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Butterfly Lanterns

Posted By on August 29, 2021

Gentle things...these powder wings. Butterfly at Rifle House Cemetery, Belgium. (P. Ferguson image, September 2005)

Gentle things…these powder wings. Butterfly at Rifle House Cemetery, Belgium.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2005)

Letting Go

C-216…sir…

This is Abilene…right here under your feet…but now its Avalon. Now, how can that be possible to have those two things in the same place?
(Kepper. The Last Full Measure, 1:15:37 – 1:15:58).

It was a recent re-watch of The Last Full Measure, a film in search of the Medal of Honor for William H. Pitsenbarger…a United States Air Force Pararescueman killed 11 April 1966, Xa Cam My, South Vietnam that leads me on this day’s thoughts. It is one of many films about this war…Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter…Platoon…Full Metal Jacket…but it is in its measure, its metamorphosis that we might find hope amidst the colour of gentle things.

William H. Pitsenbarger was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously in 2000. (Wiki image)

William H. Pitsenbarger was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously in 2000.
(Wiki image)

Though there are the usual inclusions found in films inspired by a true story sometimes….sometimes these conduits help in reaching to the hopeful hearts of ourselves. To this I speak of Kepper’s (John Savage) butterflies, Burr’s (Peter Fonda) war related effects…the terror of the night…you take care now cuz its a jungle out there, Takoda’s (Samuel L. Jackson) progress…vulnerability and communication, honesty builds trust…It’s the only real courage we’ve got left in this world. Mott’s (Ed Harris) Pit’s letter to Rachel…I’m sorry it took so long…and Peters’ (Linus Roache’s) understanding of the reach of inspiration.

Many years ago now, before these words appeared, I wrote of butterflies gentle things, these powder wings…their flight of colour delicate within the competing fractures of nature. Lepidoptera…complete transformation…symbols of rebirth…Abilene and Avalon…land of meadows…the isle of fruit. Within the deep green of the jungle where all are trying to bend within the sound of gun fire, ricochet and rotor blades…green, yellow, red and violet smoke…one tin foot walks along the conflict trail…no nfg…no nfg and some have not slept in 32 years.

But unlike the colour of smoke…Kepper’s butterflies rise in monastic freedom. Delicate and founding here on this spot….this one spot that saw the bend of our kind. Though we cannot understand everyone’s hurt…everyone’s Abeline…we can try to find the gentle places of our Avalons…In finding the two together perhaps we might know then how hurt and hope can be so closely linked…the terror of the night…the gentle grace of powder wings.

C – 216 + 32 Years

I’d like to recognize some guys who are going to hate me for doing it. Now we have with us today some of the veterans of Operation Abilene. Charlie Company, Second of the 16th Infantry. Now these men were the witnesses to Bill Pitsenbarger’s heroism and they’ve worked and worked for 32 years to see this day come. Would you honor us, please, by standing and being recognized?

And will the Airmen of Pits’s unit, The Aerospace rescue and recovery service, also please stand. And any other PJ’s [Pararescue Jumpers] from Vietnam, would you rise? If there are any other US veterans here today, will you please stand? If there are wives or parents here, would you stand?

And any children or grand-children, would you join us? And other friends or family anyone who has been touched or moved in any way by the actions of this Medal of Honor recipient would you also stand? Look around. This is the power of what one person can do. (Peters, 1:44:54 – 1:47:02)

Just stay here for a while…and breathe…
(Kepper 1:16:02 – 1:16:04)
The Last Full Measure
Directed and Written by Todd Robinson

Here is No Giant Warrior God

Posted By on July 24, 2021

Bank of Montreal Memorial of the Great War. (P. Ferguson image July 2017)

Bank of Montreal Memorial of the Great War.
(P. Ferguson image July 2017)

Strength and Determination

Here is no giant warrior god on a high pedestal, but a man.
He is tough, ready for the fight, his feet apart, arms held loosely
by his sides ready. His helmet is just slightly at an angle, and,
under its brim, his face reflects strength and determination.

