There are few families in Canada who were not affected by the First World War. Close to 61,000 Canadians were killed during 4½ years of conflict and another 172,000 were wounded. Many more returned home broken in mind and body. This had an enormous impact in the country of only 8 million when the war began. More than 600,000 served in Canada’s armed forces during what they called “The Great War”. While the achievements of Canadian soldiers on battlefields such as Ypres, Vimy Ridge, and Passchendaele ignited a new sense of national pride, the heavy losses they suffered erased any romantic notions of war.
Today, suffering on such a historic scale can easily become abstract. At the time it was both personal and intimate as households lost husbands, fathers and sons to the bullets, shells, gas and disease. The map above is taken from a Global TV News website post. Each poppy marks the Toronto home of the next of kin of a servicemen who died. About 2% of the total male population of Toronto was killed in the First World War.
My family was no exception. My father’s cousin, Levi Henry Robins, served in the 2nd Battalion of the Canadian Railway Troops. They played a major role in the construction and maintenance of railways for the British and Canadian Armies in France and Belgium. Levi had grown up a farm boy near Sundridge, Ontario. Short for a Robins at only 5’4”, he volunteered on April 13, 1916, four months before his 21st birthday. Almost a year later he was killed on Vimy Ridge just before the main battle began. Levi Robins was killed in action on April 5, 1917 by a German shell while on a carrying party. They were returning from Neuville St. Vaast, and he died at an intersection on the Arras-Bethune Road. Levi is buried at the Ecoivres Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France, and commemorated on the cenotaph in Sunridge, Ontario. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Robins of Sundridge.