The Story of Mary’s Wedding: Two years after the end of World War I, on the night before her wedding, Mary Chalmers reminisces about her first love, Charlie Edwards.
She recalls their first meeting as they take shelter from a prairie thunderstorm and Charlie gives her a ride home on his horse. Their shy love grows, even as Mary’s English mother disapproves of the “dirty farm boy” as a match for her daughter.
When war is declared, Charlie joins C Squadron of Lord Strathcona’s Horse Regiment and sails for England. In his letters, he tells Mary of meeting the King of England, of volunteering to go over to France after the Second Battle of Ypres, in which the Germans first used chlorine gas as a weapon. He tells of his sympathetic Sergeant, Gordon Muriel Flowerdew (Flowers) and recounts his life as a soldier - the trenches, the lice, the mud, the thunder of artillery, and the final terrible battle of Moreuil Wood in which Flowerdew, now a Lieutenant, leads his squadron against the German machine guns.
The fictional lives of the young lovers in the opera are intertwined with historical events and with the real-life character of Lieutenant Gordon Flowerdew, an Englishman who had emigrated to Canada and settled in Walhachin, BC. Flowerdew returned to Europe to serve in the Great War with Lord Strathcona’s Horse. In the 1918 battle of Moreuil Wood, Flowerdew carried out one of the last great cavalry assaults in history, leading a squadron of Lord Strathcona’s Horse, armed with sabres, against German rifles and machine guns. The Canadians helped to stop the German offensive, but at enormous cost. Flowerdew himself died from his wounds and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
Here is the citation for Flowerdew’s Victoria Cross:
“For most conspicuous bravery and dash when in command of a squadron detailed for special service of a very important nature. On reaching the first objective, Lieutenant Flowerdew saw two lines of the enemy, each about sixty strong, with machine guns in the centre and flanks, one line being about two hundred yards behind the other. Realising the critical nature of the operation and how much depended upon it, Lieutenant Flowerdew ordered a troop under Lieutenant Harvey, V.C., to dismount and carry out a special movement while he led the remaining three troops to the charge. The squadron (less one troop) passed over both lines, killing many of the enemy with the sword; and wheeling about galloped at them again. Although the squadron had then lost about 70 per cent of its numbers, killed and wounded, from rifle and machine-gun fire directed on it from the front and both flanks, the enemy broke and retired. The survivors of the squadron then established themselves in a position where they were joined, after much hand-to-hand fighting, by Lieutenant Harvey’s party. Lieutenant Flowerdew was dangerously wounded through both thighs during the operation, but continued to cheer on his men. There can be no doubt that this officer’s great valour was the prime factor in the capture of the position.”
(London Gazette, no.30648, 24 April 1918)