Ghost of Heroes Past
Ghost of Heroes Past
by Charles Reid
- Autumn 2010
- ISBN 978-1-55380-102-3
- ebook ISBN 978-1-55380-115-3
- 5-1/4″ x 7-5/8″ Trade Paperback, 170 pages
- Young Adult Novel
Thirteen-year-old Johnny Anders is something of a misfit, with no friends and a poor school record, but all this begins to change when he is awakened one night to find a soldier-ghost in his bedroom. Johnny is taken back in time to meet a series of unusual heroes in Canada’s war history. These include Joan Bamford Fletcher, who commandeered Japanese soldiers to take hundreds of wounded civilians to safety through the jungles of Indonesia, and the much-decorated Raymond Collishaw, through whom Johnny learns that Canada played a role in the Russian Revolution.
Not wanting to appear ignorant of his country’s history in front of a soldier — even if he is a ghost — Johnny starts some research of his own. While doing so he becomes friends with an intriguing new girl at school who has her own reasons to be interested in Canada’s war history. The pair become increasingly closer as together they set about uncovering why it is that Johnny has been chosen to be a witness to Canadians at war.
“This is a book of adventures and heroes. The adventures include dogfights over First World War trenches, spies in the Chinese jungle and torpedoed ships in the north Atlantic. Every one of the heroes is Canadian and Charles Reid is to be commended for bringing them to our attention so entertainingly.”
— John Wilson
“I THINK IT MIGHT BE a good idea for us to attend the
Remembrance Day ceremony this year.”
The total unexpectedness of his father’s words were like
a thunderbolt, and all Johnny Anders could do was sputter,
“But Dad, that’s my birthday.”
“That’s exactly why I think we should go. After all, you
were born on a very historic day, Johnny, and don’t you think
we owe it to those men and women who gave so much for
us, to spare them an hour of our time?”
“Yeah, but it’s all old stuff that happened a long time ago.
What’s it got to do with me?”
“It has a lot to do with you. Those men and women and
what they did are the reason we are able to enjoy the life we
Johnny rebelled inwardly at the thought of spending his
fourteenth birthday standing around watching some old
men going on about something that happened so long ago.
He was not quite ready to give up, and tried one more protest.
“But Dad, it’s just going to be a lot of old people talking
about stuff that means nothing to me. Anyway, we don’t
fight wars any more.”
“Well, bad news for you: you have just given me a perfect
example of how much you have to learn. It may have escaped
your attention, young man, but there are a lot of our
men and women, some not that much older than you, fighting
in a place called Afghanistan right now. Now everyone
might not agree one hundred percent that they should be
there, but most people agree, at least, that we should support
them while they are there. And one way to do that is by
going to that ceremony.”
A stubborn look had come into his father’s eyes that Johnny
knew all too well. With a sinking feeling, he realized that
although his father hadn’t actually insisted that Johnny
accept his idea, further protesting at this time would get
As soon as supper was over that night, Johnny took off to
his room, claiming he had a homework assignment. But
when he closed his door he flung himself onto his bed.
Staring at the ceiling, he racked his brain for a way out of
this disaster that had befallen him. He had to admit that he
indeed knew almost nothing about the war in Afghanistan,
let alone the two world wars and the other wars that were
fought in this century and the last one. The truth was that
he usually found himself daydreaming in history class — in
all his classes, to be exact. His teachers’ words seemed to float
over his head and he was often caught staring into space.
He became the butt of many jokes made by his teachers and
classmates. He was shy and he had few friends — and even
fewer A’s on his report cards.
But going to the Remembrance Day Parade on his birthday
would not make him feel any better. Briefly he considered
pretending he was sick, as he had done several years
ago to get out of a party for a girl named Maize Bledsoe,
whom he couldn’t stand. But just as quickly he dismissed
the idea, muttering to himself, Yeah, but I was just a kid
then. It would be stupid now. Anyway, they’d probably do the
same thing, the “same thing” being that his parents had
insisted he stay in bed all the next day to make sure he got
over the illness. Johnny had long since figured out that they
had known all along he was faking and had just kept him in
bed as punishment.
When his mother put her head around the door to remind
him it was getting late, Johnny was no closer to a solution
that would prevent this shadow from hanging over his birthday.
After getting into bed, he lay for a long time staring out
his window into the darkness.
