemn council assembled. Now my old comrades are gone, John Carnahan, Sgt. Crearer [sic],  Corp. Nethercott, Sergeant Knowles, who was so badly wounded.

Many things were discussed and one was what we could all do for Scotland. The "Jocks" as they are lovingly called, have fought shoulder to shoulder with us, even as their Irish cousins. When conscription came, they had to send some ploughmen back. Now there are many children in both Scotland and Ireland who have lost both fathers and brothers. There is no one to care for them now. England is well organized in this respect. 

The Scotch are as proud as they are brave and true-hearted. They will struggle along somehow but why not get some of these children out to Norfolk? 

There are many farms in Norfolk in need of a boy or girl who could bring up the cows and gather the eggs, and save the housewife many a step. By and by, with the strength of growing years, they will prove invaluable. 

Their fathers have saved Canada to us with their blood. For those who love children, who love their cheery presence, there are little arms that long for you now and little hearts that ache to be loved again. I write this, to you especially, and it is not only the wish of Norfolk's Own living, but also the wish of Norfolk's heroic dead.

---- o ----

I will now tell you of an incident of the war.

France is a beautiful land now, of sunshine and flowers, roses everywhere.

I called upon the village cure one Sunday and said, 
"M. le Cure, I have come to beg a few of your roses."

"Sit down, monsieur, and tell me why you want my little pets, for I love them, you  know," he replied.

So seating myself, I began to tell him of the cold morning in January when John Carnahan and I drove to the residence of the late Matthew McDowell and enlisted in the 133rd. 

"It is for his grave, M'sieur."
"Yes, father."
"Oui, oui. Certainly you shall have them. Marie?" he called and a little maid came running, armed with shears.

I protested, but such a bouquet! The old cure reached for his hat. "I will accompany you."

"No, no, M. le Cure, the way is long."
"Ah yes; you will permit me. My pleasures are few now." I thought of the long vigils he had, of his years, for his hair was flowing white. Yet the sturdy old man now takes the place of five priests at the front.

"One moment," called Marie, and away she ran, and I wondered why, but we were not long on our way when a score of young girls caught up to us, laden with roses, and with them, Marie.

Some time after we all reached the 14th burial plot. There are 84 graves, all marked and numbered, with a cross over all, with a brass plate bearing each name -- 16 of them 133rd boys. And so I had roses enough for all of Norfolk's Own.

One tall young lady worked upon a lovely wreath, which she placed upon the cross and knelt down. We all followed her example while the old cure prayed.

I remember his faltering English, "And may these brave men, and all others who fall in the cause of Liberty, Justice and Right, through Thy mercy, Lord, find a place of refreshment of joy and peace, through Christ, Thy Son, our Redeemer. Amen."

I rose and looked over that shell-torn ground of the valley of death. It looked to me as though some giant's plough had torn it saunder and after it an earthquake had torn great chasms here and there.

The girl clung to the cross, sobbing bitterly, her comrades trying to comfort her.

"See, M'sieur," said the priest, "the bridal roses. Her brothers first, and now her lover have fallen for France, and she has brought for your comrade the roses intended for her wedding day."

I went to her, speaking in French. "I understand and appreciate your remembrance of the stranger dead. No greater honor could you have shown than this." But I got no further. The maiden rose and gave me an embrace and a kiss -- a sister's kiss -- as is the custom in France, and something was thrust into my puttee. I stood dumbfounded, while the maidens seemed to melt away.

The cure drew a poinard from my puttee. "See, monsieur, she has made you her knight and her avenger, for this poinard (very useful at close quarters in bayonet fighting) has been in her family since the Crusades. It belonged to a knight of France. And her colors, too, see." He pointed to a blue ribbon with a medal around my neck.

I founded my tongue at last. "Monsieur le Cure," 
I began, "I was her knight already, had she comprehended. Indeed, so is every Canadian soldier." The maidens were coming around again. "We Canadians are brought up to respect and protect women, whosoever they are. Nothing can make a Canadian soldier fight harder that the thoughts of his dear ones at home."

