October 2017
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At Adanac Military Cemetery

Posted By on October 7, 2017

Piper James Cleland Richardson VC, Adanac Military Cemetery, France. (P. Ferguson image, September 18, 2017)

Piper James Cleland Richardson VC, Adanac Military Cemetery, France. (P. Ferguson image, September 18, 2017)

Before and For All Time

On a rainy day towards the Somme, we stop at Beaumont-Hamel and Thiepval before heading a short distance to Adanac Military Cemetery, to observe the day at the graveside of Piper James Cleland Richardson VC. Although we have been before, time and time again, our observances here strike a new note amidst this battlefield cemetery, amidst these farmer’s fields.

There is nothing about, save for speeding cars and the occasional large tractor and farmhand lumbering about the small roads to tend one of their fields or to return home for the family dinner. As I stand by the Piper’s graveside I look towards Thiepval visible on the horizon, only disturbed by the passing cables of hydro lines. The buzz of modernity a dim contrast to the sounds once heard here of an earlier modern – weapons of the day heard in between the calls of men. One does not wonder here why the second b in bomb is silent.

Time and time again I return to the Piper and with each squishy step I take I mash myself between the rows of muddy grass and headstones, looking and listening, always searching here amongst those who have been before and remain for all time.

Sorrow

Posted By on October 6, 2017

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In this pear-shaped world, are there words to reflect our sorrow, our pain?

We can only send to you and yours, our peace and prayers.

 

…and in the morning

Posted By on September 23, 2017

The great red sun rising above the battlefields of the Ypres Salient. (P. Ferguson image, September 21, 2017)

The great red sun rising above the battlefields of the Ypres Salient. (P. Ferguson image, September 21, 2017)

On the Road to Home

In the wee hours of the early morning Kurt arrives to take us from Ieper (Ypres) to Lille, France. It’s time to start the trek for home and along the trail there is one last passage of these sites of conflict that we have come to know with respect and hope (and with a hundred years of hindsight). It is green here now, though our driver tells us the drought of a short while ago left these fields brown, dry, and largely without the regeneration that I enjoy. These torn and scarred nation landscapes are worthy of their rebirth, the colour brings hope, the cycle of life delivers nature’s bounty in leafy greens, corn and root crops amidst the still and rusted iron relics that lurk in this earth.

Our driver, Kurt, is knowledgeable and we ask him about his work and how busy he has been during the many 100th anniversary ceremonies. “They come from all over…Scotland, England, America, Australia and Canada”, Kurt tells us, “…and they will continue to come…we have had so much attention from television and filmmakers (and others)…they are all coming to see…even from the Netherlands who were not involved in the Great War.” As we discuss the future together, we recognize that there are more anniversaries to follow after the 100th anniversary of the armistice 11 November 2018. What will happen in Ypres at that time or for the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the Menin Gate Memorial 24 July 2027?

It is then that I think upon the words of Field Marshall Plummer at the Gate’s unveiling, “He is not missing, he is here” and then I return to the spoken words heard at the Menin Gate ceremony each night, “…at the going down of the sun and in the morning…” As we continue our trek across the battlefield landscape in these wee hours the great red sun rises above the plain and, as if to tell us, it speaks for us all, “We will remember them”.

 

Ypres Salient South 2017

Posted By on September 21, 2017

Expressions On Their Faces

The wheels begin to roll earlier today, across the cobbled back streets towards the Groote Markt and on through the Lille Gate. We are headed south of Ypres past Bedford House towards the St. Eloi Craters. The route today is almost a re-creation of our first visit to the Salient. At that time our host and driver delivered us from town to town, site to site. As guests we were both bewildered and astonished while trying to take it all in. The tour was a combination of operational and remembrance histories. Now some years later we are here again at St. Eloi, then to Spoilbank, Chester Farm, the trio of CWGC cemeteries near to each other – DCLI, Woods and Hedgerow. The difference this time – we have done it ourselves. Our visit this year has been good and we are, as before, equally bewildered and astonished. I feel as though we have graduated (seemingly) and though it took us a bit (or a lot depending on viewpoint) to ferret out a new path when driving – we own the bicycle routes.

