November 2014
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Final Message from the Front

Posted By on October 8, 2014

I find myself working late into the night on the Pipes of War film project. As the 7th of October 2014 becomes the 8th my mind ponders what Jimmy must have been thinking 98 years ago this very night.  Only  a few hours earlier he would have “implored the Commanding Officer with tears in his eyes” for the right to pipe the men into the battle. His exact words are were not recorded, but having studied his writing I’ve imagined the conversation… the entirety of which will be revealed in the film, but it concludes with the pure and simple statement accented by a single tear…”Please sir, I am a piper.”

Jimmy’s plea was so moving that his Commanding Officer relented. Jimmy along with 3 other pipers were allowed to lead each company over top. James and John Park did not survive the battle.

(apropos to my thoughts the soundtrack to Les Miserables is playing in the background while I write and Alfie Boe is signing “Bring him Home”… but I return to this post…)

Jimmy, along with the majority of the 16th Battalion would have taken a moment to scribble a final message home. It took the form of the Field Service Post Card seen here.  A few hours later he would take up position in the first wave of men to advance on Regina Trench at 4:50am.  Today, 2014, in a strange twist of cosmic fate I will observe a lunar eclipse where the Earth’s shadow passes across our moon creating a phenomenon known as the blood moon. The celestial event will occur between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. over my little spot on this globe…. and so I will watch and remember. I will remember James and the brave men of the 16th who fought and bled this day so long ago.

Field Service Postcard written by James Richardson just before the attack on Regina Trench. This is the final document he mailed before he fell earning the Victoria Cross.

Field Service Postcard written by James Richardson just before the attack on Regina Trench. This is the final document he mailed before he fell earning the Victoria Cross.

Front of Richardson's final postcard dated October 7, 1916.

Front of Richardson’s final postcard dated October 7, 1916.

2nd Lieutenant John “Jock” Low

Posted By on September 25, 2014

Postcard of 1914.

Postcard of 1914.

Dinna Forget

Today I have been thinking about one line that a fiancé wrote about her departed best friend. Appearing on the wall at the visitor’s centre at Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial, Belgium, the words remind us of a departed soul and the ones left behind to remember. And then I turn towards a recent Miss Marple episode and how towards the end of the story she clutches a framed oval portrait of a soldier of the Great War. Love is there forever, Dinna Forget.

The moving line of one soldier's fiance at Tyne Cot Visitor's Centre, Belgium.

The moving line of one soldier’s fiance at Tyne Cot Visitor’s Centre, Belgium.

2nd Lieutenant John “Jock” Low, 13th Battalion King’s Royal Rifles Corps, was killed 10 January 1918. “Jock” was the son of the late William and Jane Low of Balquhindochy, Turriff, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial. Low was Mentioned in Despatches for service during the Great War.

16th Battalion CEF at Rest and Play

Posted By on September 19, 2014

Soldiers of the 16th Battalion CEF (Canadian Scottish), summer, 1918.

Soldiers of the 16th Battalion CEF (Canadian Scottish), Sports Competition, Summer, 1918.

Some Time Behind the Lines

Once in a while there was just a little respite, a little peace and perhaps a different kind of banter for the troops to enjoy behind the lines away from harm’s way. A gathering of souls who on most days were in a different place – on the lines, in a trench or a vantage point watching out upon the short horizon of no man’s land waiting and wondering. For a brief moment our observer shares a quiet chatter with a few fellows nearby but all the while waiting for movement from the other side, another alarm and suddenly action and measures taken for self-preservation.

Enough for now of the front lines, let’s settle in on a bit of calm, though perhaps also a time to let loose a bit and have fun. Maybe some better food or a bottle of wine to share? For a few days, somewhere, a bit of recreation for all those interested to take part. So for today we have four soldiers of the 16th Battalion CEF (Canadian Scottish) performing in a dance competition seemingly smiling and perhaps for a brief moment the thoughts of a turned earth were out of mind as the sound of the pipes brings them to their feet in the spirit of friendly competition.

Caius College Master’s Speech

Posted By on September 8, 2014

Gonville and Caius College from King's Parade, Cambridge University.

Gonville and Caius College from King’s Parade, Cambridge University.

The Voice of 1919

Even though there is a desire on my part to try to make every blog, at this time, commemorate an anniversary of the Great War, I find that when the idea is generated one has to work with it else it leaves this writer for a great while. I know that this blog, inspired by the film “Chariots of Fire”, has been on my mind for at least two years. And so I decide to watch the film and soon I begin noticing many things.

The Great War has been over less than a year. The veterans, not as old men but youthful themselves and having seen visions beyond their years stowing baggage, one with the dressings and braces of an unkind war, medals in place hoping for a little cash from this new generation of youth. One character of that new generation is student, Harold Maurice Abrahams, the famed runner, played by Ben Cross. Abrahams held the King’s commission in the British Army but he was not to make the journey to the front unlike these two souls wearing a trio and a pair or as the vets called them “Pip, Squeak and Wilfred” and “Mutt and Jeff”.

Thinking about these two returned men searching for a bit of work reminds me of meeting Professor Richard Holmes, author of “Tommy”, in London, England. What a grand experience that was where for a few brief minutes we had a conversation about returned soldiers finding it difficult to obtain work. In protest many men pawned their medals and wore the pawnbroker’s tickets on their lapels as an act of protest. How we both wanted to discover an image of this symbolic act and how some while later I saw one in a special exhibit at the Imperial War Museum.

