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Haunting Memories

Heroes Remember

It’s, it’s hard, you know. I’ve had so many different feelings about it. I was amazed to find that after I got used to the army, I was never scared, never really scared. Mind you, by that I mean I certainly ducked when I had to duck, if you know what I mean. If you heard a shell coming you would duck, and I certainly didn’t invite anything, but I really never thought. It's only afterwards you get a bit scared or something. And I never felt, now … I thought if you saw some of the things that happened that it would completely change your whole feelings. I never had those feelings. Somehow or other you get … you’re into something that you know things are going to happen you’re not going to like, but you’ve got to put up with it and it sort of creates something in you. Well, that happened during the war. I went over some of the scenes that you would see, would scare the daylights out of you. But it never affected me, never affected me and it never occurred to me, why am I sort of taking all this so easy, until after the war. Then we got to think more and more. I think about all these different ones, you know, what had happened if they’d been alive today. Of course, most of them would be dead now, but I mean over the years. Very, the very finest of people, young lads - twenty, twenty-one, twenty-two, and all fine looking fine fellows. You began to think of the individual. To them it was not individual, you saw them in groups. You saw dead people in hundreds. They were scattered all over the place, and you didn’t look on them, and they …it just somehow didn’t affect me. And yet, as the years went on, it affected me more and more. And then I used to think it was this certain individual and that certain individual that was killed, you see. They were all young fellows, and some of the nicest fellows, and I said, they’re gone. Then I began ...

Mr. Pitcairn discusses the sense of detachment he had from the immediate horrors of the battlefield, but having those memories haunt him in later years.

James Pitcairn

James Pitcairn was born in Kirkintilloch, Scotland on May 3, 1897. The second of four children, he moved to Vancouver with his widowed mother in 1911. At the age of thirteen, he was working as an elevator boy when a truancy officer sent him back to school, which he attended for five years. In Vancouver, Mr. Pitcairn was twice denied enlistment because of his small size; however, he joined friends in Kingston, Ontario and was accepted there as a member of the 50th Battery, Queens Artillery on March 7, 1916. He trained as a horse artilleryman at Petawawa. Mr. Pitcairn sailed for England aboard the SS Olympia in August, 1916. He had further training at Camp Whitley and was finally sent to France as a member of the 52nd Field Artillery, 5th Division. Mr. Pitcairn’s service saw him in action at Lens, Vimy, Hill 70, Amiens, Drocourt-Queant and Valenciennes as the layer on an 18-Pound artillery gun. One hundred and two at the time of his interview, Mr. Pitcairn’s clear voice and photographic memory offer some very informative descriptions of the Artillery’s role in the First World War.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
James Pitcairn
War, Conflict or Mission:
First World War
50th Battery

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