“Born on 15 December 1894 in New Lowell, Ontario – son of Sophia Duff, New Lowell, Ontario – at the time of his enlistment in 1915: present address in New Lowell, Ontario, trade as farmer, single, no current or previous military service, Presbyterian, height of 5 feet 8 inches, chest of 36 inches fully expanded, medium fair complexion, brown eyes, brown hair.
Enlisted and joined the 157th Battalion (A Company), CEF, in New Lowell, Ontario, on 11 December 1915 (number 642653) – taken on the strength of the 38th Battalion, CEF. Served in England and France. On 27 or 28 March 1918 – wounded on 11 or 13 August 1918 – left shoulder and left food. Invalided to England on 19 August 1918.” Date of discharge: Feb 20th, 1919.
Later – became a street car conductor in Toronto, then to New Lowell to be a farmer, post master, and owner of New Lowell General Store. Married Octber 30, 1919 to Davina Roy Taylor. Two children: William James Duff (June 15, 1921) and Margaret Olive (February 4, 1925).
I found this summary of my grandpa on the internet this morning as I was searching for information / photos about New Lowell. I’m not sure why I was looking – maybe just being a bit sentimental? Always, at this time of year, I am moved by emotions to be reflective and perhaps a bit teary. Remembrance Day has always been a difficult day for me because it was always a difficult day for my Dad. I know I’ve written about this in the past. I know I process through the same emotions year after year. I know. It doesn’t mean that I am “over it”. I’m thinking I will never be over it -just as my Dad didn’t get “over ” the loss of his friends and fellow country- people during WWII and beyond. Every November 11, Dad cried. He did not cry out loud. That would not have been acceptable – for him. But I saw the tears well. I watched for him to casually brush them away. I watched Mom hand him tissues. He was stoic. He was made of grit. Usually. On Remembrance Day, he cracked open just a bit to reveal his softer and more vulnerable side. And I didn’t like to see him upset.
This year I plan to attend the Remembrance Day Service in New Lowell – held at the George Duff Memorial Legion. Yes. It was named after my grandfather who had not only served his country during WWI, but had also dedicated himself to his community over the course of his life. He, along with help from my Dad, had run the post office and general store in New Lowell. I know he did charity work as I had heard of it throughout my childhood – but those details are lost to me right now. I thought I’d ask to lay a wreath for him – and then realized it was not my time to step forward. I am not strong enough to be in the public eye. I am not ready to “represent” Grandpa’s, nor my father’s legacies yet. I would not do justice to their names and reputations – not yet. I’m not ready. In previous years, it had been Grandpa’s daughter, my father’s sister, who had laid the George Duff wreath. And that was right.
I forget that Grandpa wasn’t just mine. He was shared. He had a whole other life outside from my own. He was not just a Grandpa, not just a Dad, not just an Uncle. He was a friend to many. He was a WWI veteran – a side that I never, ever knew. You see, we had played “KerPlunk” together, “Hearts”, and although he resisted, “Barbies”. He babysat me. I remember his chuckle. I remember his kindness. I remember him singing, “Oh, Froggy Went a Courtin”. I had no idea what it was all about, but it was sure fun to hear him sing. Here is one version of Froggie of it that is slightly different but, hey, no one could sing it like my grandfather afterall! He loved music and introduced all of us to Sir Harry Lauder. A wee deoch an’ doris was one of the many songs I loved to hear him sing with a Scottish brogue. He taught me cribbage and to not fear those nasty neighbourhood boys who chased me home. He taught me that old age isn’t necessarily old and that independence is vital as one ages and that charity begins at home. As far as I was concerned, my Grandpa was mine alone – and he was Grandpa. In reality, though, he was far, far more than that…
Just recently, Grandpa’s daughter passed away. She was the last of that generation. I had not been close to her, my aunt. Yet, I know she was loved and respected by many. A true Duff. My Grandfather’s daughter. She would not be laying the wreath this year. I know that her children, my cousins, would miss her as much as I miss my Dad. These Duffs, you see, held a large section in our hearts. They were people that were larger than life. They were charitable, active, and smart.
So, who will lay the wreath? Who will carry the torch now? Who is the strongest of the clan to represent the Duff legacy in 2016? This is not my year. I don’t think it is.
I know I have a responsibility to teach my own children about their legacy. If Ben were home, I know he would come with me to the service. He became the youngest member of the Legion when we first joined. This caused a bit of a commotion and debate as he was old enough to join, yet too young to drink. No worries, he didn’t drink. But he was not going to be permitted on the club members side which is licensed, although he was a member. My Ben. We giggle about this every year. I will need to renew our memberships, that’s for sure. And I will teach my children about Grandpa Duff – about George Hunt Duff. I will teach them about my Dad, William James Duff. And I will teach them about their other grandfather, Gary Beard LePage. All heroes who are to be remembered. All are heroes whose legacy can only live on through our stories and respect paid to them during our lives.
We all have a responsibility to remember the past, the people in our lives, the traditions that helped to make us who we are today.