Forty years ago he returned to Vimy, fifty-one years after the battle that must have been a definitive moment in his life. In 1968, one of the first places he visited was the German War Cemetery near Neuville Ste. Vaast. For over an hour in the rain he wandered amongst, not the graves of comrades, the graves of men who had been his enemy. His best friend, and other comrades, lay buried less than a kilometre away and yet he chose to visit this place first.
As I stood there, listening to my Uncle describing the scene, I imagined him standing next to me and then moving off amongst the crosses. I wondered what brought him here first and although I'll never know for sure I think I understand.
It is difficult to reconcile the man I know as my grandfather with someone who had killed, but he undoubtedly had. His citation for his Military Medal that he earned at Hill 70 recounted that he had killed at least 9 of the enemy. There were many other battles. No doubt, among the 44,000 dead buried in that cemetery were men that he caused to be there. Stewart and his other friends had been mourned long before that trip, but there in the rain far from home he probably had to confront the other ghosts that haunted him. Not his friends, but strangers from another land. Strangers just as bent on putting him in the ground, as he was them, but standing there it would have been impossible not to face them. Perhaps, there in the spring rain, he had to do some mourning yet undone. Mourning men he had killed, and perhaps his youth.
Nearby in the soil of Vimy Ridge,
Graves by the thousand lay,
Covering dust & bones of German youth,
That war had brought that way.
Fifty thousand, they said, lay there
All silent now and still,
Slain in a war that settled naught;
As now, war never will.
- A.T. Kines (from Vimy Revisited 1968)