|November 5, 2002: WWI veteran Jim Fraser 103 yrs at his home in Morrisburg, Ontario.|
Photo: Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail
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Private, British Army's
52nd Lowland Division
He recalls the front line - when pushed to talk about it - as a place where only liars said they weren't afraid. The details he offers are scarce. This is not some-thing he cares to talk about. His family says he never has but for the odd story, nothing about the rats and muck and death.
The son of a gamekeeper raised in Glen Dole, Scotland, Mr. Fraser followed his brothers into the army at the age of 18, and landed in the trenches at Easter, 1918. He signed up alone, without any friends from his town. That was a bad idea, he says. A place nearby lost 35 men in one day alone.
"It was hell, that was all," Mr. Fraser says, just three weeks from his 104th birthday. He was a ma-chine gunner among the soldiers rotated between the front line and the rest camps away from the fighting, where "everyone played a waiting game" for his next turn.
You got through it, he says, mostly on your own. "Everybody had their own mood. Their own way of dealing with it." And every-one was scared. "There was plenty to be scared about." Finally, after fighting off the Spanish flu, he was discharged in September, 1919.
After moving to Canada in 1926, he dug pipelines in Prescott, Ont., and eventually landed a job in a big apple orchard outside Toronto where he worked most of his life. In his spare time, he was a competitive marksman, and when he retired in Morrisburg, he started the Legion choir. Never married, he now lives in a nursing home, still able to get around with a cane even to golf a few holes.
As for the war, aside from the questions he is always asked around Remembrance Day, he has tried to leave it behind. As he sees it, he was just an ordinary guy doing his part, and trying to get out alive.
- Erin Anderssen