A veteran of both world wars, bagpiping poet James M. Forrest produced only a handful of poems.
Forrest was born the second of 12 children in Keith, Scotland, in 1892.
During the First World War he fought under the Scottish flag with the Gordon Highlanders. He served primarily as a piper, which was believed to be a relatively safe role -- a belief called to question due to the three bullet holes it left in him.
After the war, Forrest married his sweetheart, Agnes Bell, and they settled in Mankota, Sask., about 150 kilometres southeast of Swift Current.
Poor crops led the Forrest parents and their six children (their seventh, Margaret, would come a few years later) into a Ford model A to live in a rented farm at Spruce Home north of Prince Albert.
They later bought a family farm through the Soldier’s Settlement Board.
Forrest started an all-girls pipe band in 1936, leaving the band in 1940 to join the Veteran’s Guard of Canada, during which time he guarded German prisoners in camps from Ontario to Alberta.
On his return to Prince Albert, Forrest worked as a gardener at the Prince Albert Provincial Correctional Centre. He remained a prominent member of the Royal Canadian Legion until his death in 1975 of cancer.
An ardent fan of Robert Burns, Forrest chronicled his life in poetry. The following are a few of those poems, which he collected in a book titled Rhymes of the Wandering Piper.
Rhymes of the Wandering Piper
If by perchance you care to look,
Within the covers of this book,
I trust you’ll read between the lines
The meaning which my lore defines.
‘Tis written here in simple style,
Events I’ve met along each mile.
I’ve travelled on the road of life
Through peace and war, through calm and strife,
Each story has a true foundation
Filled in which my imagination,
To suit the actual place and time
At which I wrote each song and rhyme.
Had I the learning from McGill,
I’d write, I know, with greater skill
But with a scanty education,
I write to suit my rank and station.
The gift of rhyming I inherit
May be, perhaps, of common merit
For I am just a common man
And write whene’er I feel I can.
Enjoy a little recreation
And satisfy my inclination,
To tell a story in a rhyme,
About some distant land or clime,
In which I’ve wandered near and far,
In times of peace and times of war.
Before you grow with age, much riper.
Read these Rhymes of a Wandering Piper.
As they are not real classic reading,
I ask of you, before proceeding,
Be merciful in your reflections
And minimize the imperfections.
The Home of the Kangaroo
At the age of 16, I left my home in Scotland, bound for Australia. We had been out to see about one week; I was just recovering from seasickness and was getting very homesick when I wrote this poem, which was my first attempt.
Farewell to Scotland’s hills and dales,
Your lakes and winding streams,
When I am far across the sea,
I’ll see you in my dreams.
I’m leaving today, for a land far away,
Looking for pastures new;
I’m off to the land, on a southern strand,
THE HOME OF THE KANGAROO.
I’m now sixteen and my boyhood dreams,
Of sailing the raging main,
May yet come true, before I’m through
And come sailing home again.
Farewell dear father and mother,
My sisters and brothers too;
We will never forget my departing,
TO THE HOME OF THE KANGAROO.
And now I am out on the ocean,
On a ship that is big and strong,
And often I sign, with a tear in my eye
While the sailors are singing a song.
But me, I am homesick already,
And sea-sick, I’m thinking – too true,
I may never again see auld Scotland,
NOR THE HOME OF THE KANGAROO.
When the battle was over
As wounded I lay at the close of day
On Flanders’ bloody fields,
The pale moon shone, o’er the great unknown
And dreadful sights revealed.
There, comrades I knew, to be comrades true,
Were suffering and dying with pain;
Some were thinking sincerely of friends they loved dearly
Perhaps they would ne’er see again.
There lay a fine youth, trained in right and in truth,
By a mother who loved him I know,
She will shed bitter tears, as soon as she hears,
How her dear loving son was laid low,
There lay an aged sire, with his head in the mire,
And his right hand across his left breast,
He will never return to his family who morn
For a dad who was one of the best.
There lay one of our foes, I could tell by his clothes,
As a verey light fell near,
Beside him lay, in the mire of the clay,
A lad I had known for a year.
They had fought hand to hand, each making a stand,
For their King and country’s right
With bayonet stuck in, under each other’s chin
They both lay dead that night.
I pondered in thought, which amounted to nought
Still I am the one who knew,
That both of these lads, were brave sons of their dad’s
Both soldiers, both tired, and both true.
