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Mons, Marne, Verdun and Somme

Posted By on February 17, 2015

HMS Somme

The Royal Navy’s H.M.S. Somme (1918 – 1932).

The Royal Navy’s Great War Battle Commemorations

Recent research into the Royal Navy fleet that Admiral Sir Jacky Fisher, First Sea Lord of the Board of the Admiralty, built has led to some interesting discoveries. Fisher was instrumental, or rather was the powerhouse, in re-developing the British Navy. In October 1905 the Dreadnought program commenced leading to the February 10, 1906 launch of HMS Dreadnought.  Although Fisher’s Dreadnought program is the impetus of today’s discoveries it is four other vessels launched during the Great War that filled my spinnakers with wind and let me take heart in the comforting breeze of writing.

In 1915 two vessels were launched named for battles of the Great War, these two ships were HMS Mons and HMS Marne. A third ship followed in 1917 when HMS Verdun was completed and followed in 1918 by HMS Somme. Each vessel played its part during the Great War, though the Somme being competed a week before the Armistice did not see the service of the others.

HMS Mons
“M” class Destroyer
Launched May 1, 1915
Completed July 1915
Built by John Brown and Company, Clydebank, Scotland
Battle of Jutland May 31 – June 1, 1916
Sold to the Slough Trading Co and scrapped in Germany, 1921

HMS Marne
“M” class Destroyer
Launched May 29, 1915
Completed September 1915
Built by John Brown and Company, Clydebank, Scotland
Battle of Jutland May 31 – June 1, 1916
Sold to Cohen and scrapped in Germany, 1921

HMS Verdun
“V” class Destroyer
Motto: They Shall Not Pass
Launched August 21, 1917
Built by Hawthorn Leslie, Tyneside, England
Carried the remains of The Unknown Warrior home to Britain, November 8, 1920.
Also served during the Second World War
Scrapped at Granton, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1946
Verdun’s bell now hangs on a pillar at Westminster Abbey, London, England near to the tomb of the Unknown Warrior.

HMS Somme
“S” class Destroyer
Launched September 10, 1918
Completed November 4, 1918
Built by Fairfield Govan, Clyde, Scotland
Scrapped Ward, Pembroke Dock, Wales, 1932
The official ship’s crest comprised a laurel wreath with a tin hat (helmet) in the center of the wreath. The crest was approved in March 1926.

HMS Somme Image: Courtesy of John Ward~McQuaid via Stuart Cameron
http://www.clydesite.co.uk/clydebuilt/viewship.asp?id=870

THE LIGHT AND THE DARK

Posted By on January 31, 2015

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. Winner of the John Newberry Medal.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. Winner of the John Newberry Medal. Illustrated by T.B. Ering.

The Tale of Despereaux

As I wander through the day thinking upon what next to write about I cannot help but feel astonished by what presents itself. Though I continually search for stories with a Scottish Great War base it seems lately that I have been, wanting to continue upon the path towards creative thought from unlikely inspiration. Recently I happened upon a children’s book sitting upon the table. Drawn to the mouse on the cover holding a needle and seemingly fitted in red thread, I picked up the account and started to turn the pages of “The Tale of Despereaux”. If ever there could be a tale to bring message to my being I have now found it in the unlikeliest of sources. Despereaux is a mouse, in search of the light whose nemesis is a rat Roscuro who haunts the dark. The tale continually plays upon the theme of light and dark, not an unfamiliar quest and one only has to turn to other tales and recall, “May the force be with you”, or something about “Turn to the dark side”. It seems we have a fascination for this search, this quest and it is one I am certainly familiar with.

Malta. Building erected in 1915 by the Australian Branch of the Red Cross Society for the benefit of the soldiers of the Empire.

Malta. Hospital building erected in 1915 by the Australian Branch of the Red Cross Society for the benefit of the soldiers of the Empire.

My interest in the lives of the Great War is not without its interest in the dark and the light. Seeking as I will the goodness no matter how desperate the history. There are tales to be told as I wander these sites of France and Flanders, or climb the cliffs or follow the ravines of Gallipoli. So too in Malta, an Island nation that called to me years ago, I have made my way across the landscape in search of the light, perhaps the regeneration or the peace from within the conflict. Though it may be that I have had to wait for the time to pass to seemingly heal these landscapes my wanderings make me feel the heartbreak of lives lost, the sad words of love and grief. Still I continue throughout these injured places and happen upon sites that remain testimonies of healing, the wounded that may stand unrecognized, but through research we find the good, the light in what was done here. And so it will continue, as I gaze across the horizon and walk upon this well experienced ground I will stop to admire the obvious and seek the finer things of today in contrast. It may simply be the green of new growth, flowers within a place of row upon row markers, bees or butterflies, and all the while I hold a camera in my arms waiting for that subtle message of light to appear before my eyes.

