"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Nova Scotia Connections -- "The War was on." -- Part Two

The War was already well under way when Gertrude Bishop brought Elizabeth Bishop back to Nova Scotia in April 1915. Elizabeth remained in Great Village until October 1917. The chronology of this time, connected as it is to world events, only touches the surface of the intersection of public and private experience. Themes such as patriotism, mourning, commemoration (public) and guilt, grief and loss (private) – all issues Elizabeth Bishop dealt with in her writing – are only hinted at in this list. One of the elements missing is another list: the names of the young Great Village men, who Bishop had watched mobilize and march through the village in their exotic highland brigade uniforms. She watched them leave, many never to return. The six-year-old was fascinated by their ceremonial dress: the full highland regalia of the 193rd Highland Brigade. The chronology continues:

Late April 1915 - Gertrude and Elizabeth return to Great Village.

“The six terrible days” of the Second Battle of Ypres (Gwyn, 149), Canadian troops’ first major engagement and first encounter with mustard gas. The reality of war hits home: more than 6,000 Canadian casualties; 66 officers and 1,784 other ranks killed (Gwyn, 160).

7 May 1915 - Lusitania torpedoed off Ireland; 2,000 die, including “numerous Canadians.” (Gwyn, 157)

23 June 1915 - Frank Elwood Bulmer, son of Arthur and Mabel Bulmer, dies at the age of two months. His death is the subject of “First Death in Nova Scotia.”

November 1915 - Gertrude visits New Brunswick and Massachusetts. Elizabeth remains in Great Village.

January-February 1916 - 193rd Battalion, authorized and designated a Highland Brigade Battalion, recruits from the six eastern counties of Nova Scotia: Cumberland, Colchester, Hants, Pictou, Antigonish and Guysborough (Hunt, 130). Bishop refers to the 193rd in “The Country Mouse,” “In Nova Scotia the soldiers, some of whom I actually knew, wore beautiful tam-o’-shanters with thistles and other insignia on them. When they got dressed up, they wore kilts and sporrans” (Collected Prose, 28). The Battalion mobilizes in May and embarks in October (Hunt, 131).

21 February 1916 - Battle of Verdun begins. “Nineteen sixteen was the year when the war stopped being an aberration and turned into a constant, a nightmare.” (Gwyn, 295)

March 1916 - Gertrude suffers a violent episode triggered by a “business paper” relating to the custody of Elizabeth. Her Nova Scotia Hospital case file records that Gertrude believes she is going to die for her country and that she is the cause of the war.

May 1916 - Gertrude goes to Massachusetts for medical treatment. Elizabeth remains in Great Village.

20 June 1916 - Gertrude voluntarily admits herself to the Nova Scotia Hospital, Dartmouth, N.S., where she remains until her death on 29 May 1934. Elizabeth does not see her mother again after June 1916. “In the Village” and the unfinished “Reminiscences of Great Village” recall events from May 1915 to June 1916.

July-November 1916 - The eight battles of the Somme, including an engagement by the Newfoundland Regiment at Beaumont-Hamel, in which only 68 of the 801 members of the regiment survive (Gwyn, 304). Bishop visits Newfoundland, still a British colony, in 1932. Newfoundland becomes a province of Canada in 1949.

July 1916-September 1917 - Elizabeth lives in Great Village with her maternal grandparents, William and Elizabeth Bulmer. “Sestina” is about this period.

Fall-Winter 1916-1917 - Elizabeth attends the Great Village school. “Primer Class” recalls this experience.

February 1917 - Elizabeth sick with bronchitis.