My Native Scottish Home
I have been in many countries
And through sunny southern climes
Like many a youthful rover,
I have seen much better times.
In all the lands I’ve travelled
No matter where I’d roam,
No place to me is dearer
Than my native Scottish home.
I have seen the bright sun beaming
On the sands of Table Bay
And beheld the scenes of beauty
Where the flying-fishes play.
I have seen the Table Mountain
With its grand and beauteous dome
But to me the scenes are fairer
‘Round my native Scottish home
Many lavish scenes of nature
In Australia I have seen
With the silver wattle blooming
In its forests fair and green
With all this radiant beauty
Where the kangaroo may roam
In my mind the scenes are fairer
‘Round my native Scottish home.
I have crossed the lakes and rivers
Where the three-leaf shamrock grows
And traversed the land of glory
With its bonny blooming rose
But the beauty spots, which thrills my heart
Lies o’er Atlantic’s foam
Where the Isla flows serenely
Near my native Scottish home.
The Lake of Waskesiu
In sunny June, when wild flowers bloom,
‘Mong northern lakes and streams,
I’m quite certain, on pleasure bent
To see come true my dreams.
I wander through the leafy glades
And by the waters blue,
On that enchanting, treasured spot,
THE LAKE OF WASKESIU.
In hot July, when the lakes go dry,
Throughout the southern plains,
Then pleasure seekers all head north,
To see refreshing rains,
And bask upon the silvery beach
Of waters wide and blue,
The tourists paradise is found,
AT THE LAKE OF WASKESIU.
Then later on, with summer gone,
The autumn seems to frown,
And changes every leafy glade
From green to golden brown,
The campers now must start for home
With many a friendship new
Reluctantly, they bid farewell,
TO THE LAKE OF WASKESIU
A Tribute to the Veteran’s Guard of Canada
Ye Veterans’ Guard of Canada
To you, I’ll tribute pay,
For answering your country’s call
Once more to join the fray.
You fought in Flanders’ bloody fields,
‘Mid gas and shot and shell,
You won the day at Vimy Ridge,
Passed through that living hell.
Through Roquincourt and Courcelette,
And all along the Somme,
You fought and bled, and left your dead
For Canada and home.
Now, after more than twenty years,
With heads now bald or grey,
Again we see you standing guard
Again you’ll win the day.
The Gardener’s Dream
I was working in the roothouse,
On a stormy winter’s day
Moving turnips, spuds and carrots
To keep them from decay.
With troubled mind and weary step
I dragged my tired feet
Into the corner by the stove;
Sat down, and went to sleep.
In dreams, I saw my sweet flowers bloom,
The blossoms on the trees,
The fragrance of each bush and flower
Was wafted with the breeze,
Across the open spaces wide
O’er field and wooded glade
There nature’s richest, rarest charms
Were lavishly displayed.
I saw the laden honey bee
Fly homeward with its store.
Of treasure sipped from nature’s bloom
And then return for more.
The birds were warbling forth their song,
From every bush and tree
While ducks and geese flew overhead,
In flight so swift and free.
The water fountain’s crystal spray
Shot upward to the sky,
The bird-house too, trim, white and blue,
Portrayed on perch so high.
The square-cut hedge, all ‘round the edge,
Of lawns so green and nice,
This looked like Eden undefiled,
A gardener’s paradise.
Enraptured thus, I mused strayed,
‘Twas in the month of June,
I picked the flowers between the showers,
That made them bud and bloom,
The treasured peonies that I set
With pride and care last fall,
Had taken root and blossomed forth
On bushes three feet tall.
Carnations red, grew in a bed,
With marigolds surrounded
Chrysanthemums sweet, and asters neat,
In splendor there abounded.
The stars and diamonds on the lawn
Stood out in vision clear
I was entranced, I almost danced,
And was about to cheer.
When suddenly, a gust of wind,
Blew wide the roothouse door,
The stovepipes all came tumbling down
Upon the concrete floor.
I felt so chilled, the place was filled
With ashes, fumes and smoke
While saying prayers, I climbed the stairs,
Like hell, in case I’d choke.
One glance across the snow swept lawn
I felt inclined to weep,
My bonnie garden lay entombed,
In snow-drifts, five feet deep.
This dream, with all my other dreams,
I classify as duds,
I’m still down in the roothouse,
Moving turnips, carrots, spuds.