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Today’s Objective Was Passchendaele

Posted By on September 27, 2016

Tyne Cot Cemetery, Passchendaele, Belgium. (P. Ferguson image, 2016)

Imagine all the people…Tyne Cot Cemetery, Passchendaele, Belgium. (P. Ferguson image, 2016)

Ypres Day Three of Five

A shorter ride today though at times it felt uphill and against the wind. Determined to push on, today’s objective was Passchendaele – one spot on the high ground that is the Western Front. We were most familiar with Canada’s role in this climb to the top where today the Canadian Memorial at Passchendaele also attracts our nation to witness this ground that we mostly learn as mud and battle. Whenever I see visitors from our side of the pond I ask myself, What brought them here?…and perhaps it is as simple as…they have come to see for themselves.

Prior to reaching Passchendaele we stop at Zonnebeke to visit the Passchendaele Memorial Museum and the 85th Battalion CEF (Nova Scotia Highlanders) Memorial. Although we had viewed the museum once before, now on our own, we have more time to carefully discover the exhibits. Afterwards we pedal into Passchendaele Centrum and then soared down the hill towards the Waterfields and onto Tyne Cot Cemetery which never ceases to leave one imagining.

Hopeful of a trip to Hill 60, we simply run out of time and head towards Bellewaerde Ridge, where we wave to two seniors visiting at the P.P.C.L.I. Memorial. Afterwards we find an obscure narrow roadway that runs into the back of the amusement park at Bellewaerde. Here we discover our missing crows of the last two days who scramble taking flight from under the trees, our presence has surprised them. Then off to Hooge Crater for refreshments and with the two towers on the horizon we head toward Ypres. An eight hour day on pedals and the downhill, gentle rolling is welcome after being buffeted by the wind. One thinks of Canada’s troops here in this place known as Passchendaele, no doubt uphill, muddy, bloody and at times against the wind. All we can do today is imagine and remember them.

Somewhere in Belgium

Posted By on September 26, 2016

A SOLDIER OF THE GREQT WAR CANADIAN SCOTTISH. Bedford House Cemetery; Belgium. (P. Ferguson image 2016)

A SOLDIER OF THE GREAT WAR CANADIAN SCOTTISH. Bedford House Cemetery. Belgium. (P. Ferguson image 2016)

Ypres Day Two of Five

Today it is a return to Ploegsteert and as we lumber our way across the roadway towards the Rijselpoort, the cobbles remind us every few seconds that we are not quite at our peak for the day. Heading south we successfully navigate our way in approxiamately an hour to Ploegseert Church. The church is today’s main objective and specifically the churchyard cemetery where two early fatalities of the 7th Battalion C.E.F. (1st B.C. Regiment) are buried. Both Lieuteant Herbert Beaumont Boggs and Private Thomas Sutton lost their lives while training with British regiments before their battalion proceeded to the frontlines. Although I had been here several years before to photograph Private Sutton’s resting place, today I am here for Lieuteant Boggs, a near neighbour in Victoria to General Arthur Currie G.C.M.G., K.C.B. Boggs’ father later assisted with the creation of Victoria’s War Memorial at the corner of Belleville and Government Streets.

Once our initial  task is completed the day is ours for excursions to whatever takes our fancy. One hour to Ploegsteert – 7.5 hours back to Ypres. Many of the towns we had seen previously but only in terms of skirting interests as there never seemed to be time to stop, always pressing on to the next site. The bikes teach us much, apart from bouncing across cobblestones, we become cognizant of bicycle etiquette, learn to understand the do’s and dont’s of roundabouts, sidewalks and rights of way. More importantly elevation becomes an issue as we realize what a rise in terrain may mean for troops on the ground – (always the high ground!) In between the towns of Ypres and Ploegsteert we spend extra time at Mesen, explore in and around Wijtschate and visit many of the area’s Commonwealth War Graves Cemeteries. Some might ask what we find in these sites that for many are not chosen destinations? We are here to see what we can see. To read the names, to see family commemorations, epitaphs and find the images that help their voices speak once again. Many images will never make it to publication but their role as reference and creating connection is absolute.

In between our foot wanderings, our wheeled wanderings allow us to observe and comment on the unexpected and how these sites continue to impact us and others. All the while I am listerning counting the heard churchbells today at 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM and 3:00 PM as well as at 8:30 PM when in Ypres. So too the crows seem to have found us again, gliding their way effortlessly around church steeples at Ploegsteert and Mesen, or mimicing us as we ride our bikes, it’s almost laughter from our flighted friends watching us struggle on the ground whereas they chose the sky.

Always watching for the towers of the Ypres Cloth Hall and St. Martin’s Cathedral on the horizon a decision is made to choose one last place to visit for the day as the towers come into view. It is at Bedford House Cemetery where I think upon the phrase “Somewhere in Belgium” after photographing the headstone of an unknown Canadian Scottish soldier. What his family must have gone through only knowing that somewhere in Belgium their lad lay. And here we stand…a little reminder of why we do this…somewhere in Belgium.

