Friday, November 11, 2016

‘Bombs Away’ in the Back Alleys

Montreal Memories & Nostalgia

Not all memories of my childhood or of Montreal are happy. This is one that is not, yet later on this memory would help me form my views on war, on veterans of war and on the “sickness” of war in general and what it does to people’s souls. The only good that can come out of war is its end, and this never comes soon enough.

Mile End: This photo of a lane-way (ruelle) in the Mile End neighborhood bears a remarkable similarity to the one behind our house on av du Parc, during the time I resided in this area (1963–1970).
Photo Credit & Source: Christopher DeWolf; Flickr


The city is marked by many lane-ways and alleyways (totaling approx 450 km), what the city calls ruelles in French. These narrow passageways have been part of Montreal since the end of the 19th century; some even have designated names. The one at the back of our house, the back alley running north-south alongside av du Parc and rue Jeanne Mance was nameless, as far I can remember.

We played in these lane-ways. One day in the mid-1960s, as my brothers and I were playing, we heard an “old man” from the distance shouting “bombs away” and saw him making throwing motions with his arms. We ignored him, chiefly because it was not an unusual sight. As he got closer, he kept shouting, and threw a small board full of long rusty nails in our direction; we scattered but it hit my older brother on the top of the head. Needless to say, blood came pouring out.

I had the presence of mind to take off my shirt and apply it to my older brother's head wound.  We were not far from home, since the lane-way was behind our house,My mother screamed, recovered and then rushed him to the doctor a few doors down, who took care of my brother’s wound. She then called the police and made a report. We found out he was an “an old army veteran from the Second World War” who was diagnosed with shell shock. Today he would be diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), another person who took the war home with him.

I don’t know what happened to him, but we never saw him again when we played behind the house. Our young minds didn’t give this much thought, but deep down we were probably relieved.