6 April 1917 - United States enters war.

9 April 1917 (Easter Monday) - Canadian troops capture Vimy Ridge. Some historians view this victory as a rite of passage to Canadian nationhood, “Canada became a nation.” (Gwyn, 343); but it came at great cost: 10,602 casualties, 2,600 of them fatal. The massive Canadian National Memorial at Vimy Ridge invokes “The Spirit of Canada,” “the cloaked and hooded figure of a woman, standing alone overlooking the Douai Plain.” (Gwyn, 343)

In “Reminiscences of Great Village” Bishop re-names her mother “Easter.”

circa 12 September 1917 - John and Sara Bishop arrive in Great Village.

circa 11 October 1917 - John and Sara Bishop and Elizabeth leave Great Village and return to Worcester. “The Country Mouse” recalls Bishop's time living with her paternal grandparents.

July-October 1917 - Passchendaele. “The Great War reached its nadir of horror.” (Gwyn, 389). Canadian troops see action in October with 15,634 casualties (Gwyn, 400).

6 December 1917 - Halifax Harbour Explosion. Most powerful man-made explosion to date, caused by the collision of the French munitions ship, Mont Blanc, and the Belgian relief ship, Imo. Over 1,600 die instantly, more than 9,000 wounded; immediate area of destruction 325 acres; impact felt as far away as Cape Breton (Kitz, 26). Nova Scotia Hospital, especially women’s wards, receives heavy damage, but no deaths and functions as a station for treating wounded. Massachusetts organizes largest single relief effort, sending a train loaded with supplies, doctors and nurses on the night of the 9th. (Kitz, 84) Blizzard hits the city on the 7th. (Kitz, 71). Newspapers headlines in Toronto, “HALIFAX CITY WRECKED.” (Gwyn, 411)

5 February 1918 - Elizabeth visits dentist’s office in Worcester, and experiences extreme dislocation. It becomes the subject of “In the Waiting Room” over 50 years later.

May 1918 - A seriously ill Elizabeth - “I felt myself aging, even dying” (Collected Prose, 31) -taken to live with Aunt Maude in Revere, MA. “Manners” is dedicated “For a Child of 1918.”

August-November 1918 - “The Hundred Days.” Final assaults and breakthroughs by Allies.

11 November 1918 - Armistice.

Fall-Winter 1918-1919 - Spanish Influenza epidemic. It “killed more than died in the war.” (Gwyn, 485). Bishop’s Aunt Grace, a nurse, helps care for the sick in Massachusetts during the epidemic. Bishop does not contract the Influenza.

1919 - Demobilization and return of Canadian troops from Europe.

8 August 1919 - Elizabeth returns to Nova Scotia for the first time since her removal in October 1917. She and Aunt Grace travel aboard the steamer North Star, which grounds off Yarmouth, N.S. All passengers and cargo are safely removed. The ship is lost; Bishop’s shipwreck.

Great Village cenotaph, erected in the 1920s. Remembrance Day services are held every 11 November at this memorial, which is now in a location nearby this original site.

Works cited

Bishop, Elizabeth. The Collected Prose. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1984.
Craig, John. The Years of Agony 1910/1920. Toronto: Natural Science of Canada Limited, 1977.
Gwyn, Sandra. Tapestry of War. Toronto: Harper Collins Publishers Ltd., 1992.
Hunt, M. Stuart, ed. Nova Scotia’s Part in the Great War. Halifax, N.S.: The Nova Scotia Veteran Publishing Co., 1920.
Kitz, Janet. Shattered City. Halifax, N.S.: Nimbus Publishing Ltd., 1989.
Mathieson, William D. My Grandfather’s War. Toronto: Macmillan, 1981.
Spires, Elizabeth. “The Art of Poetry, XXVII: Elizabeth Bishop.” Conversations with Elizabeth Bishop. George Monteiro, ed. Jackson, MI: University Press of Mississippi, 1996, 114-132.
Stokesbury, James L. A Short History of World War I. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1981.
Wells, H.G. The Outline of History, Vol. II. Garden City, NY: Garden City Books, 1920 (1960).

1 comment:

  1. There is much richness in the varied contents of
    the Blog! My constraints prevent me from pausing to note each item, suffice it to say that those folks who know EB's life and work so well have indeed offered us a feast in the various and varied blog postings.
    Many thanks, Donez Xiques