May 2017
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There are Places that Captivate Us

Posted By on May 13, 2017

General William Earle commander of troops Nile Campaign.

Statue of Major General William Earle, commander of Her Majesty’s Troops, Nile Campaign. Killed at Kirbekan, 1885. (P. Ferguson image, St. George’s Hall, Liverpool, March 2017)

The Nile Campaign 1884 – 1885

As we walk from Liverpool train station the blue-green figure of an officer on a stone plinth attracts us. Together we walk across the roadway and stand before Major General George Earle CB, CSI. Upon the plaque KIRBEKAN stands out from the text and my mind, for I have not been, drifts to this place…Kirbekan…the Nile…the Sudan….Khartoum…Abu Klea…Egypt – to Tommy Atkins, camels, pyramids and boatmen.

The Nile Campaign 1884-85 was one of Queen Victoria’s “little wars” when a force was assembled to relieve General Gordon at Khartoum. Learning of these place and times I turn, through my mind, the many pages read and images I have seen. In the foraging of my past, a semester at University returns to me….time well spent learning of Ancient Egypt, images of this land, its people photographed by our family’s Sergeant, visits to the British Museum to see this collected “ancientania”, and of Victoria’s soldiers who saw these places in the lit heat of day, the dark cool of night. A previous visit to the National Army Museum (Chelsea) whose exhibition “soldier as collector” featured the assembled bric-a-brac of Tommy Atkins on campaign for Queen, King and Country. I speak of these memories (and I return to thoughts about echoes) as one thing leads to another, connections (mortar) the ties that bind, the togetherness of things. Liverpool – Egypt and elsewhere will all connect over the next little while.

Ramses II at the British Museum.

Ramses II at the British Museum, ca. 1270 BCE. (P. Ferguson image, March 2017)

Egypt was a constant on this trip…

On the Victoria Embankment – Cleopatra’s Needle, in the Victoria Embankment Gardens – the Great War Imperial Camel Corps Memorial. So too I return to the British Museum to find images of Egypt that will allow me to present the visit of Chilliwack soldier Malcolm MacLeod who stood in this same spot and wrote “they have everything imaginable, ancient Egyptian mummies, pottery statues, jewelery [sic], etc.” (Chilliwack Progress, December 17, 1914, page 1).

And days after Liverpool, Rosemary and I, return to Brighton to visit another fascination, the Brighton Pavilion, and on our walk towards the pier, in Old Steine Gardens, we encounter the 1888 obelisk – the Egyptian War Memorial (1882-1885) dedicated to the Royal Sussex Regiment…EGYPT…ABU KLEA. Our encounters with Egypt lead to discussions on the train to London Victoria. Two chance encounters with the echoes of the past – the togetherness of things. Yet the words do not come – to place these contexts (these bricks) until a new journey where the mortar is found…at home in British Columbia.

Egypt War Memorial to the Royal Sussex Regiment.

Egypt War Memorial  (1882 – 1885) to the Royal Sussex Regiment. Old Steine Gardens, Brighton, (P. Ferguson image, March 2017)

The warmth of the day is lovely, and our fellow wanderers this day have included a marmot, magpies and the ever curious crows. In search of stories of the Great War it is while walking the markers of Pleasant Cemetery, Kamloops that I find a story of the Sudan (Soudan). “Lest We Forget” William Southern a boatman of Canada’s first expeditionary force – an 1884-85 Nile voyageur, one of nearly 400 Canadians assembled, and whose boat skills were to take the British Expeditionary force to relieve Gordon at Khartoum. It is extraordinary and in seconds I see again Liverpool’s General Earle, Brighton’s Royal Sussex Regiment Memorial, images of camels and pyramids, museums and Tommy Atkins.

The trilogy is complete and the words soon follow…

Boatman William Southern

Boatman William Southern, Canadian Nile Voyageur. (P. Ferguson image, March 2017)

Did you know? 

Major General William Earle CB CSI was born in Liverpool. Earle was created a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) and a Companion of the Order of the Star of India (CSI)

Major General Charles George Gordon CB was killed at Khartoum, 26 January 1885.

