1st Entry – December 3, 1915
I can’t sleep. I don’t know what it is I feel, but it’s keeping me awake. Who could sleep on such a day, anyway? I enlisted today. I became one of those “brave young lads” that the old people talk about, one of the guys that are cheered when they board the train headed east on the first steps from Canada to the European Front. Walking into the enlistment office, waiting in line in the cold morning air, talking with other chaps who were doing the same as me, I felt part of something. Part of it is I now truly feel that I am Canadian. I am no longer an ‘immigrant boy’ as I have often been called, when I went to school, and when I stand with others new to the country in work crews formed for a few weeks’ hard work. All the other lads enlisting with me were probably born in Canada. I looked over their shoulders as they filled out their forms, as I was doing. Now we all are Canadian soldiers together. We are all now part of the 52nd Battalion.
When the process was over, the older man in charge stood up straight and saluted me. Then he said, “Congratulations, young man. You are now part of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.” I saluted him back, and snapped my heels together as I have seen others do before me. When I think of it now, that is the only time that anyone has ever congratulated me for something I had done. It feels good.
I wonder whether this will be my career, my future after the war: a soldier. It would certainly be better than the meaningless jobs I am finding now. I think that I will keep a diary of the battles I serve in, everything that happens. My children, when I marry, and when I have kids, will read it someday, and be proud of their father. I will be Dmitro, our father the hero to them.
I still can’t sleep, different feelings now. I know this is selfish, but I hope that when I go to the barracks, I won’t have to walk past the Ukrainian boys who are in a prison camp there because of where they were born. I don’t want to be identified with them. I don’t want to even see them, to look them in the eye, or for them to see me.. I am so glad I was born in Kiev, part of Russia, and not in those territories under the enemy Austro-Hungarian Empire. Then I would be treated like them, not a true Canadian, but as a potential threat in the war (not that they are)
Almost two years, and many battles afterwards.
October 9, 1917
The day is beginning – the last day. I couldn’t sleep anyway – that just makes the night shorter. Soon all of us will be out there beside the pole in the middle of the camp. It will be like one of those passion plays the nuns used to force us to watch back home in Kiev before my parents and I came to Canada. But there will be no martyr or no saint this time. Everyone around me is asleep. At least this time is my own, my last time is mine for a moment.
Dawn is here. It rises not with pure light but with dust and smoke in the air. No one is looking at me, except when they think that I am not looking back. Do they think they will see in my eyes what their own eyes will be facing only too soon in this dismal place? We have all looked at it too often over these last two years, especially at Vimy Ridge. We usually hear it before we see it – a metallic scream, an explosion, and then one of our boys letting out a sound no one should ever have to hear. Then there are the sights – blood, earth, bones, parts and bits of everything else. I never wanted to be heard or seen that way by the men that I have shared trenches with. I guess that’s why I am going to be hearing the inevitable from a short distance, and seeing it for a short time, then all sounds, sights will be gone. What will enter my head first, sensations or death? Funny the questions you ask yourself in this situation.
I am being led to the pole by hands that grip my arms tightly. There are two last acts of small kindness. They have a priest walking beside me, his words more a soothing sound than anything with meaning I can hold onto and carry with me to face the morning’s fate. And they are letting me write my last words. I wonder what will happen to my diary. It seems strange that it is enough for me that I record the words for myself, so that I will know for a short time what I have said. I will disappear on paper except for the cold words of “tried,” “convicted” and “executed” in some official record in Ottawa. Knowing this I can state my honest opinion here for no one to see. It is a strange unnatural justice that punishes a young man for a natural fear that has only increased over the last two years. I am glad I don’t have a wife and children to be scared by the word ‘cowardice’ for the rest of their lives.
My brothers-in-arms stand not more than a few paces away from me in a line of strict military order. Form must be maintained now more than ever. Although I will be their target, my khaki brothers avoid my eyes as if my fate were contagious, and would spread with one look from me. I have chosen not to have a blindfold, so at least they will say, if anyone speaks of it at all, that ‘he faced death eyes open.’ Let God have mercy on their souls.
There were 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers executed in World War I. These included 25 Canadians. Desertion was the main ‘offence.’ Of the 25 Canadians executed, almost all were privates (23), plus a Lance-Bombadier and a Sergeant (he had been in the British Army). There were no officers. Seventeen were Canadian-born, eight were immigrants. Twenty-two of the men were convicted of desertion, two of murder, and one, Dimitro Sinizki, of “cowardice”.
Dimitro Sinizki was born in Kiev, now a part of the Ukraine, then a part of Russia, on September 25, 1895. His parents and he moved to Canada sometime later. He was not conscripted, but enlisted in the 52nd Battalion, in Winnipeg on December 3, 1915, as a 20-year-old. Other Ukrainians living in Canada were put into prison camps in Canada because their territories were under the authority of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then Canada’s enemy. In the spring of 1917, the 52nd Battalion fought at Vimy Ridge, in which 3,598 Canadians were killed and 7,004 wounded.
On September 12, 1917, after nearly two years of service he was convicted and sentenced to death by firing squad for sitting down and refusing to take part in an attack. He turned 22 knowing that he was to be executed on October 9.
Many soldiers wrote war diaries. This is an imagined series of entries for one man.
|When on active service, misbehaving before the enemy in such a manner as to show cowardice. Refused to put on equipment and move to the front. Next night, while the accused was being marched up to the front under escort, he sat down and refused to move. Accused said he was afraid and feared being wounded.
Tried on 12 Sept 1917. Executed on 9 Oct 1917.
Son of Harry and Efrosinia Sinizki of Kiev, Russia.
“Those who go to war at the request of their nation do not know the fate that lies in store for them. This was a war of such overwhelming sound, fury and unrelenting horror that few combatants could remain unaffected,” said Minister Duhamel. “While we cannot relive those awful years of a nation at peril in total war, and although the culture of that time is subsequently too distant for us to comprehend fully, we can give these 23 soldiers a dignity that is their due, and provide closure to their families.” (The Honourable Ron J. Duhamel, Minister of Veterans Affairs 11 December 2001)
The Government of Canada has offered an apology and formally announced its regret for this situation. On December 11, 2001, Veteran Affairs Minister, Dr. Ron Duhamel rose in the House of Commons and with sincerity and passion, read the names of those 23 Canadians into the Parliamentary record and announced their names will be written into Parliament Hill’s Book of Remembrance. He was whole-heartedly supported by all of Canada’s opposition Parties.