"I understand now," said the old cure, after he had explained to her friends in French. "why Canada has conquered at Ypres, at the Somme and at Vimy Ridge. Oh, the good fight!"

So we wondered home, the priest and I -- the old world and the new. It was in the gloaming now, and sweet indeed were the clover meadows and the roses; but sweeter yet to me is the thought that the women of France remember, even as our own.

---- o ----

Now comes the question: how long will the war last. I pondered upon the answer as I watched the cure totter out of sight. I thought of what had just occurred. Although some of their customs may be odd in our eyes, blind indeed must be he who cannot see the beautiful lives that so many live.

Village life, a la commune, has its advantages, one of which is social intercourse after the labor upon the farms since dawn. 

I stole away one morning whilst in billet, and heards the larks sing over the meadows. The cannon can but drown it for a time, and on every hill can be heard that seraph song.

I came back and knelt in the village church and it was crowded for moring prayers.

In my mind's eye I can see the ruined cathedrals, churches and shrines. Yes, can even view one from where I write.

I am seated in a cemetery, shell-torn and shattered, wantonly, too, for no battle ever took place in its vicinity. The dead have been thrown out of their graves and covered any way, are waiting, cruelly waiting, the loved ones' return to restore the place to order.

I can picture the living beholding their loved ones disturbed. Can you? Above me is a chattered cross. The limbs of the Redeemer, for it is His image, it being the custom in France to bury the dead beneath the Shadow, hang down. One arm hangs from one side of that cross to which is left the head. Even more pathetic to me that all the carnage around, is the fact that a little bird has made its nest in the shelter that head affords.

Today I saw the funeral of a young girl who died yesterday from the effects of being assaulted by German soldiers. Her sufferings were incredible and to illustrate how awful they were, interment had to be made at once.

Out of Prussia came the first heresy; out of Prussia came the theories of divorce and race suicide. They may not have practiced it at home, but her minions sowed the seed of theat corruption world wide, and the inventors of race suicide were German, though the blame has been laid on France. Out of Prussia came socialism, agnosticism, atheism, ever Mormanism, for what was Joseph Schmidt or Smith? 

It has gnawn at the heart of nations for decades and some fools thought it was just. Even I had a taint of socialism once. We find atheism even in our own. Who is it that mocks the Bible when his comrades read it or belittles the prayer he learned at his mother's knee? It has confounded Russia, while the Huns jeer and make merry, and is a source of trouble in every nation of the earth. Call it wat you like -- socialism, agnosticism, atheiam -- I call it Prussianism.

When the world has renounced its Prussianism and has cleansed its religious, its moral and political life of the last vestage of the taint, and then nationally and individually has come back to God with repentance and tears, until then, I say, upon the altar of Mars shall the proudest of our manhood be laid, our women shall bewail him who is not, and over the land must be heard that sob which bespeaks a broken heart. 

Prussia, whilst conserving her own has very nearly succeeded in completing a propaganda of Heinous exploitation of the world's household, and now, with "Got mit uns" on their equipment and the blasphemy of God on their lips, they have set themselves to destroy everything of our ancient civilization. Even the dead cannot rest in peace. The Roman law, which was pagan, took no vengeance upon the dead. The Hun delights in such procedure.

 Come what may, I am glad I came. So is every man from Norfolk. Norfolk is winning her way, though broken and separated. Our gallant Colonel holds an important post as commanding officer of a labor unit at the front. Major McDowell leads D Company of the Princess Pats. My platoon commander, Lieut. Norman Dick has the trench mortar battery of the 19th Battalion. 

Hardly a week passes but I meet an enlisted man of Norfolk's Own who has won his commission. So we "Carry-on." Though the last Prussian trench may be dug at hell's gate, we will carry-on to a finish. Our watchword: "Up and Over, Norfolk's Own.

Private Francis L. Murphy,
No. 797104, D Company,
29th Canadians, B.E.F., France.

Image from microfilm

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