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Grandpa's stories of greater love: what lies beyond bravery and duty.

The routine was always the same. Grandpa was up early on November 11. He put on his dress blues uniform of the Royal Canadian Engineers, donned the bandmaster's gold braid on his arm and polished his dress boots to a black lustre I have never been able to duplicate. Then he went to work on his medals. He had more medals than anyone else in the military band and more than any of the other officers in the whole engineering battalion. He had medals from full service terms overseas in both world wars. When he polished them, he had a special apparatus that clipped around each medal as he went at it with Silvo. This was to protect the ribbon that adorned each medal. All the time he was going through his routine, Grandpa was half whistling as he breathed in and out--as he "always did when he was concentrating on something important.

I used to sit and watch the procedure with silent fascination. Grandpa was nearly in his 70s but he had received special dispensation from the Canadian Army to continue as the bandmaster of the Royal Canadian Engineers military band in Cranbrook, B.C. It was something he took great pride and pleasure in, particularly on Remembrance Day. As a 10-year-old boy, I was proud of my grandpa's military service and history. Many times I would sneak into his dresser and pull out his military medals to feel and study them.

There was one medal though that he never wore. It was different: it had a deep maroon ribbon and was not round like the others. It was shaped like a shield and was made from pure gold rather than the brass, bronze or silver of the other medals. Instead of the head of the reigning monarch impressed on it, there was the imprint of a Canadian infantry soldier, standing and holding a rifle. At the top of the shield was a Canadian beaver and a wreath of boughs at the bottom. But what made the medal special, perhaps too special to wear in pubic, was the printing on the back of it: "Presented to Fred Webber by the citizens of New Denver for gallant service in the Great War, 1914-1918."

This medal was given to Grandpa when he returned from the First World War, and to others from his hometown, I am sure. His friends and neighbors of New Denver gave it to him. New Denver was (and is) a small village on the edge of Slocan Lake in the West Kootenay region of the province. When Grandpa and the other young men of his day left New Denver in 1914 to join the 54th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry, they knew every member of the town. They were marching off to war to lay down their lives for their country but, more important, they were laying down their lives for their friends. This became more profound as the Great War plodded on for four long and exceedingly hard years. Grandpa was in the trenches of France for virtually that whole time. The Somme, Ypres, Vimy Ridge--all battles Grandpa was muddied and bloodied in, daily laying down his life for his friends. Many perished as cannon and machine-gun fodder. Many others died from poison gas and disease. In the Great War, when a soldier laid down his life, it was very often taken.

It is hard for me to imagine what it must have been like for them to lay down their lives daily for their friends in a bloody war that ground up human flesh for four long years. When I asked Grandpa what it was like, the most he would tell a 10-year-old was, "Well, you had to be brave and you had to do your duty." But I know it went far beyond bravery and duty, for I would hear Grandpa tell stories about the people who were his friends and neighbors in the West Kootenays at the time he left for war. There was always a deep and abiding love evident in the moist English blue of his eyes and the gentleness of his bass voice. And when I think about him now, it is his love I remember when I think about Remembrance Day.

At the cenotaph under Grandpa's direction, the band would play the hymns --one for the navy, one for the army and one for the air force. I would listen and watch proudly. Grandpa's bright blue eyes were always brimming as he conducted with his baton. And, later, the one day Grandma would allow him a pint at the Legion, Grandpa would openly weep. He taught me many things, but the most important is that it takes the greatest love to lay down your life for your friends.

Jesus said that very thing: "I command you to love each other in the same way that I love you. And here is how to measure it--the greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends" (John 15:12-13 (1)). He no sooner said this than he laid down his life on the cross. Head pierced with thorns, body scourged with whip and limbs pierced with spikes, he suffered and died for his friends.

And who are his friends? The truth is, I am his friend. The truth is, you are his friend. I can say this with utmost confidence because Jesus said, "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3: 16 (2)). The truth is, whether or not Jesus is a friend of yours, you are a friend of his. He laid down his life for you. He made the conscious decision, out of the greatest love possible for you, to lay down his life to win your battle against death. He took the death penalty that was yours and he said, "Friend, believe in me and live forever." I can't even get my mind around that kind of love, let alone turn away from it.

(1) New Living Translation

(2) New International Version

Rev. David Webber is a contributing editor to the Record. He is a minister of the Cariboo, B.C., house church ministry and the author of From Under a Blazing Aspen and And the Aspens Whisper.
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Title Annotation:for the journey
Author:Webber, David
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Date:Nov 1, 2003
Words:1064
Previous Article:Obituaries.
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