Baby Girl spent the weekend doing a project on the Battle of Ypres for her Social Studies class. The assignment was to pick a battle from either WWI or WWII, and Zoe immediately knew which one she wanted to do. It sounds funny for a fifteen year old girl to have a favourite battle, but if you asked any member of my family what battle interests them the most they would probably all respond the same way - The Battle of Ypres. Our fascination with this battle derives from the fact that my father holds in his possession a belt that his grandfather, William John Ring, always wore, but rarely talked about. This is no ordinary belt. This is a German belt, and it is a belt William, or Bill as he was known, acquired almost one hundred years ago in one of the trenches of Ypres. According to the story, somehow my great, grandfather, Bill ended up in a trench with a dying German soldier. I assume the battle must have ended, and the German soldier asked Bill for a cigarette. My great grandfather gave him one, and there they sat together, quiet because they did not speak the same language, and probably pretty solemn since these were the dying soldier's last few minutes of mortality.This image has always touched me because unlike all the black and white footage we see of bombs going off and guns being fired, this image is remarkably human. They were just two young men, supposed "enemies" now sharing a trench, shaken up from the horrors of the day, smoking a cigarette together. It pleases me to know that my great grandfather did not lose his compassion in the war, and it pleases me to no end that he made this dying German soldier's last few minutes on earth a little more comfortable. After the soldier died, my grandfather took his belt, carved on it "1914" and "Ypres", and then proceeded to wear this belt for the rest of his life. Bill knew that this battle was one of those significant moments in his life, and he never wanted to forget it. Why did he feel it was so significant? I will probably never know the answer to this, but I like to think that it is because this was the day, the battle, that my great grandfather, William John Ring, decided that no matter what horrors the war inflicted upon him, he would not allow them to rob him of his humanity.
My great grandfather, Bill
His belt. The belt buckle when translated reads: God is with us.
The engraving - 1914 Ypres
On Sunday night, when the kids and I went to visit my father to pick up the belt for Zoe's presentation, we were thrilled to discover that not only did my dad have the belt in his possession, but after his own mother had died a couple of years ago, he was given a box that his grandfather, Bill, stored his most treasured possessions in. My kids were giddy with excitement! Inside we found tons of war memorabilia, pictures, documents, ribbons, medals, and one of the greatest treasures of all, some poetry he wrote during his time at war, which happened to be the entire war (1914-1919). Poetry! I never knew my great grandfather was a writer. How cool is that?
If you would like to read more about my great grandfather, William Ring, and the treasures we found in his box, check out these posts:
Happy Remembrance Day!