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She Clasps A Silver Cross

Posted By on May 19, 2015

"Rhymes of a Red Cross Man" by R.W. Service. Published 1916.

Rhymes of a Red Cross Man by R.W. Service. Published 1916.

Always Time to Remember

One cannot help but reflect on so many Great War anniversaries as each day passes some 100 years later. Today though I have had a think about a few posts that really must develop and though perhaps the “On This Day” approach has passed, there is always time to remember…always…time…to remember.

"To the Memory of my brother LIEUTENANT ALBERT SERVICE Canadian Infantry Killed in Action. France August 1916.

To the Memory of my brother LIEUTENANT ALBERT SERVICE Canadian Infantry Killed in Action. France August 1916.

So during one of my recent thinks I thought about a book from the reference library, Rhymes of a Red Cross Man by Robert W. Service. I have often thought upon this book and so recently went for a walk with the book in hand tipping through its pages, scanning for words that might enlighten oneself for the day. I have an objective in taking this book for a walk.

I know that at the war memorial there will be something to capture that may add some further poingnacy to these printed lines of the famed Canadian poet-writer Mr. Service. So…rather than ramble on –  let us see what a little walk, a little thought and a little time to remember can do.

"But mother's sayin' nothin', and she clasps---a silver cross" (The Convalescent by R.W. Service).

But mother’s sayin’ nothin’, and she clasps—a silver cross. (The Convalescent by R.W. Service).

Lieutenant Albert Niven Parker Service was killed in action when serving with the 52nd Battalion CEF, August 18, 1916.  Albert was the brother of Robert W. Service who served initially as a war correspondent for the Toronto Star and then later served with the Motor Ambulance Corps of the American Red Cross. Two other brothers, Alexander and Joseph worked in munitions plants.

Robert Service was born in Lancashire, England and became known as “The Bard of the Yukon” having written, The Shooting of Dan McGrew, and The Cremation of Sam McGee. Both works were published in Songs of a Sourdough (1907).

O Poppy My Poppy!

Posted By on May 1, 2015

John McCrae with his dog Bonneau.

“In Flanders Fields” – John McCrae with his dog Bonneau.

“O the bleeding drops of red”*

Here we are – near to 100 years ago – 3 May 1915 – since Canadian soldier, officer, doctor John McCrae penned, “In Flanders Fields”. McCrae’s reflections upon the loss of fellow soldier and friend, Alexis Helmer, are a personal witness to war that placed within the grasp of millions a natural beauty that gently rises from this earth that holds the remains of men, women, and children lost to the clutches of the Great War. McCrae’s words connect us, to this day, with the landscape of the Great War and though for many of us far from home the poem speaks to our ancestors who once “lived, felt dawn saw sunset glow”.

Poppies continue to stand across this reborn landscape of Flanders…and France…and elsewhere. A flower forever linked to remembrance and the wreckage of mankind’s wrath and folly. Of those many poppies I have visited, while on the trail of soldiers who walked, stumbled, crawled, marched and ran across this very ground, I too reflect upon that crimson red delicacy floating above the hardened ground. From this once twisted earth I observe its gentle weave, the Poppy’s fragility beguiles the ragged edges of rusted metal – the fragments and splinters – the remainders of the Great War that to this day continue to lurk among the flowers.

As the poppies drift to and fro with the wind; anchored to the ground, these dainty tissues of red fragility, call out to the lives once here…remember me, remember this place, go forward, listen, learn…reflect. Like a life in motion, the poppies are entrancing, a spirit moved upon the wind and currents of this landscape…their ground.

Great War Veterans' Association Year Book. (1923).

Great War Veterans’ Association Year Book. (1923).

O Poppy my poppy I see in your message these lives of old and those left to remember. Of those people who called these voices Father, Dad, Daddy, Pere, Vater, Pater…Poppy. “O the bleeding drops of red” held by the border edges of your petals, nourished by this ground of earth, men, women and children find the day, seize upon your call to memory and reflection, release your kind to this ground that others too will stop and reflect in your bloom. This is your ground, your sacred home, your endless vigil.

*“O the bleeding drops of red” from the poem “O Captain My Captain” by Walt Whitman.

Gordon Highlander Girl

Posted By on April 26, 2015

A wee girl at the photo studio.

A wee girl at the photo studio.

A Bonnie Wee Lass in Uniform

How old is she we might ask – a wee wisp standing in the photographer’s studio wearing the badge, Glengarry, and uniform of the Gordon Highlanders. Standing with her smile and armed with her officer’s cane her innocence is a sharp contrast to those who wore these uniforms in battle.

This type of photography was popular during the Great War and images of children and youngsters can often be seen wearing service tunics. Our girl wears a divisional flash on her left arm, with cuff rank of a Lieutenant and above her left pocket a celluloid button that may feature a red cross. Perhaps she was a participant in a Great War fundraiser. Though unidentified, her face is a symbol of hope for the future, despite the realities of the Great War years.

Smile forever our sweet darling lass.

Charms of Life in the Trenches

Posted By on April 21, 2015

George Samuel Ager in the uniform of the 50th Regiment (Gordon Highlanders).

George Samuel Ager in the uniform of the 50th Regiment (Gordon Highlanders).

Lieutenant George Samuel Ager, 16th Battalion CEF

As time advances from one Great War anniversary to the next, I engage my grey cells in an exercise to find connection with  the Canadian Expeditionary Force of April 22 – 24, 1915. Specifically I search for something personal, a familar name to speak to the area northeast of Ypres, the first German gas attack and the battle of Kitcheners’ Wood.

