Sask. author's novella views Vimy Ridge era through the eyes of his grandfather

Sask. author's novella views Vimy Ridge era through the eyes of his grandfather

Exactly 100 years after the battle that killed his great-uncles, a Saskatoon man has woven their stories into a novella about the soldiers at Vimy Ridge.

Glen Larson's great-uncles Edwin and Edison Greenhow were among more than 400 Saskatchewan soldiers who died in the Battle of Vimy Ridge, which started on April 9, 1917.

His grandfather, who was much younger than his brothers, stayed home while they went to the front.

Bringing the soldiers back

Larson said he was inspired to write the novella when he started looking into his family's genealogy.

"I thought it would be kind of nice to write a piece to put out to the public to sort of bring them back to the living again, maybe," Larson told CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend.

"Just for a brief while, before they pass into the annals of history forever."

The resulting novella, The Boys from Balcarres: The Ghosts of Vimy Ridge, is being released to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the First World War battle.

Having never seen the battlefield itself, Larson thought it was better to write the story from a fictional perspective, rather than a strictly historical account.

"I just wanted to imagine what it would be like to be on the home front and have your sons, brothers head off to war, knowing that you might never see them again," he said.

Although the story is written as fiction, it is partly based on the real experiences of Larson's grandfather.

The novella chronicles how he felt left out when his brothers went off to war.

In an attempt to join them, he and some friends boarded a train to Regina to try to enlist on their own.

"He and his two friends went to the depot, they worked their tails off all day for the recruiting officer, and in the end it didn't work out for them," said Larson.

Fact meets fiction

He said writing historical fiction paired imagination with facts, but the facts were sometimes hard to find.

Larson was not able to find detailed records about the recruiting depot, for example — only that it was located in the Alexandra school.

"In a strange sort of way, a lack of information can actually give a fictional writer more licence to invent and make the story work," he said.

Reflecting on the writing process, Larson said his grandfather was a "conduit" for his understanding of life at the time of the Vimy battle.

He tried to picture how people at the time were perceiving the world through the eyes of his grandfather, then bolstered his understanding by reading more about the history.

"We all pay lip service to what a great country it is and a great place to live, but that whole exercise sort of brought that whole thing home and made it a real thing for me," he said.

He hopes people who read the novella will have a similar experience, and help the men live on through their stories.