My name is Reid Dobell, a dual national (Canada & US) who makes his home in King City, ON. I like to think I’m an average 18 year-old, interested in sports and involved in whatever else I have time to balance. But to get straight to the point, I’d like to invite you on a journey through the past, into the lives of several extraordinary Canadians whose stories should be shared.
Before that I need to mention my relationship with the Great War. I always preferred that title to WWI, as the latter seems to imply that there will be several more World Wars, which I hope will never happen. It certainly implies there was a second one. Anyway, the War first blipped onto my radar screen when I was a young, confused 10th grader. A History teacher introduced something called the Vimy Beaverbrook Prize to my class (more on that later). It was an essay contest where one wrote a piece or two and 10 winners from across the country would be selected to participate in a two-week scholarship studying the Wars in Northern Europe. So, I entered it and low and behold I was actually selected. At that point, I had no idea how much this turn of events would define me in the years to come.
These pieces will partially be about how the Great War became a part of my life. But I promised you a journey earlier, and so that’s precisely what I aim to deliver. When I found that I’d be participating in the scholarship, I also received something that I wasn’t expecting. All of a sudden, I was inundated with information from relatives about ancestors, previously unknown to me, that fought in WWI. Their stories are quite frankly remarkable, and I would very much like to share their journeys with you.
The backbone of this series, stretching from now until Remembrance Week and generously hosted by the Vimy Foundation will be about exploring the experiences of my ancestors during the Great War, on the Home, Western, African, and Middle Eastern Fronts. We will follow the young Lt. Sidney Dobell thrust into the final days of the war fresh out of RMC; Lt-Gen. Charles Dobell, the veteran of the Boxer Rebellion and Boer War, leading British forces through jungles and deserts; Lt. Colin Dobell, who survived most of the War after enlisting at 18 only to be killed in the last German offensives of 1918; Arnold Matthews, the recent UofT graduate who spent most of the War in tunnels only to be gassed at Bourlon Wood; Hugh Hughson, son of logging magnates on the Ottawa River; and finally Hugh Lawson, the Private in the Medical Corps who in the end had his own leg blown near off. Each one is unique in his own way and has a story that sheds its own ray of light upon the Canadian experience in WWI.
Please join me as I delve through their tumultuous years and how they’ve effected me. Perhaps at the end of it all you will take the time to go on your own journey of discovery. Everyone’s family has a history connected to the Great War; one only has to look for it. I’d be happy to share how I went about it with any eager, would-be historian like myself and help get you on your way.
Also, keep in mind that these ‘men’ who I will be following are all in their late teens or early twenties at the time of these experiences, a fact that escapes many people. Sidney was the exact same age as I am, 18, when he was commissioned and tossed into battle, responsible for the lives of 20 odd men.
At the end of this series, my hope is that you will be able to understand the importance that my ancestors now command within my own heart and the newfound respect I have for our heritage. But my greatest hope is that you will not only understand my feelings, but also share them.
That’s it for this first installment, look for the next post shortly.
All the Best for now!
Reid Dobell is a first year International Relations student at the University of Toronto, Trinity College, and an alumnus of the 2010 Beaverbrook Vimy Prize. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.