(A.L. Freundlich, The Sculpture of James Earle Fraser. 2001)

Winnipeg, the corner of Portage and Main an imposing bronze statue nearly three metres in height stands in commemoration of the Bank’s Great War soldiers. The bank’s book on the subject of their employees during the Great War, Memorial of the Great War (Bank of Montreal) 1914-1918 A Record of Service (1921), has always been a fine resource for learning a little extra of these soldier-banker’s lives. In all 1,409 employees served during the Great War and of these 230 did not return. Specific to Winnipeg the local branch saw 53 of their staff serve during the war, nine lost their lives. Winnipeg’s Bank of Montreal soldier statue was unveiled 5 December 1923 replacing a temporary cenotaph on the same site from 1920-1923.

The bronze is modelled on a bank employee and Canadian Field Artillery veteran, Wynn Bagnall, by the American sculptor James Earle Fraser. Bagnall was a gunner who was commissioned, Mentioned in Despatches and awarded the Military Cross for the Battle of Cambrai in 1918. After the war Bagnall briefly returned to his employer and subsequently relocated to Manhattan in the United States where he died in 1931.

Sculptor James Earl Fraser. (Wiki Image)

Sculptor James Earl Fraser.
(Wiki Image)

The sculptor, James Earl Fraser, is known for works such as the sculpture End of the Trail located in Waupun, Wisconsin, the Buffalo nickel coin, the American Victory Medal of the Great War and the United States Navy and Marine Corps’ Navy Cross. Fraser’s work is also prominently featured in Washington, D.C.

Awarded the Military Cross
Captain Wynn Bagnall
Attached 60th Battery, 14th Brigade, Canadian Field Artillery

For marked gallantry and initiative. On 1st October, 1918, during fighting in suburbs of Cambrai, our infantry were suffering severe casualties from enemy machine guns situated behind a railway embankment. He took forward one gun of his battery to within 500 yards of our posts, in order to enfilade this embankment. Under heavy fire he got the gun into action and succeeded in silencing the machine guns, enabling our line to be slightly advanced.

Every Three Seconds

Posted By on June 26, 2021

Canadian Artillery in Action by Kenneth Forbes. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, Canadian War Museum (Wiki Image)

Canadian Artillery in Action by Kenneth Forbes. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, Canadian War Museum.
(Wiki Image)

Canadian Artillery in Action

Canadian war artist Kenneth Forbes was all to familiar with service on the Western Front.

Born in Toronto, Canada Forbes, prior to the Great War, studied art in the United Kingdom and had twelve of his portraits exhibited at the Royal Academy, London, England. In 1914 Forbes joined the British Army’s 10th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers and later became second in command of the 32nd Machine Gun Company. Forbes was both wounded and gassed. Then…there was a change.

In 1918 Forbes was ordered to report to Lord Beaverbrook’s Canadian War Memorials Fund, London where he was transferred to the Canadian Expeditionary Force. His Great War work included, The Defence of Sanctuary Wood (ca. 1917), Corporal William Metcalf VC MM and Bar (ca. 1918), and Canadian Artillery in Action (ca. 1918).

William Metcalf VC, MM and Bar of the 16th Battalion CEF (The Canadian Scottish) by Kenneth Forbes. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, Canadian War Museum. (Wiki Image)

William Metcalf VC, MM and Bar of the 16th Battalion CEF (The Canadian Scottish) by Kenneth Forbes. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, Canadian War Museum.
(Wiki Image)

Forbes’ painting Canadian Artillery in Action depicts an exhausted Canadian artillery crew operating a 6” Howitzer, 16 July 1916, Thiepval, Somme. The painting is a reconstruction of the day when the artillery faced a prolonged barrage and despite the casualties continued at their station. The work is oil on canvas 157.5 cm (~62”) x 245.3cm (~96.5”).

This work was one of several paintings selected for reproduction in an art distribution scheme by Canada’s Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire [IODE]. One other Forbes’ work became a print in the series the Defence of Sanctuary Wood that depicts the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) in action.

