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The Brewer’s Son

by Nov 30, 2019

He was born on August 28, 1890, a Roman Catholic, the son of a brewer, a trade he later adopted.

He was 24 years old, with blue eyes and dark brown hair, with tattoos on both forearms, when he signed his name on the line at the bottom of his Medical Exam certification on September 22, 1914, that declared he was fit for service with the Over-Seas Expeditionary Force.

He then raised his hand and swore: “… true allegiance to His Majesty King George the Fifth, His Heirs and Successors…So help me God.”

At the time, he was already a member of the Active Militia, serving with the 9th Artillery.

His enlistment was witnessed by his friend, John McCrae (at left in their photo, above), a fellow artilleryman, later a physician, and a poet*.

By the Spring of 1915, he was a Captain in the Field Artillery, in Belgium, during the Second Battle of Ypres.

For the first time during the Great War, the Germans deployed chlorine gas to break through the French lines, the gas flooding the lungs of the defenders. Canadians, quickly filled the gap, firing into the flanks of the encroaching German forces, fighting alongside the British, for three days, using rags soaked in urine to ward off the gas, knee deep in filth, enduring the horrors of war.

From the summer into the winter of 1916, he fought with his comrades during the Battle of the Somme, sometimes referred to simply as the slaughter, gaining six miles at the cost of 836,000 soldiers killed.

“For conspicuous gallantry in action…for displaying the greatest courage and ability throughout” he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

By Spring in 1917, Allied forces began the assault on Vimy Ridge under a barrage of artillery fire. By mid-afternoon they had captured the crest and 4000 German prisoners.

In October of that year, he was among them, as they assaulted Passchendaele Ridge, fighting through mud and rain, fighting for two weeks, finally victorious with four miles gained and casualties again in the thousands.

The following Spring, German divisions attacked through the fog all along the front, from Arras to St. Quentin, approaching to within 40 miles of Paris before the Allies drove them back.

He earned a second Distinguished Service Order for gallantry for helping to remove casualties “under heavy shell-fire” after an ammunition convoy blew up.

He was later awarded the French Croix de Guerre.

His nation’s Expeditionary Force lost more than 60,000 men during the war, almost 10% of those that went off to fight.

After the Armistice, he married, they had two children, and he wrote a short book with a long title: Afterthoughts of Armageddon, the gamut of emotions produced by the war, pointing to a moral that is not too obvious, published in 1919. (I have a copy if anyone would like to read it)

In the book he wrote of his experience of war; excerpts below:

“War! What thoughts of romance, of chivalry, of the splendid crusades of all ages, were inspired on that fateful 5th of August 1914!”

“…like a flash of blinding lightning, came the awakening! The change from light-hearted, unthinking young adventurers to men, men with a corroding hatred in their souls…”

“Changed we were, grimier, harder in mind and body, our souls revolted…”

And he wondered, at war’s end, “as he sat in a billet at twilight, five Christmastides from his home in far-off Canada, a little weary, a little wistful, wondering if the world would ever be grateful for the sacrifices of the million soldier-men such as he, and the super-sacrifice of those other millions of soldier-men who had passed beyond the wondering stage. Then, softly, he heard, in a neighboring room, two tiny German babes, the coming generation, sweetly singing “O Heilige Nacht, Stille Nacht” (O Silent Night); and then his wonders ceased, and he knew that all was well.”

He later served as the Assistant Canadian Trade Commissioner in London, and then Trade Commissioner in Shanghai from 1925-1935, where he first met Mamoru Shigemitsu. He was later assigned to various posts in Australia, and was Canada’s Military Attaché to Australia for the South West Pacific Area during World War II.

And, on September 2, 1945, he stepped forward and seated himself at the covered mess table on the veranda deck of the USS Missouri, representing the Dominion of Canada, adding his name, L. Moore Cosgrave to both copies of the Instrument of Surrender, as peace was once again restored.

The brewer’s son, Colonel Lawrence Vincent Moore Cosgrave died on July 28, 1971 in Montréal, Québec, Canada.

We Remember.

*Lawrence Cosgrave’s friend and fellow veteran of WWI, John McCrae, wrote the poem: In Flanders Fields, referencing the red poppies that grew over the graves of the fallen, the poem and poppy together becoming prominent symbols associated with Remembrance Day and Veterans and Memorial Day.