 Thank you Despereaux I can hardly wait to turn the next page.

Leadership

Posted By on January 15, 2015

Piper James Cleland Richardson V.C. Leadership - Age 20.

Piper James Cleland Richardson V.C.
Leadership – Age 20.

Remember to Breathe

What is leadership I ask myself? Where can I go to find it? Who has it? Do I have it?

With some recent exploration into these very questions I find that leadership is truly in each one of us. It may be in that person whose vision allows everyone to make it their own, or it could be that grandmother whose silent steadiness teaches and inspires. Perhaps it is that person who found their way through adversity or from another who has impacted us by the power of their message.

When I think about our film I realize it is about leadership. It is recognizing leadership in the unlikeliest of persons because we made assumptions. Jimmy is young. He has not had the opportunity for an experienced life nor gained the wisdom of eldership yet Jimmy is a leader finding his years in a single moment in that fractured world of the Great War. Jimmy, who stood before his team exposed and vulnerable to all those against him, brought his breath to the pipes that called to the heart and soul of those who followed. In asking, “Wull I gie em wund?”, Jimmy chose to breathe, he chose in an instant leadership…

After three amazing days exploring leadership at the Justice Institute of British Columbia I am empowered and feeling enriched. We have learned how we are perceived…our strengths and weaknesses…how we can improve ourselves for the betterment of others…what greater reward can there be but to give back? Perhaps we will never face the adversity of our Jimmy, but we can at least learn to let go of the stress and allow ourselves to absorb the wellness of our lives. We must remember to breathe. However, this is not about that daily rhythmic steady pulse that beats within our hearts and souls, this is about remembering to truly breathe…to breathe deeply for our personal wellness. In doing so we discover our abilities, we bring calm to the stress, we find the beauty in the affects.

As I sit here wandering through my words I begin to feel in-studio searching for the magic of these last few days. How to remind us all to breathe and at the same time relate my self-discoveries to you through the sung voices of others? There is of course the classic rock, “Breathe” written and performed by Pink Floyd where Roger Waters sings, “Look around and choose your own ground”. Or we have Country’s Faith Hill who finds comfort in the leadership of the love she has with another, “Cause I feel you breathe” when encountering “As the walls come tumbling down”. Regardless of your tastes or the messages you find, they are yours to work with or to find your own meanings.

Finding our leadership selves amidst these busy days of our lives has been an insightful internal search. Our instructor at the JIBC, Kathryn Thomson, led us with her gift of leadership, and recognized our journey together by reminding us to breathe. And like our film’s Jimmy, we found ourselves…we found our strengths…we found leadership. Kathryn…you are an inspiration…a gift to us all…thank you!

I invite our readers to comment: “Who do you identify with as leaders and what are their qualities you respect?”

As 2014 Fades Away

Posted By on December 31, 2014

Thoughts of Home

I find inspiration in many places and sometime in the last year or two was told about Alfie Boe and the song Bring Him Home from Les Miserables. I have seen “Les Mis” at the Palace Theatre, London with good friends and my best friend Rosemary. I recall the event well, enthralled by the live performances from the stage and the power generated from the fine voices that empowered the audience. When our film director, Casey Williams suggested I re-listen to the song by Alfie Boe, it struck a deep connection for me, one that you can even feel with your eyes.

With my interest in military history on both the front lines and on the home front the thought of home is forever an enchanted message. As the notes first begin, I sense my eyes gently closing, head back slightly and wait for this magical voice to fill my heart, my soul, my person. Home…what does it mean to us, what does it mean to you? It can be a place of joy or sadness, but regardless home is always a place of hope. As the son of a soldier I know what it is like sitting beside a decorated tree with my mother by my side and with my father somewhere else. Now after all these years later thoughts of home become increasingly more powerful as our dear loved ones become more and more meaningful with each passing day.

The Palace Theatre, London. Thoughts of home and the magic of performance.

The Palace Theatre, London. Thoughts of home and the magic of performance.

Home is to the soldier what home is to all of us, a chance to be whole and to be part of something more than ourselves. As Bring Him Home delivers its message, regardless of the context, it reminds me that we find our own experience in anything that we relate to. It reminds me that everyone feels something differently and that is the beauty of the arts, taking any form, any amount of emotion, making it our own and sharing it with those we love. So as 2014 slips past, remember those who cannot be with us, remember absent family and friends, and provide a kind thought for them as you gently close your eyes, head back and listen to Bring Him Home.

All the best for a grand and fine 2015.

The Lyrics of Bring Him Home .

