Author revives war hero in memoir

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With his name missing from historical photographs and his grave marker damaged, a First World War hero hadn’t been getting the credit he deserved.

Longview author Susan Raby-Dunne changed that after spearheading the restoration of Major-General Sir Edward Morrison’s gravesite in Ottawa and transforming his 300-page manuscript, which describes in detail his war experience, into the book Morrison – The Long-Lost Memoir of Canada’s Artillery Commander in the Great War.

“He has been lost to history because he was in lots of photographs, but he was unnamed,” said Raby-Dunne. “He was so important back then, but he faded into obscurity over the decades.”

While going through archives in the process of writing Bonfire – The Chestnut Gentleman, a story about John McCrae, author of the poem In Flanders Fields, Raby-Dunne came across a 1928 Ottawa Citizen news clipping with excerpts of Morrison’s war experience.

She said she knew there had to be a manuscript somewhere.

Inspired by what she read, Raby-Dunne visited Morrison’s grave at the Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa, Canada’s national military cemetery, and was appalled by what she saw.

“When I saw his grave it was very shocking because it was mildewed and a cross on the top of it had broken off, who knows, 50 or 60 years ago,” she said.“It just bugged me because this guy was very important. In World War One he commanded all of Canada’s artillery from near the end of 1916 all the way to the end of the war through Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele and all those important battles where it was the road to victory.”

One to take action, Raby-Dunne received permission from the plot owner to restore the marker. The Beechwood Cemetery covered the costs and the restoration was unveiled at a ceremony on Nov. 5 featuring the Chaplin General of Canada, dignitaries and family members.

During a visit in Ottawa, Raby-Dunne had met some of Morrison’s descendents who showed his war memorabilia including medals and a manuscript detailing his experience at war.

“It’s a document of remembrance,” she said. “It was an incredible sacrifice and he wanted it remembered. They had done nothing with it – they hadn’t even read it.”

Raby-Dunne received his family’s approval to transform Morrison’s manuscript into a word-for-word book, with some light editing.

“It’s such an incredible record of the entire experience of World War One,” she said. “I don’t think there is any other commander that gives you a blow-by-blow of the whole entire war from beginning to end. It described every single battle in detail, probably in more depth than people would want.

“Anyone who values the Canadian military will find it a fascinating comprehensive record of Canada’s experience in the war.”

Morrison’s manuscript was typed on velum paper with passages crossed out and pencil notes and corrections in the margins.

“I don’t think it was complete,” Raby-Dunne said. “There were some blank spots.”

In addition to Morrison’s writings, the book consists of approximately 50 photographs and sketches done by Morrison.

Raby-Dunne said the memoir is mostly written in the first person. In a couple of places, Morrison wrote about himself in the third person.

“It’s kind of funny,” she said. “He did not want to get any glory for himself. He was very respected and complimentary of all the services that went through Canada’s war experience.”

The person Morrison wrote most highly of was McCrae, said Raby-Dunne.

Morrison had been in charge of the brigade McCrae was in during the battle in which he wrote In Flanders Fields.

“The only person he talked about with any respect or conviction was John McCrae,” she said. “He was a very valued friend. The last sentences in the memoir are about armed soldiers lying in Flanders Fields, an obvious homage to the poem.”

Raby-Dunne said Canada sent approximately 600,000 soldiers to that war and about 10 per cent were killed.

“Morrison wrote about Passchendaele and how awful that was and some of the very cruel and savage hand-to-hand combat they ended up in at Hill 70 and Hill 62,” she said.

While Morrison appeared unsentimental in his writings, Raby-Dunne thinks otherwise of the war hero because he brought his horse home.

“It made me smile because it showed how much he loved his horse,” she said. “It was a major deal to get your horse home. You had to be a high-ranking person with pull to get your horse home.”

Raby-Dunne said Morrison didn’t live long after the war. He had a massive heart attack or stroke at the age of 59, she said.

Morrison – The Long-Lost Memoir of Canada’s Artillery Commander in the Great War will be available for purchase on Remembrance Day at Heritage House Publishing for approximately $25 by going to heritagehouse.ca

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