When searching for these deeper connections I attempt to discover new information, something previously unknown to me, and perhaops something seemingly unrelated yet a twist brings the connection together. This time perhaps a name – a face to highlight when the 16th was beginning its experience that was to be their initial entry into the Great War.

I turn to a familiar resource, the University of Victoria, and begin the steady plod through a Victoria newspaper of the time. As I near April 1915 I discover an image and one name to focus upon, George Samuel Ager, a veteran of the Second Boer War (1899-1902). Ager served with Lord Strathcona’s Horse of the Canadian Cavalry and after the Boer War Ager was employed by Beaumont Boggs as the managing director of the Canada Mosaic Tile Company Ltd. (Victoria, B.C.).  The firm manufactured and imported mantles, tiles, grates and art stone and for a city, such as Victoria, which today takes great pride in its built heritage I wonder how much of the firm’s work remains in situ and what the works they created and brought into the country may have looked like.

At the time of Ager’s enlistment in September 1914, we learn from his attestation papers that he was married to Maud and that on his left arm there was a tattoo, the initials “S.H.” possibly for “Stratchcona’s Horse”. In pre-Great War Victoria Ager served as a Captain with the 50th Regiment (Gordon Highlanders) but with the 16th Battalion CEF served in a lower officer’s rank as Lieutenant.

Returning to the grey cells it is while reading through the pages of the Victoria Daily Times that I find a page four 31 March 1915 article related to George Samuel Ager entitled, “Fighting in Mud and Blood of Trenches”. The article, in effect a summarized 9 March 1915 letter from Captain Ager to his wife Maud, is a “vivid description of Life in Letter from Captain [sic] Ager”.

“The Canadian contingent has now been initiated into the charms of the life in the trenches…The trenches we occupied were in a wretched condition, very muddy and wet…At our part of the line the trenches are about 250 yards apart, but to our right a little they are within 40 yards of each other. Both sides have a maze of barbed wire entanglements in front of their trenches…the Germans…place their rifles in and keep them stationary sighted to shoot immediately over the tops of our parapets, thus getting a direct aim in our trenches at night…Every day we have an artillery duel, and the men seem to thoroughly enjoy hearing the shells screeching through the air…as long as the men remain in the trenches below the parapets they are safe, but the men will take chances, do foolish things and so get picked off occasionally. During the night the Germans turn on big searchlights at various intervals and if they can locate troops moving in or working parties immediately turn on their machine guns…During the four days I was in the trench I had only three hours sleep…Of course the whole time you are in the trenches you do not remove any of your clothing and four days with practically no sleep and continually ploughing through mud is not conducive to the most cheerful spirit…The weather is very cold at the present time and at this moment I am shivering. Every time it rains it raises the very mischief in the trenches, making them slide in in various places, and of course creating more mud. The mud here is the stickiest I have ever seen…It is sometimes impossible to pull your feet out…It creates havoc with your socks…”

However, there would be no more letters from the good Lieutenant George Samuel Ager as on 22 April 1915 Ager was reported wounded, then wounded and missing and some time later “for official purposes presumed to have died on or since April 22, 1915”. Having no known grave Lieutenant George Samuel Ager is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Ieper, Belgium.

Together with friends I have wandered the area of the first gas attack, Kitcheners’ Wood, the surrounding area and Ager’s footsteps. Taking in the lay of the land, standing and observing where Canadians many years previously had stood within a torrent of fire, shellburst and mayhem I recall the feelings we all shared as we thought back upon this place in which our feet were now grounded but from which we could all move forward to the next site of memory.

It was while wandering to another of these sites of memory, Ploegsteert Churchyard, that we came upon the graves of some Canadian soldiers killed during training and where the son of Beaumont Boggs, for whom Lieutenant Ager worked, is buried. Lieutenant Herbert Beaumont Boggs of the 7th Canadian Infantry Battalion was one of the first Canadian officers killed during the Great War having lost his life February 26, 1915 while in training for front line duty on the Western Front.

For this observer of history it is these twists of fate, these historical mazes of the implausible that continue to intrigue me to seek connection. Exploring the twists and turns lets me find the stories that once lingered by the fireside but now retold for today’s generation of remembrance.

James Prinsep Beadle – War Artist

Posted By on March 11, 2015

Battle of Neuve Chapelle

Battle of Neuve Chapelle by J.P. Beadle. Maidstone Museum and Art Gallery.

Battle of Neuve Chapelle (10 – 13 March 1915)

J.P. Beadle was an English painter who was interested in historical and military subject matters. His interests included the Peninsular War (1807 – 1814), the Boer War (1899 – 1902) and the Great War (1914 – 1918). Beadle’s painting of the opening day of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle (10 March 1915) depicts the 2nd Rifle Brigade and the 39th Garwhal Rifles clearing the town. At this time of the centenary of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle we remember the Scottish units who received Battle Honours for Neuve Chapelle and to introduce J.P. Beadle, the artist, who also painted Piper James Cleland Richardson at Regina Trench (8 October 1916) in the action that led to James receiving the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross.

Piper J.C. Richardson VC by J.P. Beadle. Officer's Mess, Royal Scots, Edinburgh.

Piper J.C. Richardson V.C. by J.P. Beadle. Officer’s Mess, Royal Scots, Edinburgh.

Battle Honor Neuve Chapelle and Scottish Units

The Royal Scots Greys (2nd Dragoons)
Scots Guards
The Royal Scots
The Royal Scots Fusiliers
The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)*
The Black Watch (Royal Highlanders)
The Highland Light Infantry (City of Glasgow Regiment)
The Seaforth Highlanders
The Gordon Highlanders
The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders*

*Emblazoned on the Regimental Colours