Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Finding Treasure in a Modest, Brown Wooden Box

Going through my great grandfather's "treasure" box was humbling for me, and very exciting for my kids. Avery could not contain his excitement as he impatiently waited for my father to work his way down to the bottom. From the look on his face, I knew he felt like he was on a treasure hunt and that he had visions of finding                                                    something valuable and something dangerous like a bejewelled sword or an early WWI gun. Inside this modest, brown wooden box, however, were treasures that an old man could not bear to part with, treasures that have very little monetary worth but are priceless to a man who wants to show the world that he was here and priceless to his family that want to know more about his story. As I go through William John Ring's box, I can't help but feel like I am glimpsing into the heart of a man I barely knew and that  by opening this box, I am entering a very private, meaningful space.

Throughout my life, I have heard snippets about Bill's life, and I have a few faint memories of him, but by the time I came along he was a very frail man, confined in a wheelchair. I know he and his brothers owned a boat yard in the North End, and his treasure box is filled with receipts for boats he bought and sold. I also know that he married a woman named Minnie and they had three daughters and one son. Minnie had contracted polio at some point in her life, which weakened her legs. One of the most touching stories I have heard about Bill, along with the belt story I told yesterday, is that he strategically placed wooden pegs on the walls of their home so that Minnie could lean on them and move around. From what I gather, William John Ring was a quiet man. It sounds like he loved his wife, his daughters and his grandchildren. He was a sailor, a speed skater, and, as I just recently discovered, a poet. I pray that someday I will have the opportunity to sit down and talk to my great grandfather when my journey here on earth is through, but for now, I will continue to piece together who this man was through the stories I hear and the "treasures" he left behind.

Some of the mementos this "treasure" box holds include his army issued comb, mirror, and straight razor, which the boys loved! We also found coins in a change purse from Germany and France. There were two pocket watches, one of which dad and Zoe were able to get working again, pocket knives, buttons from his uniform, and a few medals and ribbons.

Baby Girl's favourite "treasure" is a tiny catalogue for men's suits. After examining Bill and Minnie's wedding certificate, Zoe discovered they were married in 1920 and since the catalogue was dated the same year, she surmised that this is the catalogue he used to order his suit from for the wedding. She thought it was adorable that he kept it!

The treasure box also holds a ton of photos from the war, and it is interesting to note that most of these pictures are from the beginning of the war, probably from a time when Bill felt most optimistic and slightly excited about the adventures his teenage self was about to embark upon.

William John Ring in his uniform, or at least we thought so until about an hour ago . . .  tee hee! We assumed this was my great grandfather because of the ears and the shape of his face (c0mpare with older photo), but upon closer inspection of the soldier in this photo, my father realized that this man's uniform has sergeant stripes, and Bill was only a private. So, here is a photo of a young, nameless soldier, who resembles Bill, and who was clearly important to him because his picture was placed in the "treasure" box:

Folks, I think we can learn a valuable lesson from this. First, a writer should always double check their "facts" and second, everyone should write names on the back of their photos. Seriously! Go do it now!

I don't know, though, I really think this may be Bill. Not only are the ears and the shape of his face the same, but look at the nose . . . hmmmm. Clearly, I need to do a little more investigating.

Anyhoo . . .

My great grandfather and the other Canadian soldiers travelled on a ship called the Caledonia to get oversees. He belonged to the 26th Battalion. According to a Christmas card we found that was Army issued and the soldiers sent home to their families, the 26th Battalion fought in the Battles of Ypres, Kemmel, St. Eloi, and La Somme:

This photo reads: "on the hurricane deck watching for submarines"

Here they are posing with a machine gun. The photo reads: "ready for action!"

This is the torpedo boat, The Princess Alice, that escorted them into Plymouth:

This is a picture of the men lined up to "shower" on deck. My boys love this picture because of the naked guy under the tarp . . . tee hee!

This is a training ship the Caledonia docked beside as they entered Plymouth. Look at how many soldiers are on deck!

These pictures are of Dover Beach:

This is the train that took the 26th Battalion to East Sandling Camp:

This photo reads: "my comrade in battle"

Since this post is already quite long and my boys are starting to tear the house apart, I am going to have to save my favourite poem for tomorrow. Yes, I am annoying like that, but I will leave you with the final stanza of a poem titled "A Sailor's Prayer". Unfortunately, the paper this poem was written on is very worn and water-stained; therefore, I can not make out most of the poem. Thankfully, though, the last stanza is clear as day, and I think it is a fitting end to this post because it shows a dramatic change has occurred in the young soldier, William John Ring. Where the pictures suggest a naive teenage boy enjoying his first journey oversees with other equally naive young men, who are eager for their first taste of battle; the poem, on the other hand, gives us a glimpse into the mind of a frightened, young man who is worn out, probably very dirty and hungry, and wants nothing more than to get home.

A Sailor's Prayer

by William John Ring

Take me back into the land
Where they don't scrub down with sand,
Where no demon typhoon blows,
Where the women wash the clothes.

God thou knowest all our woes,
Feed me in my dying throes.
Take me back - I'll promise then
Never to leave home again.

Of all the stories of his I have heard and the momentos of his that I have held, nothing has given me a better glimpse into the heart of my great grandfather like his poems have, and for this, I would have to say that these poems are indeed the treasure buried at the bottom of a modest, brown wooden box.

1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written... thank you for sharing. So in return: please contact your veteran's affairs and ask for a copy of your great grandfather's military records.... you could learn things you didn't expect. I have my grampy's and they are a treasure!! Hugs!!