There was much on view today – a gathering of Great War rusted iron, piece upon piece, from a farmer’s field. Here today but gone the next as the Belgian Ordnance patrol has taken the Great War pieces away. At one of the St. Eloi craters, in order to gain entrance through the locked gate, one had to call the Belgian Tourism Office in Ieper (Ypres) for the gate code. At Spoibank we walked the wood along the Ypres-Comines Canal towards the sluice gate which was used during the Great War as a headquarters and medical facility. Much has changed this year – many sites have been interpreted with well made boardwalks and signage aiding us and all in our understanding of what happened here. Returning to Ypres we pedal along a paved trail (bicycles only)  running adjacent to the canal. As we head towards the towers that mark our landscape we pedal alongside several other visitors cycling their way along the Great War trail. Many are armed with our same map…many are here for the first time. On the main road we are repeatedly passed by tour busses and vans, covered in painted poppies, soldier silhouettes and signs – drivers with poppy symbols and passengers engaged in hand to hand combat with our same multi-fold maps of the battlefields. So too tractors, trucks with produce and other farm equipment pass by. These are their fields from planting to harvest that each year continues to reveal the debris of the Great War.

When here we always attend The Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. Our stay here, three of these four nights, has featured pipers from Canada, Scotland and Ireland. The Gate is our theatre, the echoes are the bugles and pipes in surround sound. Cameras and mobiles held atop the crowd attempting to gain access to these moments that surely for many is a first visit. The crowds are enormous, jockeying for position. looking at and upwards upon the names, seeing poppy crosses and wreaths – you can read the expressions on their faces and on occasion – there are tears when they discover that there are 54,896 reasons to visit here.

 

Ypres Salient 2017

Posted By on September 19, 2017

For a Thousand Years

Each new day here on the Salient brings something new to my being. Though we have seen many of these places before with each new step there is a new experience to feel, a new plain to watch across. Today we have traded four wheels for two, from fossil fuel to foot power and roll along the Salient towards Zillebeke Churchyard where we visit amongst those here since the Great War and of whom 10 are Canadian soldiers. Near to the church a stone angel watches over one grave but a guardian to them all. It is to be a day of church bells, the soundtrack of the soul. We move towards Mont Sorrel and encounter the memorial to the 15th Battalion C.E.F. (the 48th Highlanders) who served here with the 1st Canadian Division. As the grass cutter passes by he waves to two Canadians standing, reading and watching.

A short ride later we enter Maple Copse Cemetery and walk amongst the rows, name after name, story upon story. What is their voice from then to now? They have been here for all this time and yes we will remember them and judging by the numbers of people here we will remember them for a thousand years…and more. The passage of time can be unkind, but as I walk these sites, carefully tended, I cannot help but walk towards those with records of visitors who have left their mark, a Lady Haig poppy cross, a wreath, a photo, a story or a simple stone upon the marker. Today too is to be a day of harvest, finding this evidence of commemoration, finding the light and snapping a record of what I observe here.

More is to follow as we move towards Larch Wood (Railway Cutting) Cemetery where several soldiers of Jimmy Richardson’s battalion are buried. Here side by side, soldiers of the 16th Battalion C.E.F. (Canadian Scottish) rest in perpetuity. Guardians to this day of this salient and for a thousand years…and more. Our day is not done as we move to higher ground towards Hill 60 where once again the pillbox provides a matinee of poppy crosses, wreaths and story…it is crowded with remembrance…it is crowded with visitors. Moving across country we detour via a smaller road that takes us cross country towards Bellewaarde and Hooge Crater where we stop to rest absorbing a local hop varity before entering Hooge Crater Cemetery to find more records from visitors.

These reminders mark important visits. So too the comments in registers at these Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries. Visitors from afar and nearby, visitors who have come to remember a family member they never met. They are related and so they have come, whether it be way back when, this day or tomorrow…for a thousand years we can remember them… and all we have to do is to let it happen.