Mud, Memory and Musings

Posted By on September 25, 2016

Poppy cross covered with mud at the graveside of Sgt. E.E. Patchman MM, Australian Field Artillery, Ypres Reservoir Cemetery. (P. Ferguson iimage 2016)

Poppy cross covered with mud at the graveside of Sgt. E.E. Patchman MM, Australian Field Artillery, Ypres Reservoir Cemetery. (P. Ferguson image 2016)

Ypres Day One of Five

The train arrives at Lille once again and I am most pleased to be back on this familiar expedition towards the Ypres Salient. As our driver takes us on our journey past drifting towns, villages and landmarks he is careful to avoid the many sail-less bicycles drifting to and fro on this tideless Car Free Sunday in France.  Understanding what I am about to observe – is it serendipitous that the R.E.M. song, “It’s the end of the world as we know it” begins to play from the radio?

Once in Ypres (Ieper) , Belgium we are soon off to Ypres Reservoir Cemetery, St. Martin’s Cathedral, a visit to the “In Flanders Fields Museum”, and then the 8:00 PM Last Post at Menin Gate. In between wanderings I am careful to observe and listen, to those signs and sounds that imply more about sojourn A modern trench across a roadway cuts into the earth revealing layers of Ypres history whilst alongside the modern scar lie mounds of rusty rebar that stoke within me images of damaged fortifications revealing their decaying metal supports. Horse Chestnuts land with vigour on the paved portion of the roadway with a dull whump – nature’s shrapnel balls landing en masse in search of passing quarry.

Within the Grote Marke church bells can be heard as a dogfight of spent crows dance along the roof tops after a day of chasing each other. Before the evening ceremony a quick recce to Menin Gate where the names of Flander’s missing are recorded. As I stand amongst these panels I think upon that time of the Great War, 1914 – 1918 and then upon this visit that will include day trips to Ploegsteert, Poperinghe and Passchendaele. Names once common in the every day life of that earlier generation who faced the end of the world and whose sacrifice and legacies make me appreciate that I feel fine.

16th Soldier Wounded on the Somme

Posted By on September 24, 2016

Battlefield on the Somme. (P. Ferguson image 2007)

Battlefield on the Somme. (P. Ferguson image 2007)

 I GOT HIT ON SEPTEMBER 24

Corporal Norman Caldwell (16th Battalion CEF) and his brother Harry Calldwell (67th Battalion CEF) were the nephews of Mr. L.A. Berkeley of Roccabella.

A portion of Norman’s letter entitled, Brothers Have Seen Some Heavy Fighting  appeared in The Daily Colonist, 7 November  1916, page 10.

“I got hit on September 24…at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon, down in the Somme district, between Thiepval and Courcelette, where we had made an attack that day. I got through the charge all right and was dug in up on the ridge which we had taken from Fritz. We had been there only a few hours when a high explosion shell burst right on the edge of the trench where I was posted and buried me. The concussion at the same time tore a strip out of me about two or three inches wide, extending from about half way down the thigh on my right leg to about half way between the knee and ankle. The wound, however, was not very deep, and not at all serious. I was burnt a bit by the shell explosion as well, but my injuries are healing now.

I also got a few shrapnel cuts on the left shin, caused by the shell splinters, but they have only broken the skin, and all signs of them, I think, will be gone by another week.

I was buried for about fifteen minutes before I could be dug out. It seemed like a year while I was lying there, half smothered with earth and the weight on top of me.

Now that I think of it, I don’t think I ever told you that I was made corporal at the beginning of last July. If I hadn’t been wounded, I probably would have been sergeant by this time, as there were a few sergeants wounded whose places would have to be filled by senior corporals…”

In 1918 Caldwell was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field.

Canadian Scottish Soldier on the Somme

Posted By on September 21, 2016

Private J.R. Kingham survived a head wound and later commanded the Canadian Scottish Regiment. Joshua Rowland Kingham survived a head wound and during the Second World War commanded the 1st Battalion Canadian Scottish Regiment 1940-1942.

Joshua Rowland Kingham survived a head wound received on the Somme in 1916. During the Second World War, Kingham commanded the 1st Battalion Canadian Scottish Regiment 1940-1942.

“It has not been all milk and honey…”

Originally with the 88th Victoria Fusiliers, Private Kingham served as a sniper with the 16th Battalion C.E.F. (Canadian Scottish). Kingham was with his battalion on the Somme and wrote about this time when half his platoon was killed on their way to the front line. The article entitled, Slaughter on the Somme, features a letter that the young Kingham wrote to his father. The letter mirrors an earlier one written by Piper James Cleland Richardson who wrote about “scientific slaughter” on the battlefield.

Reportedly 18 years of age, Kingham had a brief and close encounter with the Somme. Upon reaching the front line, 4 September 1916, he was hit by a piece of 4″ German shrapnel that created a deep scalp wound and he was also hit in the hand by another piece of flying debris. The 4″ shard buried itself within his head wound and Kingham was removed from the field of battle on a stretcher. While some of his soldier friends thought that his life was lost, to their great surprise, Kingham survived his wounds.