The Defence of Sanctuary Wood. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, Canadian War Museum (Wiki Image)

The Defence of Sanctuary Wood. Beaverbrook Collection of War Art, Canadian War Museum
(Wiki Image)

Works in the series by other artists include, The Fleet Carrying Canada’s First Contingent, Canadian Motor Launches off Dover, War in the Air, Over the Top, Field Dressing Station, Ypres Cloth Hall in Ruins, Mobile Veterinary Clinic, Canadian Foresters at Work, Canadian Troops Arriving at the Rhine, Peace Celebrations in Paris, and The Surrender of the German Fleet.

Some of these prints were presented across Canada and in May 1923 Chilliwack High School became one of the known beneficiaries. The prints are inscribed, Presented by the Imperial Order Daughters of the Empire in memory of the men and women of the Empire who gave their lives in the Great War 1914 – 1918.

Though the following citation is not from the day of Forbes’ painting the details recorded were faced by all artillery personnel during the Great War. For all the Gunners…once a gunner always a gunner.

Awarded the Military Medal
319955 Gunner Phillip Henry Button
4th Brigade, 13th Battery, Canadian Field Artillery

This man with other Gunners on the morning of November 3rd 1917, formed the personnel of two gun crews that went into action. These two crews kept their guns in action, although during the whole period the area within a radius of 500 yards was subjected to a continuous bombardment with shells that were coming in at an average rate of twenty per minute*. Ammunition was set on fire in the position and one of the shells was so close that the Gunners were knocked down by the force of the explosion.

This man and the other Gunners with conspicuous bravery stuck to their guns and maintained fire. They were absolutely without cover and miraculously escaped injury. Within three minutes of withdrawing the men from their guns, one of the guns was hit and the whole shattered.

*Twenty per minute = Every three seconds

The Thistle…

Posted By on May 30, 2021

Black Watch statue by Alan Herriot, Black Watch Corner, near Polygon Wood, Belgium. (P. Ferguson image, August 2018)

Black Watch statue by Alan Herriot, Black Watch Corner, near Polygon Wood, Belgium.
(P. Ferguson image, August 2018)

…which can sting if disturbed

During the Great War the 25 battalions of the Royal Highlanders (Black Watch) lost 8,960 soldiers and more than 20,000 wounded. Their title, the Black Watch, is derived from the dark colour of their tartan and further honours the regiment’s original role as the watch of the Highlands. The regiment’s Latin motto Nemo me impune lacessit means No one provokes me with impunity.

On 3 May 2014 a bronze statue of a Black Watch soldier, sculpted by Alan Herriot, was unveiled at Black Watch Corner near to Ypres (Ieper), Belgium. The statue is sited on the southwest edge of Polygon Wood where on 10/11 November 1914 the 1st Battalion stopped an advance by the Prussian Guards.

Nine soldiers of the regiment are recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as having lost their lives in Belgium 10 November 1914. For the following day, forty-four 1st Battalion soldiers are recorded, forty-one being commemorated on the Menin Gate War Memorial (Ypres). Three soldiers have known graves, Private D. Tunnah (Bedford House Cemetery), Private D. Christison (Bedford House Cemetery) and Lance Corporal A. Page (Tyne Cot Cemetery).

Four soldiers of the Black Watch were awarded the Victoria Cross during the Great War. Of these only one soldier was with the 1st Battalion. Corporal John Ripley, age 47, received the bronze cross for his actions at Rue du Bois, France. Ripley was 47 years of age.

The Flame and the Glow

Posted By on April 18, 2021

Loie Fuller appears in the film Radioactive. A reoccurring theme of light within the film. (Wiki image)

Loie Fuller appears in the film Radioactive.
A reoccurring theme of light within the film.
(Wiki image)

Radium – Light the catalyst…

She’s wonderful isn’t she…her dance…her name is Loie Fuller [pioneer of modern dance and theatrical lighting] if you wish to see her again…she calls it… this dance…her fire dance…[Why?]…I believe its because she’s interested in the way flames move.