The Echoes of History

Posted By on May 7, 2017

Echo 1

Finding Tales within the Mortar

The days turn warm and the flowers come out sharing their colours for all of us who walk by, as steadfast pollinators dance between petals. Their steady hum another song to this ear. I watch as a robin on duty, fleet of foot, tilts its head towards the ground sound-positioning its quarry. And as I pass by the familiar pond the turtles, in alignment, warm themselves on their floating log dock, while others casually slip into the water to return to their mud.

Echo 2

I have been walking a great deal, back and forth from abode to town, alongside gardens and parks, wandering past the old and new, the brick buildings standing out amidst the modern with old block names reflective of former glories. This town has been someone’s town for many years, with favorite places and memories – so many stories I have walked by, once familiar and recalled by previous generations now faded to that pantheon of ancestors whose wisdom we can now only recall if we are willing to listen or search amongst the echoes of these places.

Echo 3

…its all part of observation…no great philosophy…just an imagination for wanting to create meaning from time before…finding tales within the mortar…finding the lives amidst the layers of history. My treks these days have taken me to see other’s visions of time before to Frantz and Their Finest, to The Lost City of Z. As I watch these stories wind upon their creative path I wonder about their creators, whose visions of the past have brought a spark forward, a new light for us to witness. It is good to pause, a time out from our own packed ideas, to let go and find peace in the process.  Once again, I have stayed amongst the credits and then wander into the night, wondering what words and images these sparks might bring, what echoes might be heard on the journey home…and who might answer.

Echo 4

Thank you to film directors David Lean, François Ozon, Lone Scherfig and James Gray whose sparks and search amongst the echoes and mortar of history found voice for others to watch, listen and enjoy.

In the morning, evening, at night…

Posted By on May 1, 2017

Ole Berget

Private Ole Berget, 31st Battalion CEF, Missing in action, Fresnoy, 3 May 1917. (Author’s family)

Om morgonen, kvelden, natta*

In the darkness of the early morning the men of Alberta waited for the barrage to commence which would send them “over the top.” In spite of the heavy enemy bombardment, there were few casualties before the opening of the attack; but in front, swept by rifle and machine-gun fire and an open target for enemy shells, lay “No Man’s Land,” and beyond that – the enemy wire.

Promptly at 3:45 a.m. the barrage came down on the German positions, the whole terrain erupting suddenly into red flashes of bursting shells. In the darkness the men of the 31st Battalion climbed the parapet and went forward to the attack. Even as they did so the German counter-barrage fell on the leading companies and the deadly German machine-gun fire slashed through their ranks.

Onward and upward over the gently-sloping ground the attacking waves pressed at the double. In the darkness men stumbled over debris and pitched into shell holes, to rise and again push forward. Others fell, riddled with machine-gun bullets or disrupted by bursting shell, to rise no more.

(H.C. Singer, History of the Thirty-First Battalion C.E.F., pages 216-217)

French village of Fresnoy En Gohelle (Fresnoy)

The now peaceful and rebuilt French village of Fresnoy En Gohelle (Fresnoy). (P Ferguson image, 2009)


In 2009 I drove to Fresnoy, France with two friends for an exploration of the village of Fresnoy. It was here, to the north of the town, that my Great Grandfather was to lose his life…missing in action…commemorated on the Vimy Memorial. Today, near to a hundred years ago, I know it is time to return to this village. A time to wander this ground again and to include in my visit a nearby Commonwealth War Graves cemetery where there, amongst the markers, perhaps a Canadian soldier, Known Unto God.

*In the morning, evening, at night…we will remember them.

The first language of the Berget family who lived at Alderson, Alberta, near Medicine Hat was Norwegian*. Ole Berget left behind his dear wife Emma, and six children. Emma’s brother, Private Bernard Kyllo, 50th Canadian Infantry Battalion, was killed in action at Souchez, 1 February 1917 and is buried at Villers Station Cemetery, France.

Berget Children

The Berget children identified L-R back row; Willie and Myrtle, second row L-R; Unknown [possibly Rugna] and Edwin, front row L-R; Hazel and Mabel (undated). (Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre, Medicine Hat, Alberta, Accession 0596.0004)

Storm of Steel – Fresnoy

Posted By on April 27, 2017

German soldier and author Ernst Junger.

