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Nov7ThuTo a young Canadian soldier caught up in the carnage of the First World War, The Salvation Army was a welcome sight. November 7, 2013 by Ken Ramstead
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- Faith & Friends
William “Bill” Clarke freely admits he is a bit of a packrat. “I come from a long line of hoarders,” he laughs. After years of procrastinating, his wife sent him down to the basement of their home in London, Ont., with orders not to come back up until the place was sorted.
“She had a point,” Bill says. “There were boxes that hadn't been opened from our move here in 1975—that's how bad it was.”
In the course of culling and organizing, Bill came across a box of papers that had belonged to his father, which he thought had been filed away in the family's safety deposit box.
As he rummaged through the box, a small white paper fluttered out. Curious, Bill picked it up to examine.
“It was a receipt dated November 6, 1939, from The Salvation Army's Bethesda Hospital here in town, the place where I was born,” he marvels. “I'd no idea my parents had kept it all these years!”
The receipt brought to mind another piece of paper in his possession. It was a Canadian War Office telegram from the First World War, informing Bill's grandparents that their son, a Canadian soldier, had been wounded near Passchendaele on November 6, 1917, the day that would become Bill's birthday in 1939.
“Dad didn't like to talk about the war,” he says, “but he told me about that.”
Wounded in the shoulder by shrapnel, the 19-year-old—also named William—was bandaged up as well as the front-line medics could and told to make his way back through the waterlogged, mud-slicked trenches.
There, well within range of the enemy artillery, was a dressing station, and next to that was a field kitchen manned by a couple of Salvation Army members. They were handing out hot stew and black tea to the wounded troopers.
“Of all the events of that awful, traumatic day,” Bill says, “Dad couldn't get over the hot, strong black tea.
“Dad and his mates knew that these Salvation Army people didn't have to be in an aid station in the middle of nowhere. Goodness knows there was no one else up there that close to No Man's Land. But they were. He never forgot that.”
Like Father …
William was evacuated to England to convalesce and, after recovering, rejoined his unit in 1918.
At war's end, William returned to his hometown of London, Ont., became a draughtsman, married and served with the Veteran's Guard in northern Canada during the Second World War. But he never forgot The Salvation Army and what they had done for him.
“I can remember as a little boy going uptown with my mother and father at Christmastime,” says Bill. “Dad would always make a point of going to see the Salvation Army band playing in the old market square and could never pass a Salvation Army kettle by without stopping to put money into it.”
Bill's father was not a particularly wealthy man but he always contributed to Salvation Army fundraising campaigns as well.
“One of the last things he told me before he died at the age of 82,” Bill says, “was, 'always remember The Salvation Army.' ”
And Bill has. Like his father, Bill gives and gives generously, especially during the Christmas kettle drive. “I'm very aware of the good work The Salvation Army does, both here and around the world,” he says. “And I do it for Dad.”