Slaughter on the Somme

“I was hit in the back of the head by a piece of shrapnel from a high explosive shell and have a fractured skull…Please don’t think that because I was hit in the back of the head, that I was retiring for it just happened that this shell burst behind me. We had just moved up into the front line trenches at the Somme when I was hit. We marched down to the Somme from Hill 60 at Ypres, and were eight days on the march, covering a distance of about 100 miles, this, with full equipment, including pack, rifle, 150 rounds of ammunition and all the other details. I can tell you that life on the march day after day, carrying the weight that we carried, is no joke. But I managed to stick it through and never dropped out once.

No Trenches Left

The Somme is an awful place. We thought Ypres was bad enough, but the Somme is far worse, for it is nothing but butchery there, the soldier not having a chance at all, for the tremendous bombardment continues day and night, never ceasing. There are no proper trenches or dug-outs there for protection, for they have all been shelled so much that there is only a wide ditch left, and in place there is not even this slight protection.

Our trip up from the reserve to the front line trenches in the night before I was hit is a nightmare that I pray that I will never have to go through again. We started out just after dusk and it was pouring in torrents to make it more miserable. And the thick sticky mud was in places nearly up to our knees. We were nine hours on that trip, although the distance was only about two miles, as there was not any proper communication trenches. We had to make the trip in short dashes making the best of any slight shelter that we could get from the shells which were bursting around us all the time. At one time we thought that all was up, for the Germans were sending up star shells, one after another and they spotted us. But we retired and managed to get out of sight again.

We lost half our platoon by the time we reached the front line, and I was nearly finished off myself. When we got there the first thing that I did was to dig myself. When we got there the first thing I did was to dig myself in and a big shell landed just behind my dug-out. Of course it all caved in and I was buried alive. But they managed to get me out in time. It was because of this strain that I was unconscious for such a longtime after I was hit.

 I was very much amongst friends when in hospital at Boulogne, for the chaplain was the Rev. Mr. Barton, who was at Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria, and he wrote a letter for me. The doctor of our ward was a Victorian too, and of the three nurses that had anything to do with me, two came from Vancouver and the third from Victoria.

Adventure – Packed Four Months

It is just four months today since I left Victoria, and I would hardly believe that so much could happen in that space of time. It has not been all milk and honey, although it has its bright spots. But I will appreciate the return journey still more when it comes. We don’t get much money, but we do  see life. That is an old soldier’s saying and it certainly is true.

I think that I have sampled every means of travelling possible: Colonist cars, Canada, the ‘Olympic’ across the Atlantic, troop trains through England, and first class from Folkestone to Leagrave. In France most of the travelling is done on foot but I went from the base to the Belgian border in a box car. With the Red Cross I travelled [sic] on a hospital train miles in ambulance and also miles on stretchers. No [sic] I am quite a well-travelled person, so to speak.

Canadians Feat at Moquet Farm

 I suppose you have read of the fine piece of work that the 1st Division of the Canadians did when they captured Moquet Farm and Courcelette. Well if I had only managed to survive another few days. I would have been in that. I am very sorry that I was not, for it was a fine piece of work and I don’t thing that they got any too much credit for it. People can’t realize what an undertaking it was. Moquet Farm was the chief object of the Australians before we relieved them and they lost a pile of men there. The Australians captured it no less than five times and even got beyond it, but were driven out every time. They declared it impossible to take, for the Germans were tunnelled [sic] in like rabbits, all cemented in with machine guns at every corner. So when the Australians captured it the Germans turned their machine guns on them and forced them out and the Australians could do nothing.

I am afraid, however, that we lost a lot of men, for I heard today that the 14th Battalion which was on our left lost 700.

I am sitting up now, and am feeling decidedly frisky, but they won’t let me get up for a while yet. I don’t know much about my wound, but it is a gash four inches long and a bit wide at one end. So you see I am going to have a souvenir of the Great War, which is going to last me a lifetime. They removed a small piece of bone at Boulogne, which leaves the brain exposed. I have to wear tight bandages, but it will not be necessary to put a plate in, for I am young and the bone will close together naturally.”

The Daily Colonist, Victoria, B.C., October 15, 1916, page 5

Kingham was discharged medically unfit in February 1917, the authorities citing Kingham as underage for service and also unfit due to his injuries. After the Great War Kingham served for several years with the Canadian Scottish Regiment as a commissioned officer becoming Lieutenant Colonel. Although prior to the Great War, Kingham was a Chemist’s apprentice he later became President of Kingham-Gillespie Coal Co. Kingham died January 5, 1972.

At the time of Kingham’s death his date of birth was officially recorded as 24 March 1899; whereas Kingham’s December 1915 soldier’s attestation papers record his birth as 24, March 1898. Interestingly Kingham’s age was, at the time of his enlistment, noted as 17 years 8 months.