Ellen Kelly's "Snapshots: Life, Peace and Coffee on the Home Front"

by Shaun Hunter


Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers

An aerial view of Battalion Park on Calgary's Signal Hill. The numbers represent a few of the infantry units that trained at Sarcee Camp during World War I: the 113th Lethbridge Highlands Infantry Battalion, the 51st Canadian Infantry Battalion, the 151st Central Alberta Battalion and the 137th Infantry Battalion of Calgary. (Photo: City of Calgary)

An aerial view of Battalion Park on Calgary's Signal Hill. The numbers represent a few of the infantry units that trained at Sarcee Camp during World War I: the 113th Lethbridge Highlands Infantry Battalion, the 51st Canadian Infantry Battalion, the 151st Central Alberta Battalion and the 137th Infantry Battalion of Calgary. (Photo: City of Calgary)

Ellen Kelly’s father was a World War I veteran who served in the 137th Infantry Battalion of Calgary. Before he was shipped overseas, he trained at Sarcee Camp on the Tsuu T’ina Reserve at the southwest edge of the city. In 1916, he and his fellow soldiers hauled fieldstones up a steep hill as a training exercise and formed their battalion numbers on the hillside. Decades later, Kelly contemplates the whitewashed stone numbers preserved on Signal Hill. She sifts through history, photographs and childhood memories to understand her father’s war. In the scene below, she is a cranky five-year-old, packed into her parents’ 1930s Chevy sedan for a picnic adventure on the outskirts of town. It will take her a lifetime to unearth the memory and see the significance of those rock numbers on the hill.

 

Finally we are there. We get out of the car in a field of tall grass and thistle. Daddy picks me up, looks south, to where he spent almost a year in Sarcee Camp, “learning to be a soldier,” he tells me. Then he looks northwest to the hillside, points at rocks that look to me like rubble.

Daddy pushes back his tweed cap and traces numbers in the air with his finger… He know exactly where the numbers lay…

I am busy with childish interests – chasing grasshoppers, plucking wildflowers, picking the burrs out of my socks.

Mom winds new film into the Kodak box camera, follows Daddy’s finger and takes a picture of the hillside. I eat my sandwich and swat mosquitoes, trying not to think of the long, dusty ride home.

 

Ellen Kelly, “Snapshots: Life, Peace and Coffee on the Home Front,” Embedded on the Home Front: Where Military and Civilian Lives Converge (Heritage House, 2012).