It was the smell that brought Johnny awake — a bitter, acrid
smell of burning that filled the bedroom. Bolting upright,
he became aware of a figure standing silently at the foot of
the bed. Although it was dark, he could see the man quite
clearly and realized that the smell was coming from the tattered
uniform he wore. His first feeling was one of terror,
and yet there was something emanating from this apparition
that told Johnny he wasn’t in any danger.
Suddenly the man stretched out a blackened hand.
Astounded at himself, Johnny climbed out of bed and meekly
took it. But as startling as all this was, it did not prepare
him for what came next. The man led him toward his bedroom
wall and then straight through it.
Before Johnny could even exclaim at this impossibility,
he was shaken by the sound of explosions and the sight of
flames shooting up into the night sky. He became aware
that he was standing on a balcony overlooking a strange
city. Curiosity overcame his fear and astonishment, and he
whispered to the man, “Where are we?”
“We are in Hong Kong. It is December 1941 and the city
has just fallen to the Japanese.”
Johnny wasn’t so ignorant of history that he didn’t know
Japan had been an enemy in the Second World War, but his
knowledge of what had gone on in Hong Kong was zero.He
was just about to ask another question when he realized
they weren’t alone.
On the far side of the balcony he could just make out a
short but powerful-looking man who was leaning over the
railing and staring down into the street. “What is he looking
at?” Johnny whispered.
“You don’t have to whisper. He can’t hear us. Go over and
see for yourself.”
As he reached the railing, Johnny heard a plaintive cry.
“Water, please, some water.”
Leaning over, Johnny made out the figure of a soldier on
the ground. A building at the end of the street suddenly burst
into flame, lighting up the man, who was obviously badly
wounded. But what startled Johnny more was the insignia
on his shoulder: “Canada.”
As he turned to ask the soldier-ghost about the insignia,
he saw the short man who had been watching straighten up
and stride toward the door behind him. But before he could
go far, he was brought back to the railing by shouts from
the street below.
Both he and Johnny craned forward and saw a group of
soldiers running toward the wounded Canadian.
“Japanese soldiers,” the soldier-ghost explained.
The Japanese surrounded the soldier, and one, an officer,
reached behind him to where a water bottle was hanging.
But to Johnny’s horror the man’s hand reappeared holding
a pistol.Without a trace of emotion the officer pointed the
pistol at the wounded Canadian’s head and pulled the trigger.
The short man and Johnny both recoiled at what they
had just witnessed. But whereas Johnny’s reaction was horror,
the man’s appeared to be fury; he slapped the railing
hard and strode angrily through the door.
Johnny looked enquiringly at his soldier-ghost.
“He’s angry because he is also Canadian.”
This surprised Johnny. With the light from the burning
building illuminating the balcony, the man looked like he
was of Chinese origin.
The soldier-ghost answered Johnny’s unspoken question.
“He was born in Vancouver of Chinese parents and his name
is Bill Chong.”
“What’s he doing here?”
“His father died while in China on business. As the number
one son, Bill was sent over to look after the funeral. Unfortunately
for him, by the time he had got through all the
red tape, the Japanese already controlled the sea, and Bill
had no way to get back to Canada.”
“What will he do now?”
“Nothing immediately. But what he just saw will spur
him to try to escape Hong Kong and get back to Canada so
that he can fight in the war.”
“Will he succeed?”
“Not in the way he expects.”
“We will have to wait and see. For now, I want you to see
With that the soldier-ghost took Johnny’s hand again,
and suddenly they were standing in a fenced compound
with dilapidated huts scattered around its perimeter, except
for one that was in good condition and flew a Japanese flag.
Near a large gate stood a sentry hut. A half-dozen soldiers
who Johnny now understood were Japanese lounged against
the hut laughing among themselves.
Suddenly there was a banging on the gate. Two of the soldiers
walked over and flung it open. Another group of soldiers,
all chattering excitedly, came in through the gate pushing
a piano. They stopped and began talking to the sentries
while pointing at it.
With all the commotion, other men began drifting out of
the huts. But Johnny quickly realized these men were not
Japanese soldiers. Some, he could see,were wearing the remnants
of what had once been uniforms, many of which were
in worse condition than his soldier-ghost’s.
“They are Canadian prisoners of war, captured when Hong
Kong fell to the Japanese,” said the soldier-ghost, once again
anticipating Johnny’s question.“And this is a prison camp in
Hong Kong called North Point.”
“Hey, Geoff, come see. The Japs just brought in a piano.”