There is however another scene that interests me and it is indeed the one that first started my musings about a Chariots blog all that while ago. I turn now to the Caius College Master’s speech as today’s point for reflection. Someone else’s words that attempts to shape what his generation has felt as name after name were added to the wood paneling. Lines of memories, each name once a voice in the University, each student excited by the prospects of new experience. It is the Master’s voice that needs to be heard, his words, the actor’s delivery capturing the recent days of the University in which likely no day was without loss. This is the voice of 1919 that should be recalled each and every day of these 100th anniversaries. It is the voice of anguish, a reminder of loss but additionally provides the kindling to a new group of youths whose time has come to accept their place in a new world trying to survive those earlier desperate years.

Caius College Master’s Speech (Played by Lindsay Anderson)

Scene: The Freshman’s Dinner

“I take the War List and I run down it. Name after name which I cannot read and which we who are older than you cannot hear without emotion — names which will be only names to you, the new college, but which to us, summon up face after face, full of honesty and goodness, zeal and vigour and intellectual promise. The flower of a generation. The glory of England and they died for England and all that England stands for… and now by tragic necessity their dreams have become yours. Let me exalt you. Examine yourselves. Let each of you discover where your true chance of greatness lies, for their sakes, for the sake of your college and your country seize this chance rejoice in and let no power or persuasion deter you in your task”. (Thursday October 10, 1919)

Did you know?

Two well-known alumni of Caius (pronounced Keys) College include:

Harold Ackroyd VC MC
Royal Army Medical Corps attached 6th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment


“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during operations. He attended the wounded under heavy fire, and finally, when he had seen that all our wounded from behind the line had been got in, he went out beyond the front line and brought in both our own and enemy wounded, although continually sniped at.” (Delville Wood, 19 July 1916)


“For most conspicuous bravery. During recent operations Capt. Ackroyd displayed the greatest gallantry and devotion to duty. Utterly regardless of danger, he worked continuously for many hours up and down and in front of the line tending the wounded and saving the lives of officers and men. In so doing he had to move across the open under heavy machine-gun, rifle and shell fire. He carried a wounded officer to a place of safety under very heavy fire. On another occasion he went some way in front of our advanced line and brought in a wounded man under continuous sniping and machine-gun fire. His heroism was the means of saving many lives, and provided a magnificent example of courage, cheerfulness, and determination to the fighting men in whose midst he was carrying out his splendid work. This gallant officer has since been killed in action.” (31 July – 1 August, 1917, Ypres, Belgium)

Killed 1 August 1917 by a sniper, Jargon Trench

Buried Birr Cross Roads Cemetery, Zillebeke, Belgium

Sir Harold Delf Gillies

Famed Great War plastic surgery pioneer whose work in facial reconstruction is well documented at Queen Mary’s Hospital Archives, Sidcup, England. The earlier scene of the returned veteran with bandages and bracings seems to suggest that the film team was aware of this distinguished alumnus.

Film Location of the Speech

I suspect the scene of the Ciaus College master’s speech to be in King’s College at the University of Cambridge as the UK inventory of war memorial records “King’s College Chapel Wood WWI paneling”. There are many colleges at the University but this is the only one recorded that is similar to what is shown in the film. I would like to verify where the Master’s Speech was filmed and would be interested to hear from anyone knowing for certain. Attempts to find an image of the memorial online have not met with success.

Lawrence of Arabia

Posted By on August 27, 2014

Soundtracks that Make Us…

As I continue to watch and listen to this film I am never dissatisfied with its composition. I am always eager from one scene to the next. The “el ‘awrence” imagery, score and sound are captivating, bringing the viewer deeper into the fold. When I watched the film recently I took special note that director David Lean intended to have the score played in theatres, without visuals, during the “Overture, Enter’acte and Exit Music” (Columbia Pictures DVD).

Sitting in my chair listening I begin to think about David Lean’s intentions for doing so. Indeed the score initiates a journey and creates wonder for the viewer. What are we going to see? Where is the film going to take us? There is so much to talk about with this film that I look forward to sitting down with our director, Casey Williams, and listening to his comments about the film. After all knowing that Casey is truly inspired, as am I, by David Lean is a gift, and one gift which I am grateful to have access to. As scene by scene passes Casey will impart his knowledge and I will heartily accept the commentary. There will be questions (of course) and together we will use this knowledge and come up with our own ideas for our own production. The imagination will flow…

Still it is the work of Maurice Jarre that I want to bring to our readers attention today. As a musician myself, I cannot help but wonder about the creativity required to pen the musical notation and understandings of such a magical and daunting soundtrack. Each note, each sound, each theme, each variation, one never grows tired of hearing the sequences and today as I sit in my chair I simply…listen and that is where the magic is…and I remind myself…it is about what you feel. That is the magic of Jarre’s score it makes us feel.

How I wish I could create similar sounds and yet being part of a production that will also include a soundtrack it will bring to my being, and for those others engaged in the spirit of our presentation, more magic, more experience, more to feel. I am eager! How will our soundtrack reflect the balance or discordance from scene to scene? When will certain notes reemerge to connect with our audience’s ear? What will it be like to watch, hear and feel this, our film, on the screen?

I suspect I know how I will feel – but will not come to terms with it all until the actual premiere when our team will sit somewhere quietly watching and waiting with all those in attendance. As the last scene passes from the audience’s view and the credits begin to roll there may be music to fill our hearts and we will know ourselves what we have created. Then – when the audience begins to react because of what they have felt, we will find our hearts on our sleeves as heart-felt congratulations are offered for a project well done. And all the while, after so much passion, so many hurdles, so much work, it will be, at long last, knowing that what connects us in this journey is feeling, heart-felt dedication worn on our sleeves for anyone to experience.