Arthur Manson

By ROD MICKLEBURGH

"I was just a kid," says the man from another time, gazing at the group of smiling soldiers crowded on deck for a farewell photograph.

The year was 1917. Arthur Manson was 18. And he was on his way with his mates from the balmy comforts of Victoria to the hell of First World War France. More than 85 years later, bright-eyed and still full of life, Mr. Manson tries to ex-plain what made him sign up the moment he was old enough.

"I was young and it was the thing to do. I knew people were being killed, but the war was on, and we were part of it."

Mr. Manson was so eager that he had tried two years earlier to enlist at the tender age of 16. But his cabinet minister father, William Manson, found out. "That ended things in a hurry. Dad came and got me, and put me back in school."

If you were old enough, it wasn't hard to be accepted. When Mr. Manson finally joined the artillery, his medical approval simply read: "He can see at the required distance with either eye; his heart and lungs are healthy; he has the free use of his joints and limbs, and he declares that he is not subject to fits of any description." He arrived in France early in 1918. And that was it. He didn't see a moment's action. "I was a gunner and I never pulled a trigger," he says, still astonished.

Instead, he was posted to head-quarters just behind the front lines, tending to the horses that pulled the big guns and, of all things, playing baseball. "I was pretty good, so they wanted me to keep playing. They had a lot of teams over there."

The teen gunner thirsted to get to the front. "I wanted to be with my chums," he says, "but I was al-ways kept back. I guess now I was rather fortunate."

Coming back to Canada in 1919, almost shame-faced at his lack of battle scars, Mr. Manson then launched his long, remarkable adult life. After doing odd jobs, he decided to become a doctor, at-tending medical school at McGill University, where he also found time to play intercollegiate basket-ball and football (his position, middle wing, is no longer part of the game). The sports pages dubbed him "Bozo" Manson. He practised medicine for 50 years, most of them in Vancouver, and in his mid-80s, he could still do back flips off the diving board. He played golf regularly until he was 92, the same year he finally gave up driving a car.

Yes, the First World War vet did have his left leg amputated. But that was last year. He went through the operation as he has everything else thrown his way for the past century or so - with flying colours.

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