Henri Curie speaking to Marie Skłodowska from Radioactive. Screenplay by Jack Thorne.

Madame Marie Curie. (Wiki image)

Madame Marie Curie.
(Wiki image)

Last night, during the earlier dark hours, I scanned through the available films on offer. Despite my constant click about I chose Radioactive, a biopic of Madame Marie Curie (nee Skłodowska) the discoverer of radium (Ra) and polonium (Po). Released in 2019 the film was directed by Marjane Satrapi whose story, starring Rosamund Pike as Curie, set me on a path of questioning and curiosity. Did Madame Curie really sleep with radioactive material near to her? Did Madame Curie offer to melt her Nobel prizes – Physics (1903) shared with her husband Pierre Curie and in Chemistry (1911) – for the war effort? Why have I not thought about Madame Curie and the Great War previously? How interested was Madame Curie in spiritualism? Has a Great War Petite Curie survived, to be cared for in a museum?

Though these questions I leave, for the most part, for my readers to explore…the film’s time sequences reminded me of my own interests in the history of X-ray. I first encountered Madame Curie in 1967 when upon my return to Canada my family’s possessions stored for some time came home. Amongst the items the Golden Book Encyclopedia. Within Volume 4 Chalk to Czechoslovakia…Madam Curie…the first I read of her. I was seven years old.

In 2000 I wrote a short history of Chilliwack’s first X-ray machine delivered in 1924 and first operated by George Bradley the janitor of Chilliwack General Hospital. Chilliwack’s machine was one of the new models specifically designed for use in smaller hospitals and cost $2136.15 equivalent to $32,018.78 today. Prior to the arrival of Chilliwack’s first X-ray machine, area patients requiring X-rays were required to travel to hospitals on the coast.

The X-ray machine at the Malta National War Museum. (P. Ferguson image, April 2005)

The X-ray machine at the Malta National War Museum.
(P. Ferguson image, April 2005)

In 2005 a visit to the National War Museum, Fort St. Elmo, Valletta, Malta led me to an encounter in the exhibition galleries with an early X-ray machine. No doubt I wondered at the time how similar the machine before me was to Chilliwack’s 1924 machine. Was Malta’s machine an earlier model, of the same vintage to Chilliwack’s? Or had it been on the island some time previous, throughout the Great War, when Malta was known as the nurse of the Mediterranean?

X-rays are a standard form of medical diagnostic tool. First invented in 1895 by German scientist Wilhelm Roentgen, Madam Curie’s discovery and implementation of radium as the gamma ray source for Roentgen’s machine made for more accurate and better X-ray imaging. Radium as the catalyst allows for the use of high energy electromagnetic radiation to create medical images. This penetrative form of imagery allows medical practitioners to discover the physical hurt and complications within our injured and ill persons.

Madame Marie Curie and one of the Petite Curies on the Western Front. (Wiki Image)

Madame Marie Curie and one of the Petite Curies on the Western Front.
(Wiki Image)

With the onset of the Great War Marie Curie recognized that the use of radiology would be instrumental in the detection of shrapnel, bullets and fragments as well as the shards of broken bones within the wounded. Her work with the French Red Cross Radiology Service saved untold lives and through her connections Curie created a fleet of 20 mobile vehicles, which became known as Petite Curies and supplied another 200 radiological units to field hospitals. The mobile radiology units were instrumental in saving countless lives as being designed for use closer to the battlefields meant that diagnostic time was considerably reduced. Informed decisions could be made quicker without the complications of travel time to hospitals far back from the fields of conflict.

In 1924 Madame Curie died from aplastic anemia likely stemming from her long-term work with radiation. Her remains, clothes, furniture, cookbooks and laboratory notebooks, the latter considered to be national and scientific treasure remain radioactive. The laboratory archives are stored in lead lined boxes at the Bibliothèque nationale France, Paris.