The Long Sadness

William Ball was just shy of 19 and living in the town of Souris on the prairies of Canada when war erupted in Europe in August 1914.  The region was still something of a frontier, devoted to trapping and trading with Indians, and inhabited by hearty, adventurous types, Ball among them.  On a bet, he and a friend had spent the winter of 1913-14 in a tent on the banks of the Souris River.  Temperatures dropped to 40 below and the river froze solid, but the young lads persevered.  With the coming of spring, they hiked triumphantly back to town and collected more money than they had ever seen at one time in their young lives.

By 1915 Ball was a member of the 12th Manitoba Dragoons, a likely choice for someone good with horses.  After months of hard training the unit was ready for overseas deployment, first for staging in England and then for the battlefields of France and Belgium.  To celebrate, the horsemen played a football game.  The tall, raw-boned Ball went down with a broken ankle.  He was asked to resign from the dragoons so another volunteer could take his place.  He reluctantly did so, spending several months recuperating and cursing his luck—he was afraid the war would be over by the time he could re-enlist.

Early in February 1916 he joined the 37th Overseas Battery, Canadian Field Artillery.  It didn’t have the élan of the dragoons but it would...

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