During the First World War, many soldiers documented their experiences through poetry and writings. Some writers became more well-known than others. One of the most famous that comes to mind is Canadian John McCrae, the author of “In Flanders Fields.”
The passage of time has unearthed other, lesser-known war poets over the years. This includes a Winnipeg poet named Alexander (Alex) Sinclair.
Sinclair, was born in 1882 in Lybester, Caithness, Scotland. He immigrated to Winnipeg in 1907 and joined the Canadian Army in 1915 at age 33 to serve overseas.
Sinclair joined the 5th Field Artillery Brigade Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force in June of 1915. He served for four years and was discharged in May of 1919. Alex was a Driver, which required him to work with horse and pack mules, bringing ammunition to the front lines during his service in the campaigns. During his four years on the Western Front, Sinclair constantly wrote about his experiences, describing the views of a soldier who was at war.
Upon returning to Winnipeg, Sinclair’s poetry was put away–until it was discovered in 2008 by his nephew Doug Sinclair.
“I discovered Uncle Alex’s poetry when George (Alex’s only child) passed away without any heirs. I inherited the Sinclair family memorabilia from the estate and discovered the poems in an old trunk that Uncle Alex carried around in the course of his time spent in Belgium and France during the First World War. They remained hidden in the trunk for almost 90 years.”
After the war, Alex returned to Winnipeg, where he was associated with the Winnipeg School District for 27 years prior to his retirement in 1948. Alex put down roots in the city’s North End at his home on Luxton Avenue. He was a Past Master of the Empire Masonic Lodge and Past President of the Winnipeg Burns Club.
The book Life and War Poems by Alexander Sinclair was launched by Doug and artist and illustrator Garth Palanuk. The poems are powerful descriptions of the battles and the atrocious conditions the soldiers fought and often died in. The book includes over 40 poems with historical footnotes and introduces you to a passionate and first-hand account of World War I by a soldier describing his experiences through powerful excerpts of battles in the fields of France, including Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele. Several poems were written in memoriam of comrades lost.
The book is available from the following places: McNally Robinson Booksellers; Coles at Kildonan Place; Blaine’s Records, 11-1795 Henderson Hwy.; Wayne Arthur Gallery, 186 Provencher Blvd.; & Gwen Fox Gallery, 101-250 Manitoba Ave. Selkirk.
A Picture of War
The greatest sight of war I’ve seen
That gripped my beating heart.
Was ‘round Pozieres* where we had been When field guns did their part.
A blood red sunset dyed the west,
In a splendour of glowing light.
The battle smoke hung on the crest, And enchanted the thrilling sight.
Of guns in the open blazing away,
And the valley lit up with their gleam Just as the twilight darkened the day
A day like an evil dream.
I watched the aer’planes graceful pose How proudly and swiftly they rise!
The erratic shell bursts very close
To our heroes of the skies.
The trenches belched fire further ahead Where Canada’s line was steady Machine guns were spitting lead
And bombers getting ready.
I heard the shrapnel’s hissing scream, With time fuse fixed to slay.
It burst o’erhead with deadly gleam That red September day.
Encircling shadows darkened the dell And up went the star shells bright, Then I thought of the men who bravely fell With the shadows that autumn night.
These crowded hours of danger and strife Make indelible marks on men
Who long for the rays of a peaceful life To shine on the world again.
Albert, September 1916
* Pozières is a commune in the Somme department in Picardie in northern France.