German soldier and author Ernst Junger. (Wikipedia)

After Vimy

Ernst Jünger was a German military officer whose memoir, Storm of Steel is considered a classic of Great War literature. Commissioned from the ranks, Jünger continued to serve with his regiment, the 73rd Hanoverian Regiment, and was wounded on 14 occasions. His description of his time in the French village of Fresnoy, prior to 3 May 1917, is of particular interest to this writer. Ernst Jünger was a recipient of the Wound Badge in Gold, the Iron Cross 2nd and 1st Class and the Pour le Mérite. Prior to his regiment’s move into Fresnoy, Jünger and his 2nd Company learned that the Allies captured Vimy.

Projectiles on exhibit at the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917, Belgium.

Projectiles on exhibit at the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917, Zonnebeke, Belgium. (P. Ferguson image, September 2016)

The terrain between the edge of the village and the dressing-station was receiving a total artillery barrage. Light and heavy shells with impact-,fire- and time-delay fuses, duds, empty cases and shrapnels all participated in a king of madness that was too much for our eyes and ears. In amongst it all, going either side of the witches’ cauldron of the village, support troops were advancing.

Fresnoy was one towering fountain of earth after another. Each second seemed to want to outdo the last. As if by some magical power, one house after another subsided into the earth; walls broke, gables fell, and bare sets of beams and joists were sent flying through the air, cutting down the roofs of other houses. Clouds of splinters danced over whitish wraiths of steam. Eyes and ears were utterly compelled by this maelstrom of devastation.

(Jünger, Storm of Steel)



ANZAC Day: April 25, 1937

Posted By on April 21, 2017

Australian Contingent, London 1937

Australian Coronation Contingent sent for the Coronation of King George VI. ANZAC Day, 25 April 1937, the Cenotaph, Whitehall, London. (State Library, Victoria, Australia).

The Australian Coronation Contingent

Eighty years ago an Australian contingent of 100 soldiers, 25 sailors and 25 airmen traveled to the United Kingdom for the Coronation of King George VI, 12 May 1937. One of the contingent’s tasks was to return the remains of British soldier, Arthur Evans VC who died in Sydney Australia 1 November 1936.

Evans served in the Lincolnshire Regiment, of the British Army, using the alias Walter Simpson and was previously awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Evans was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry 2 September 1918 south west of Etaing, France.

Arthur Percival Sullivan

During the Great War, Arthur Percival Sullivan VC served with the 10 Battalion Australian Imperial Force and later joined a unit of the Australian artillery. (Wikipedia via the Australian War Memorial).

Sadly, another Victoria Cross recipient Arthur Percy Sullivan of the Australian Coronation Contingent lost his life, 9 April 1937, when he accidentally fell in Birdcage Walk, Westminster, London near to Wellington Barracks. Sullivan earned his Victoria Cross shortly after the Great War with the British Army’s North Russia Expeditionary Force.

Arthur Sullivan VC plaque, London, England.

Arthur Sullivan VC plaque on the iron railings at Wellington Barracks, London, England. (P. Ferguson image, 2016).

Citation for the Award of the Victoria Cross
London Gazette 26 September 1919

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on the 10th August 1919, at the Sheika River, North Russia. The platoon to which he belonged, after fighting a rearguard covering action, had to cross the river by means of a narrow plank and during the passage an officer and three men fell into a deep swamp. Without hesitation, under intense fire, Corporal Sullivan jumped into the river and rescued all four, bringing them out singly. But for this gallant action his comrades would undoubtedly have been drowned. It was a splendid example of heroism, as all ranks were on the point of exhaustion, and the enemy less than 100 yards distant.

ANZAC Day Commemorative Service ticket.

Admittance ticket to the ANZAC Day Commemorative Service, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, 25 April 1917.

During the visit of the Australian Coronation Contingent in London, ANZAC Day (25 April) was observed at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. The service was led by Canon P.E. James of Wellington, New Zealand who spoke upon Guide Our Feet into the Way of Peace (Luke 1:79). Following the service the contingent marched to the Cenotaph where buglers from the Royal Marines sounded The Last Post and wreaths were laid by several dignitaries including General Sir Ian Hamilton and General Sir William Birdwood.

General Sir Ian Hamilton first commanded the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force until October 1916 when he was relieved. His place was taken by Sir William Birdwood the former commander of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC).