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Goodbye To All That

The Epilogue to Robert Graves’ seminal memoir 'Goodbye To All That' - the core of which emanates from his harrowing experiences in the First World War - contains a small Canadian gem. The book itself was published in 1929; the Epilogue was appended by Graves in 1957.

“Goodbye To All That reads as ripe ancient history now," Graves wrote, "and . . . many of the names that swim up from the past have acquired novel senses. For instance, mischievous young Corporal Mike Pearson, whom I recommended for a commission from the Oxford Cadet Battalion in 1917, has become Mr. Lester Pearson, Canada’s most famous citizen.”

'Goodbye To All That' was required reading when I was at school in Scotland. Lester Pearson, as we know, was essentially the father of Canada’s outstanding reputation as a trusted nation of military peace-keepers. Pearson’s emphasis on peace-keeping came out of a profound knowledge of war and what it does to people; what it does especially to the soldiers who survive it, wounded, maimed or otherwise.

Perhaps it should be a requirement of all our politicians to engage in some level of military conflict. For better or worse they are the people who make the decisions, and perhaps that’s the only way they can understand what wars do. Re-reading ‘Goodbye To All That’ reminded me – if I ever needed reminding – that we who ignore our history will inevitably repeat it. It is tragically sad, and unspeakably dangerous, that so many of our leaders today seem bent on obliterating knowledge of our past. Mike Pearson, who was arguably the most humane and decent of Canada’s Prime Ministers, must be spinning in his grave.

The Robert Graves’ archives rest in several libraries and institutions around the world. The Special Collections section at the University of Victoria in British Columbia has a sizeable inventory of Graves's papers.


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