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Joe in 1916

“Joe in 1916” is based on a story that was told to me many times by my paternal grandfather when I was growing up in Victoria, BC.  It is about his brother, my great-uncle Joe, who was machine gunned in the First World War.  He was crossing a footbridge and got it all down one side of his body.  He was brought back to England and placed in a convalescent hospital in a converted Chivers Jam factory in Kent.

My grandfather, then in his twenties and not having seen any family since he ran away from home at 13, was stationed in the UK.  He went to see Joe and took him out exploring in a three wheeled wicker wheel chair.  They spied some tasty looking apples over an orchard wall, so my grandfather climbed over to get some and the keeper chased them down the street, apples flying everywhere.

Joe eventually died of his wounds I believe and I don’t know if my grandfather ever laid eyes on another member of his immediate family.  But ever afterwards he called all young men (and the occasional young woman) “Joe.”  I think he would have loved it if one of the grandsons was called Joe, but it wasn’t to be.  In the meantime, we were all called Joe, all the time.  I guess he just wanted a chance to say the name.

Being of fairly diminutive stature, Grandad was always amazed at the height attained by his sons and grandsons, and was often heard to remark to my grandmother, “Gee Joe is growing tall.  Eh?”

Words & Music by Scott Gould. Copyright 2013. All rights reserved.

A big thank you to Mark Forsythe and Greg Dickson who published this story and the words to “Joe in 1916” in their book “From the West Coast to the Western Front: British Columbians and the Great War.”

Special thanks to Mark Forsythe and everyone at “Almanac” on CBC’s Radio One who played “Joe” on the air June 12, 2013 as part of their feature on family stories of WWI, and again on Remembrance Day in 2014, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the start of “The Great War.”

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