The bitter, damp days of four English winters were being relegated to memory while they captured, on Kodak film, the last day of their fourth and final English June, a day that glittered with hope and promise. It seemed fitting that on the longest day of the year they would mark the longest years of their short lives with a walk through the garrison.
Men from other outfits were doing the same, or sitting alone letter-writing or reading. The friends wove their way through the camp. Barrack doors were held open with kit bags or stones. William had a last-day-of-school sort of feeling.
Now, strolling up Queen’s Avenue, a group of them stopped for a while at the Iron Bridge and watched the water flowing through the Basingstoke Canal. At last Bill “Boss”’ Teleske said it was time to gather their gear and go. They would not know where to until they were on board the ship. Secret.
The sun was just beginning to sink, barely kissing the tops of the chestnut trees lining Queen’s Parade. Their English friends waved and cheered as the regiment marched past, making their way, at last, to the Anglican Church of Holy Trinity in this tiny town, their home away from home.
There were more scenic churches around, but it was here where Edmonton Regiment Privates William Walter Shepherd and Robert Faroni, along with thousands of other Canadian soldiers, left their mark.
Here, in Holy Trinity, the army chaplains invited them to celebrate their last communion before boarding the long line of waiting trains — ready to transport them through the countryside they’d begun to think of as theirs to the English seaports for embarkation.
Here, strong young fighting men in full battledress and webbing, hauling the weight of their kit and concerns, walked down the aisle to sit in narrow pews.
Here, they ate and drank the symbolic body and blood of Christ, sang hymns of thanksgiving, and prayed for strength and grace to meet whatever greeted them on the beaches or in the trenches.
Here, they rose to their feet, awkwardly scuffing and scraping their way down the west aisle, under the glittering stained glass window, and out the door, their hobnail boots echoing farewell on the stone floor.
And yet, scarring the soft pinewood pews of Holy Trinity Church in Aldershot, England, the Canadians left their mark: indelible engravings, scuffs and scratches etched by their helmets and weapons.
And then they were gone.