On a recent trip to the arid grass lands of southern Alberta, I was taken aback by the lonesome prairie cemeteries.
In the middle of nowhere, here was the last testament to bone-numbing toilsome lives. I couldn't help but think of the old cowboy song, "Bury me not on the lone prairie."In the Etzikom rural cemetary, I found the grave of Harry Garrison, who was killed at Vimy Ridge in 1917. His casualty details from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission state that he was in the 31st (Albertan) Battalion, of the Iron Sixth (Western) Brigade.
Tim Cook in Shock Troops describes Lt. Col A.H. Bell's 31st Battalion "assembled under the fall of enemy and friendly shells, with dozens being killed or maimed as they tried to form up thier sections." They drove forward into the sleet following the creeping barrage and dug in the cold mud next to the shattered town of Thelus.
Harry Garrison was one man out of the 159,000 casualties in the Arras offensive, one part of which was the battle of Vimy Ridge. Garrison, like so many men, would never return to his home. Perhaps Garrison left his friends and family on the prairie to fight in the Great War due to the difficulties of farming on the arid north-west plains. Perhaps he was a patriot, enlisting out of national pride, or allegiance to the British monarchy. Maybe he was a young man in a rural community that saw his chance for travel and adventure in the recruitment posters of the 31st Battalion. I'll probably never know much more than the fact that he died at Vimy Ridge, but that alone was enough to give me pause. While wandering the expanses of the north west plains, here too I found the cruel hand of Mars had extracted his toll.