The morning of the 5th of February, 1918 dawned cool and wet in Vancouver. The ice and cold from the previous week had been replaced with unrelenting rain. The winter had been long. The war had gone on much longer. Still raging across much of Europe, World War 1 was just the centrepiece of a planet full of conflict and death. Industrial scale carnage devastated countries and wiped out a generation. On that winter day half a world away from the battlefields, war claimed another victim. A young Canadian lad would be just one of millions.
The name of this soldier was John Snow and he had served as a private in the Canadian Army. Trench fighting on the Western Front had given him a close up look at the reality of war. John was seriously wounded on March 17th, 1917 when an artillery shell landed within close proximity. Suffering from and being treated for shell shock and right leg fractures, it was discovered by Canadian military authorities that John was two weeks short of his seventeenth birthday. He was transferred from the front, through British Red Cross Hospital #6 in England and eventually back to Canada. Never having truly healed from his battlefield injuries left John in a weakened state and illnesses he contacted while in recovery proved too much to overcome. Succumbing to the combined effects of double malaria, atypical Typhoid and complications from tuberculosis, John Russell Snow died on that early February day in Vancouver General Hospital, his widowed mother at his side. He was still seventeen years of age.
John had been born in Vancouver on March 31st, 1900 and was the eldest child. He was the sole provider for his family since his father had died and enlisting in the army provided him with a steady wage. A strapping five foot eight inch fifteen year old, he joined the Central Ontario Regiment on Jan 18th,1916 and was in Europe with the 102nd Battalion Canadian Infantry by the end of the year. One more soldier in the War to end all Wars.
Less than twenty five years later, war would again rage across the same battlefields in Europe. Around the globe, World War Two killed millions. In the almost seventy five years since, conflict has raged almost non stop throughout many corners of the world. A conservative estimate is two hundred million people have died in these wars. Sovereign state wars, proxy wars, cold wars, religious and ethnic cleansing, revolution and narco gangsters. Child soldiers, land mines, suicide bombers, cluster bombs, napalm or nuclear attack. Humankind continues to fight and kill and wage war in ever more efficient and deadly fashion. Civilians have become pawns and fodder, almost disposable and anonymous in the name of greater war.
At it’s core, almost every person on this world really want nothing more than a consistent food and water supply for their family, a roof over their head, good health and safety. Perhaps they might like the ability to pray to their own gods without persecution. Alternative versions of the golden rule can be found in different countries and religions but essentially they teach us all the same thing, treat other people the same way you want to be treated. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. No one should ever have to or need to kill or be killed.
John Russell Snow did not die suddenly in the winter of 1918. It was a protracted and difficult death that was caused by war. He was a very young man who had barely lived and perhaps never loved. I wonder if he thought he was fighting and dying for a just and noble cause. Did he realize his was a needless death and that he was never even given a chance. What would he think the about seventeen year old men and women that are still dying today in needless bloody carnage around the world. That 101 years after his death we are still fighting, still killing and still dying. If anything has been proved by humankind’s perpetual warfare madness, is that we know nothing John Snow.