June 28, 1914.
My seventeenth birthday.
My first kiss.
My first lover.
I really didn’t know why things like war had to happen. I didn’t understand why someone had to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand and plunge the entire world into war.
I remember the exact moment I heard the news. Damien, my eldest brother, came rushing into the family room.
“Did you hear the news?”
Everyone looked up. Mother turned pale.
“England declared war on Germany today,” he said. “Soon they’ll be calling for volunteers.”
My heart seemed to stop for a moment. I looked around. Rebecca, my younger sister, froze. Her ball of yarn fell from her hands and rolled to the floor. Father put his book down and sighed heavily. Mother didn’t move. David, my younger brother, jumped up.
“And you’re going to go, right?” David pressed, looking at Damien. Damien looked at Father.
Father nodded slightly. “If you wish to go, Damien, I will not withhold you from protecting our country.”
A muffled cry slipped from Mother. She covered her face with her hands. Rebecca put her arm around her.
I still didn’t move.
Damien and David left the room, chattering about the war.
And so it started. A few days later, Peter told me he had to go.
“But I love you, you can’t go,” I sobbed into his shoulder.
“Rose, I must. I have a duty to my country. I need to protect you, and that means I must go,” Peter said, holding me tighter.
I had no more words. He was right. Peter had to go. The boy I loved most.
I could hardly get enough of the small time I had with Peter and Damien before they left. We enjoyed the rest of the beautiful Canadian summer as much as we could. The day finally came when they had to leave.
Everyone in the city was at the train station that morning. Most girls and mothers were wailing and crying, but not mine. Rebecca, Mother, and I were smiling to the best of our abilities. Father was very solemn, and David was intensely excited.
“Write me as often as you can,” said David to Damien at the last. “Tell me of all the artillery and the other soldiers. I’ll be coming along as soon as I can––after all, I’m fifteen now, so I’ll be along in three years.”
“I can’t wait,” Damien replied, patting David heartily on the back.
Peter took both my hands in his and looked down into my eyes. I saw it broke his heart to leave me, but he knew he had to go, and so did I. Peter let go of my hands and gently took my face between his hands.
“God bless you, Rose,” he said tenderly. “I know you’ll be brave, no matter what happens. I know I can always count on you––and you can always count on me. I love you more than anything or anyone else on this earth. It will be the thought of you that keeps me going. I’ll always come back to you”
Something seemed to squeeze my throat and burn it. My eyes filled with tears as I whispered, “I love you so much, Peter.” I closed my eyes and the tears streamed down my face. Peter brushed the tears away with his thumbs and kissed my cheeks.
“I love you more,” he said, leaning his face in to kiss me again. I felt his lips caress mine, so softly and tenderly.
“I love you most.”
And so, the months wore by. News of the war became increasingly worse. It started with the battle of Ypres in October of 1914. Nobody in the house could sleep soundly until we received letters from Damien and Peter telling us they were alright.
Father, Mother, David, Rebecca, and I traveled to New York to spend Thanksgiving with Father’s people, who were American. Nobody talked of anything except the war, and it was a relief when we went home.
Late December brought news of the air raids in Britain.
“All those poor people,” sighed Mother. “I can’t believe things like this happen now. It’s so saddening.”
“New year, new news,” said Father exuberantly on New Year's Eve. “I know we’ll see the end of this war soon.”
April of 1915 hit like a bullet. The second battle of Ypres––Germany gassed our troops.
I couldn’t even eat. What if Damien and Peter had been gassed? What if they died in horrible agony, surrounded by similarly suffering comrades?
I cried with joy when I received Peter’s letter a little while later. He was safe. He and Damien were unharmed! Mother and Rebecca cried too when they heard the news, and Father traversed the floor saying “thank God.”
Gallipoli was a long wound in our hearts. It never seemed to end. When the news of the sinking of the Lusitania circulated, we were furious.
“Those Germans!” Father practically shouted. “Killing defenseless children and women! It’s perfectly ridiculous!”
When the battle of Gallipoli finally ended in December, we dared not celebrate loudly.
February of 1916. Verdun. News of Damien gave Father a heart attack. Father had always had a weak heart, and the news of Damien’s death killed him.
The battle of Verdun lasted until December. The battles of Jutland and Somme occurred between the beginning and end of Verdun. I still worried exceedingly about Peter, but there was nothing I could do except pray for and love him.
In April 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. Father would’ve been so proud. David turned 18 in May, and he told us he must go.
“Mother, please let me go. Father would’ve wanted it, and I promised Damien I would,” David pleaded.
Mother was crying, but she told him he might go. We watched David part from us the following week. It was only Rebecca, Mother, and I left in our large house that was once filled with laughter.
Peter’s letters stopped coming in June. I began to get terribly worried. A sweet unconsciousness enveloped me when Peter’s mother told me he was reported to be wounded and missing.
I was ill for weeks. It was almost worse than knowing he was dead. Suppose I never found what happened to him? Must I live my life without knowing where he had gone?
David was wounded in May of 1918. He had had to have his left arm amputated. The news saddened us exceedingly, but he was safe, and that made us feel so much better.
In early November of 1918, the armistice was signed and the fighting ceased. It made us so happy. We decided to celebrate Thanksgiving at our house in honor of Father.
“Girls, I know the past years have brought us much pain, but they have helped us grow. I’m so proud of all my children. Rebecca, your youth has passed very fast in these torturous years, but it has made you a wonderful, beautiful woman. Rose, the war has turned you into a woman, too. I couldn’t be more proud of either of you, and I know your father would say the same.”
“Thank you, Mother,” Rebecca said, tears blurring her eyes. “We couldn’t have made it without you.”
Just then, the doorbell rang. I wiped my tears and stood.
“I suppose I’ll get that,” I laughed through the tears. I walked down the hall to the front door. The metal of the handle was cold as I grasped and turned it.
My heart seemed to stop. A tall, khaki-clad boy stood before me. A few scars were scattered on his face. I knew I recognized him––those blue eyes were more than familiar.
“Peter?” I gasped, my legs giving way.
Peter jumped forward and caught me up in his arms, kissing my lips.
“I told you I’d come back to you.”