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  • Claire Jordan

"Patient Does Not Want It"

An honourable mention today for the big, beautiful spirit of 19 year old Londoner William Court on his birthday.

His parents’ eldest child, he emigrated with his family to Ottawa as a boy, along with his sisters Edith, Agnes, Grace and Lillian.

He had just turned 18 when he volunteered to fight with the Canadian Artillery in October 1915, but tragedy found the family before he even set sail.

In January 1916, both his parents died; his Mum Sarah on the 10th, aged 42 and his 53 year old father William on the 30th.

Despite his grief and the heartache he must have felt about leaving behind his very young sisters, there was nothing he could do but board the troopship as he was supposed to do on 5th February, landing back in the country of his birth on Valentine’s Day.

It must have been a very bitter homecoming for a teenaged boy.

After further training, he embarked for France during the opening phase of the Battle of the Somme on 14th July 1916, but less than two weeks later, he was hit by rifle bullets in the head and shoulder.

And so, after just days at the Front, began William’s own personal War with death.

He had three operations in France, but again, luck was not on his side the moment a 2” piece of drainage tube disappeared into one of his wounds and was lost in his chest cavity. Several attempts were made to retrieve it but somehow this never quite happened.

He was hospital-shipped to England and spent long months at the War Hospital in Keighley where recurring infections hit him in waves and all they could do for him was try to drain his wounds. The internal damage increased with each new infection, displacing his heart and compressing one of his lungs into his spine.

It is dreadful to contemplate how he must have felt, day upon day, his parents both gone from the world, his sisters far away across the ocean. His hospital notes repeatedly talk about how pale and thin and run down he seems; he exists on morphine and Bovril.

Time passes, Christmas comes and goes, the year turns – he keeps going.

22nd April 1917 brings this devastating note in his record:

“Col. Openshaw saw patient today - both wounds closed, lower one he opened by probe, entering cavity 4 to 5 inches. He advised opening lower wound and draining. Patient does not want it.”

Patient does not want it - William had had enough.

So, two days later, he was transferred to a Canadian Hospital at Shorncliffe on the Kent coast, where an X-ray, this X-ray, was taken. I’m not sure what they were looking for by this means, but the image seems only to have confirmed that this was never going to end well.

On 19th May, William finally died of the mortal wounds he had received in action ten awful months before.

It was left to his sister Edith to choose his epitaph: “The Blow is Bitter, the Loss Severe, to Part with One We Loved So Dear.”

I wish there was something more that I could do for him than leave a flower on his grave and post his story, but on his birthday, 1st August, let’s think of him and honour his spirited courage and hope his Mum and Dad were both right there to meet him.

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