The voice that interrupted the soldier-ghost came from
one of the prisoners,who was shouting back toward the hut
he had just left.
Another man, taller than most of the others, appeared in
“Come on, Geoff, give us a tune,” the other prisoners
The man walked hesitantly over to the piano, keeping a
watchful eye on the Japanese soldiers. Lifting the lid, he tinkled
the keys. Suddenly, all the soldiers became excited. One
of them pushed the stool that they had brought in with the
piano over to the Canadian and joined in the chorus of yells
coming from the prisoners.
Geoff sat down and started to play. None of the songs
meant anything to Johnny, but they obviously did to the
prisoners, who all started to sing while the Japanese danced
around excitedly, waving their rifles in the air.
The music went on for several minutes as the pianist
moved smoothly from one song to another. Then the door
to one of the larger huts was flung open and a Japanese officer
appeared, barking an order to the sentries. Immediately
Geoff stopped playing and everyone fell silent. Another
barked order and the soldiers pushed the pianist off the
stool. Then both the stool and the piano were trundled over
to the officer’s hut and maneuvered inside, leaving the prisoners
to drift disconsolately back to their huts.
The soldier-ghost’s voice broke the silence. “The pianist is
a man named Geoff Marston. He’s from Oshawa, in Ontario,
and came out with the Royal Rifle Regiment, who were part
of the Canadian battalion sent here to help the British defend
Hong Kong. He plays in a local band back in his hometown.”
“Why were the British defending it anyway?”
“Because at this time, Hong Kong is a British protectorate.
They leased the land from the Chinese years ago.”
“I don’t understand. These Japanese soldiers here seem
pretty friendly, but then that officer we saw just shot a
“Don’t be deceived by what you just saw with the piano.
These soldiers can be just as cruel. See that post there?” The
soldier-ghost pointed to a wooden post, sticking about six
feet out of the ground.
“Well, those same soldiers use that for amusement. They
will pull anyone off the street, tie them to that post, and keep
jabbing them with their bayonets until the unfortunate person
dies of his or her wounds. It is a favourite practice of
theirs, and one you may see.”
Johnny shuddered, shaking his head in disbelief at the
thought of such cruelty.
His soldier-ghost continued. “Unfortunately, as you just
witnessed from the balcony with the Canadian soldier, war
can bring out the worst in people as well as the best, and not
just on one side of any conflict.”
“Do we torture prisoners?” Johnny sounded shocked.
“It is against the rules of war, and generally we don’t. But
remember that there is no such thing as a nice war, although
there are some naïve people who would have you believe
that a war can be fought without anyone getting hurt, and
that the innocent can be completely protected from the turmoil.”
“So, sometimes our guys do bad things, too.”
“Sometimes, yes. No one, no matter what his — or her —
background, can avoid becoming dehumanized by war, because
everyone fighting wants to win, and to win you usually
have to kill many soldiers on the other side. In the case of
these Japanese soldiers there is an added factor.”
“The harsh way they themselves were treated.”
“How was that?”
“Well, they didn’t get looked after the way soldiers from
our part of the world did. When they went into battle, it
was generally with only what they had on their backs, with
few or no supply lines to reinforce them. They were expected
to survive on what they could take from their enemies. This
made them indifferent to suffering. Any man or woman unfortunate
enough to be taken prisoner experienced some
very harsh times. However, I think you’ve seen enough for
your first night,” the soldier-ghost said gently.
Taking Johnny’s hand, he led him away.
Also by Charles Reid:
“In the pages of Ghost of Heroes Past, readers will find a history lesson that they won’t soon forget. Recommended.”
— CM Magazine
“When you follow Johnny on his nightly visits through war torn countries, Ghost of Heroes Past is excellent. Reid brilliantly explains the stories of several Canadians and their involvement in wars past. The reader feels connected to the soldiers and understands the gritty situations of war in a new way.”
— Resource Links
“Reid does a beautiful job telling his stories in gripping fashion. I was riveted. His presentation of the wars is balanced — he makes a stab at explaining why the Japanese did some of the horrible things they did, instead of just dismissing them as bad, and he never glorifies or sugar-coats the realities of war.”
— Charlotte’s Library
“By the conclusion of the story we see how Johnny’s time-travel adventures have impacted and changed his preceptions of the meaning of Remembrance Day and that the ‘old stuff that happened long ago’ really does have significance for all generations. Easy read…. recommended for Boys!”
— Recently Read