The Soldier's Pipe

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The Soldier's Pipe

Post by pud » Sat Nov 18, 2006 8:30 pm

It was starting to get dark now and the wind coming down the laneway toward the Regiment brought with it the thick smell of gunpowder and death. The date was July 25th and it was a date that Lt. Col. Battersby would never forget, if he lived to tell about it.

The battle had come to a standstill, the Americans were reforming and were, no doubt, trying to get their guns up the Portage Road so that they might serve them better against the Canadian and British forces on the east side of the field.

Battersby had pulled his Canadian troops, the Glengarrys', back from Skinner's Laneway and just over the knoll to the north of the Battle. There was time now to water the men and let them adjust their accoutrements and perhaps to even allow them to have what might be, for some, their last smoke.

The Lt. Col. reached into his own haversack to fish out his pipe. As he freed it from its confinement he gave it a brief glance and mused that it was still in one piece! There it was, half the length of his hand and getting rather dark from use.

He recalled how he purchased it in Québec back in March of 1812 while he was stationed there in Command of the 41st Regiment. He bought it, complete with flint and steel, for nearly a quarter of a day's pay!! It was, in fact, the same day he took charge of training and disciplining the Glengarry Fencibles who had been sent to him. The pipe was nearly white then, made of clay, a stubby stem and its bowl had the pattern of a single thistle on it.

Francis Battersby glanced over his men. He was so proud of their stamina and courage that he could just spit! He reached again into his haversack and pulled out his tobacco pouch. He put it to his nose and took in the aroma quickly. It seemed to settle his heart. He dipped the bowl of the pipe into the crude mixture, that he had obtained from a suttler in Kingston, then raised the bowl and shouted, "Have a quick smoke if you have 'em lads!".

As Battersby struck his flint to steel above the bowl the sparks settled into the cinder-cloth he had draped over the tobacco and he quickly drew a breath through the stem. It flamed, and was lit. He puffed madly to heat the clay and to settle the blend into the bowl. Just then the bugle sounded to reform and advance, again, into battle.

Up the dew-sopped hill they marched, onto the battleground and full speed ahead into hell's fury. Midnight brought an end to almost six hours of battle. The Canadians and British held the field, the Battle of Lundy's Lane was won!!

The new silence was capped by a bright full moon and the cries of men dying and struggling to live. Battersby and his Glengarrys spent the remaining darkness helping their comrades. Morning brought blinding sunshine and the war' s unbelievable scene of human carnage.

The Lt. Col. turned to face the new day and as he stepped forward he stumbled into a corpse. Its face was full of dirt and gunpowder but it seemed relaxed and peaceful in death. Battersby knelt and reached into the soldier's haversack. It was empty but for a pipe. The Canadian Commander stared at it for a while, feeling its history with his eyes. The bowl was chipped and tarred black on the outside nearly to the stem. The stem had been broken sometime in the past and was now only half a finger's length. It smelled old but comforting. Gingerly, the Lt. Col. placed it into his own haversack. He stared again into the dead soldier's face, stood, and walked away.

Days later, Lt. Col. Battersby took out the soldier's pipe and set the man's spirit free as he lit up the bowl and gave it one last fulfilling smoke in the dead man's memory.

AJD Pudwell. December 1997.

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