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The Faces of War

Reid Dickie

Eleven years ago today my dad, Bruce Dickie, died. He was 83. I miss him every day. I wrote about Dad last year on this day, too.

Recently I came across an article about how the ravages of war become etched on the faces of young soldiers. They show close-up pictures of dozens of Scottish soldiers before, during and after serving in Afghanistan along with their comments. If you ever needed further testimonial to the insanity, destructiveness and uselessness of war, look into the eyes of these men. In every case, the innocence, hope and clarity of the first photograph transmogrifies by the third photograph into reflected horror, soul death and hopelessness. Instead of innocence, their faces convey only fear, instead of hope there is loss and despair, instead of clarity, they are haunted by memories of unspeakable horrors.


Similar changes were wrought upon the face of another Scotsman, my father Bruce Dickie, before, during and after he saw combat as a lance bombardier in WWII from 1942 to 1945. In a series of pictures he sent Mom while he was overseas, the transformation of my father’s face is obvious and frightening.

This first picture was taken in London just after he arrived overseas in 1942. He was a fresh-faced farm boy from the Canadian prairies.

 The next picture was taken in Aberdeen, Scotland in late 1943 after Dad had seen combat. Experience and sadness lurk in his eyes and his serious expression.

The third picture was taken in Amsterdam near the end of the war in 1945. Innocence is gone, replaced with aggression, his eyes are wild and his teeth are bared. No other image ever taken of my father is more heartbreaking for me than this one.

The horrors of battle that Dad witnessed become progressively more evident on his face in each photograph. Dad signed each picture he sent to Mom but it was only on the last one that he mentions love. Dad lived another 55 years after that last picture was taken. Quietly and peacefully he died of old age eleven years ago today. Luckily he never had to live in a post-911 world.                          


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 Reid Dickie

My dad, Bruce Dickie, died January 28, 2001, ten years ago today. He was 83. It was his time. I miss him every day.


This handsome devil is my dad, taken when he was about 20, strong, farm-fed, athletic. He watches over some of the shaving brushes and razors he would use on that face over the decades. 

            “A man is a man only when he measures himself against something more Universal than the morality of his own time.”

            That acerbic 20-word challenge found its way out of Sam Keen’s mind into a 1991 book called Fire in the Belly, subtitled On Being a Man. Dad and I had several long evening discussions about this very quote, defining the Universal, searching our own lives to find our personal Universals then figuring out how we measured up.

Dad and I decked out in our Sunday best in front of Dickie’s General Store in Hayfield, MB about 1955. He has his cigarette, I have my thumb.

            If I remember it correctly – this was in the mid and late 1990s – we decided on three Universals: love, conflict and spiritual growth. Both of us were incredibly lucky in love. We both found life partners who loved and understood us. Conflict and Dad’s experience during World War 2 overseas were his most significant Universal, the one that shaped and informed everything else in his life, including the other two Universals. My most important Universal is spiritual evolution, personal growth. That’s what directs the flow of my life.

One of my favourite pictures of us. A Polaroid taken by Mom in our kitchen in Shoal Lake on Christmas Day 1981. We are both sporting our new cozy duck flannel shirts. That’s Mom’s writing along the top of the picture. 

            Dad never talked much about his big Universal, about The War. Some uncles never left the battlefield, couldn’t shut up about it, showing tedious souvenirs but not Dad. He couldn’t wait to get home to his little wife and make a little family on the wide Canadian prairies and forget all about it. The horror, the horror would change him, he knew that coming back. He was already having the nightmares on the boat home. But life ensued, distracted him, challenged him anew. He laughed like crazy at Basil Fawlty’s “Don’t mention The War to the German guests” skit. Still, even as an old man, there was a flicker of Hell left behind his eyes, battle scars, indelible.

 In this photo you can see the haunting impressions of  war in Dad’s eyes, taken in Boscombe on England’s south coast in February 1945 after he’d seen action on the battlefield.

            Dad was very curious about shamanism. He was a great listener, patient, quiet, not waiting to talk, really listening, thinking along with me. I’d be explaining away wasting words galore then he’d say something short, concise and perfect. I remember one time about 1998 I was talking in a very animated fashion about something that happened out there in Saskatchewan for me, sharing it deeply and suddenly he said, “Son, you could teach that. Are there people who want to learn this? You could teach anything.” It was one of the most life affirming and prescient things Dad ever said to me. Mom had been the teacher.

The last picture of us together. Taken in his apartment in Morley House in Shoal Lake, 2000

            Turns out there are people who want to learn about shamanism and everything else. Dad knew that someday I would find my audience, that I would “little bit know something” that others need to know. He is still wise, wise beyond his years. That kind of wisdom is Universal. Stand tall, Dad. You know you measured up with flying colours to your Universals, all of them. With your unwavering inspiration, I will keep trying to prove myself against mine. Thank you. I love you Dad.

                                                 “All goes onward and outward

                                                  Nothing collapses

                                                  And to die is different from

                                                  What anyone supposes

                                                  And luckier.”

                                                                        -Walt Whitman

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