God on high
Hear my prayer
In my need
You have always been there

He is young
He’s afraid
Let him rest
Heaven blessed.
Bring him home
Bring him home
Bring him home.

He’s like the son I might have known
If God had granted me a son.
The summers die
One by one
How soon they fly
On and on
And I am old
And will be gone.

Bring him peace
Bring him joy
He is young
He is only a boy

You can take
You can give
Let him be
Let him live
If I die, let me die
Let him live
Bring him home
Bring him home
Bring him home.

With A Little Help From My Friends

Posted By on December 25, 2014

Woodstock 1969, Joe, “Remember it!”

On 22 December 2014 we lost a large voice that defined a generation, a voice that also epitomized the heart and soul of Sheffield born singer Joe Cocker. For this writer 1969 was an interesting year. The family Ferguson had been back in Canada for two years and I had discovered ice hockey, hockey cards, outdoor rinks, and television. Our years in Europe bring back few memories of that media though one is Yogi Bear on our German landlord’s black and white television – near to her oil painting portrait of her husband, lost to her during the Second World War. Without a television in Sardinia I remember the Grey Cup game, East vs. West, played on the Poetto beach by Canadian service personnel, where further along there were concrete fortifications and then of course there was the first snowfall in 75 years much to the angst of my parents.

It was in Nova Scotia, however, where I learned via television more and more of the day to day events of the Vietnam War reported through the voice of Walter Cronkite who also reported on what, at the time, seemed liked an unlikely event that spoke of generational divide and heralded a new vision where music defined the speech of the young…and where today that generation asks “Do you remember Woodstock”?

I will miss Joe Cocker, his voice and delivery. We have lost a part of ourselves that whether we know it or not has been the glaze upon our souls. I never saw him, but he was always one of those acts that you hoped you might see, however I did listen to his soulful anthem, “With a Little Help From My Friends”, over and over again, I cannot even tell you when I first heard the song. Maybe I want to believe it was in 1969 Nova Scotia with Woodstock in the news.

I had been to live performances, but never outdoors. The first I seem to recall was Canada’s Tommy Hunter on a Canadian armed forces base sometime prior to 1967. Then there was Johnny Gold in Nova Scotia who I believe we saw as part of a television studio audience. The greatest in-person Nova Scotia concert though…Johnny Cash. What a magnificent performance to witness as the man in black stood on stage a few rows in front of me and at a time when I was under 10 years of age.

Music has been one of the greatest gifts from my father, who played endless tracks of vinyl recordings taking on many forms…traditional big band, folk, and so much variety in instrumentation. Somehow it became ingrained in me, recorder, clarinet and ultimately guitars. The guitar fascinated me, allowing me to explore new depths of creativity. And how did I learn? I wrote songs, learned the fingerboard and changed it up all the time. Now I look back upon my musical life and think upon my early emulations of talent. I recall playing Beatles air guitar in the school playgrounds at Zweibrucken, Germany in the early 1960s and skating in circles in the late 1960s to Beatles’ music at the ice rink in Nova Scotia. In 1970 British Columbia I recall the first Led Zeppelin record I heard, then journeyed through some dark metal that eerily caught my interest and attention as the steady Ionomi drone appealed to my teenage experience. There would be more, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Kiss, (their first live album), Aerosmith, Queen and of course Rush who led to my desire to own a hollow body. I journeyed on, changing tastes leading to the searing tones and acoustic delicacies from Pink Floyd and how can I ever forget Jeff Beck in concert, Vancouver 1980. These were defining moments at least in my youth and yes I would like to think they were born from that 1969 concert at a little place called Woodstock.

Returning to that voice of today’s blog, what did Joe Cocker mean to me? What has been lost this holiday season is the voice of a generation and perhaps I too have lost a little of that glazing or cracking that captures our own sweet, sweet heart. Dazzling the world with his Woodstock performance Joe Cocker gave us “With A Little Help From My Friends” and turned this Ringo led Beatles classic into his own. This performance defines the definition of creativity, gave this writer the desire to seek new boundaries of expression. I was too young to go to Woodstock and too curious about a place called Vietnam that I saw every day on that Nova Scotia television. Somehow the two interests, music and history, came together allowing me to seek, through creative expression, a voice searching for regeneration from the wreckage that mankind can wield.

If I could speak with Joe Cocker I might tell him that this is one life that was inspired by his voice – that delivery – some 45 years ago. Our loss makes me write, it helps regenerate that part of the glaze that has left me. All these influences that we hold onto, our mentors and teachers define our own wanderings. Joe Cocker’s voice at Woodstock sits in my heart, it is more than a glaze it is a traditional finish, polished into the soul, and I will, with a little help from my friends, make tomorrow a new day where I will find a little bit more of myself once again.