This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I.
At 5:30 on Easter Sunday morning, April 9, 1917, some 15,000 Canadian troops accomplished one of the First World War's greatest victories in a four-day battle to take Vimy Ridge. One of those gallant soldiers was Edward Thomas Crane, who enlisted at just 16 years-of-age, and served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Many years later, while in his early 80s, Ed recounted these events in vivid detail in his personal letters to me:
"On that fateful morning, it was raining, then snowing - water everywhere - and then the big attack. All our guns opened up and away we went…. Between snow and rain, mud and big-shell holes, we finally made our objective. But what a cost in young lives…. I looked above, and went on my knees to thank my Protector."
Ed Crane's walk of faith began in Liverpool, England, in bare feet! He was the fourth of seven children with a father at sea and a mother struggling to survive. As a result of the family's bleak circumstances, Ed and his brother Pat found themselves among the 80,000 children, mostly orphans, who were gathered from poor neighbourhoods of Britain's cities and shipped to farms and homes in Canada between 1869 and the 1930s, in one of the most dramatic schemes in our immigration history.
"The great day came," he recollects of that early childhood departure to an unknown place in a faraway land. "I was dressed in a new kid's suit and shoes on my feet, and after prayers were said for my safety, taken down to the Liverpool Pier Head…."
Years later, when the teenager told his adoptive parents that their only farmhand wanted to enlist, they responded, "You have been a young man for a long time and you will make a good soldier."
After the war, Ed returned to Ontario in January, 1919. He had experienced the bloodiest horror the world had ever seen. Out of the 625,000 Canadians who served, 60,000 died, yet renewed hope filled his heart the day he met Victoria, who became his wife in 1921.
Throughout their 54 years together, they had four children and ten grandchildren. How do I know so much about a man who died more than three decades ago?
One Sunday morning during the Second World War, two young soldiers on leave in St. Catharines, Ontario, approached a couple after church and asked where they might find a restaurant that was open. "Follow us," the Cranes replied, taking them home for a hearty meal and inviting them to return for supper.
My Dad, the soldier on the left, took them up on the offer. It wasn't just Victoria's cooking and Ed's fresh bounty from the garden that appealed to him, but the love and warmth of family. A close bond developed between my dad and the Cranes.
After the war, Dad married, and I was the first of six children to embrace "Nana and Grandpa Crane." My father died suddenly in 1970, and we lost touch with our adopted grandparents. Then, in 1979, soon after I came to know the Lord Jesus, I received a handwritten letter at the television station where I hosted a daily program. It began, "I found your name in the TV Guide, and I think I'm your Grandpa." The sweetest chapter of this story was waiting to be written in our restored relationship.
For more than 50 years, Grandpa Crane had served faithfully as an usher. "My dear wife taught me to love the church," he explained, later referring to God as "the kindly old Gentleman upstairs." Alarmed, I responded, "Grandpa, you're talking about Almighty God who parted the Red Sea!"
I treasure the day this octogenarian reported with tender conviction, "I did it. I got Him from here (pointing to his head) into here [his heart]."
Not long after, Grandpa's faith became "sight," as he met face-to-face the Saviour who had walked with him all the way.
That's one of my FIRST HUGS. I you will get them all in my new book.