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As the Stars are Known to the Night

Posted By on November 11, 2019

Waiting for the stars above Flanders. The Kasteelgracht near to the Menin Gate Memorial. (P. Ferguson image, September 2006)

Waiting for the stars above Flanders. The Kasteelgracht near to the Menin Gate Memorial.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2006)

Remembrance

I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.
Augustine Mandino II (Author and WWII USAAF B-24 Bombardier)

This one night, seemingly so long ago, I lie awake looking from the window of our Brandhoek stay. The view is the stillness of the indigo blue-black night, the quiet beckoning of the stars. There are shapes to see and mist around the forms. It is the end of the day. Nearby, soldiers rest at Brandhoek’s cemeteries. That evening vision has remained with me, that night between Ypres and Poperinghe…so often I wish, perchance, to have this night…to show it here…it is not to be.

The Rosary. Shoeing Smith W. Allen, "B" Battery, 177th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. Killed 27 July 1917, age 31. Brandhoek New Military Cemetery. (P. Ferguson image, September 2009)

The Rosary. Shoeing Smith W. Allen, “B” Battery, 177th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. Killed 27 July 1917, age 31. Brandhoek New Military Cemetery.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2009)

Brandhoek is a small hamlet once used as a Casualty Clearing Station and Field Ambulance during the war that consumed this region from 1914 – 1918. Here we find Brandhoek Military Cemetery (601 burials), Brandhoek New Military Cemetery (514 burials) and Brandhoek New Military Cemetery No. 3 (849 burials).

And here all the light we cannot see…as the stars are known to the night. Stories of lives lived…if we can only find the keys, like the rosary hanging from one marker…there is story here. At light…at darkness, beneath the indigo blue-black night where stars shine above the mist and forms that is Flanders remembered.

John Macnaughton’s Walk

Posted By on November 10, 2019

IRR Macnaughton, 24th Canadian Infantry Battalion

Lieutenant Ian Robert Reekie Macnaughton. From the “McGill Honour Roll 1914-1918″.
(Canadian Virtual War Memorial)

One Day Soon…

There is another place to visit, following in the footsteps of Professor John Macnaughton’s walk to his son’s grave at Dickebusch New Military Cemetery, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. Found within the pages of the Canada Illustrated Weekly, a letter of thanks to St. Barnabas Hostels, a brief note of gratitude….

Will you kindly allow me to express, through your columns, my gratitude to the St. Barnabas Hostels…for their hospitality and invaluable assistance to me in the course of a recent visit to the grave of my son, killed at Dickebusch, Flanders, in April, 1916? [sic] Without them I should never have been able to find the grave, and so missed the object of a long journey from beyond the sea. Hundreds of others I have no doubt, have had a similar experience, such persons will agree with me in setting a very high value indeed on the help and sympathy received by them at a very distressing moment from this admirable organization which, without the least public backing, is doing such indispensable work for private persons…(Canada Illustrated Weekly, 3 July 1920, p. 8)

…We will pick a day one day soon, to walk the distance from Ieper (Ypres) to Dickebusch, approximately 5.3 km away. It will be reminiscent of an earlier journey made in August 2018 to Roy Palmer’s place of rest at Woods Military Cemetery and where, in 1922, his mother Kate visited. The Palmer visit is often in my mind and so too I now think about Professor Macnaughton and his journey. Their stories have led to a new interest – investigating the pilgrim stories of the post-Great War (1919-1922) to learn of those who went, those advertising tours and those, like St. Barnabas, who provided assistance.

Memorials to the Missing

Upwards they look. A visitor at the Menin Gate Memorial, Ieper (Ypres), Belgium.
(P. Ferguson image, November 2018)

As well together, Macnaughton and Palmer remind me that they are but two of hundreds of thousands…..from then to date…..of pilgrims who visited. Sadly it reminds me that for many of the souls buried here or commemorated on the memorials, no one has come. Yet these fallen should know that when visitors open these gates and enter we cannot help but follow their names…their lives… row by row, or look skyward upon panels of names. We read, we come to terms with the vastness of these lost lives…and in doing so we find our Palmers and Macnaughtons who guide us.

So too I will one day visit at Gommecourt British Cemetery, France to read one epitaph, one inscription on the marker of Captain Richard Lennard Hoare…And the leaves of the trees were for the healing of the nations. For someone like myself it is not the knowing it is the being. What I learn I plant within, and take it on all my journeys. Somehow it is about connection…individuals I have not known yet through some finding they become points of purpose…we will remember them…the fallen and those left to mourn…

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

The entrance way with gate at Villers Station Cemetery, France.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2005)

Lieutenant Ian Robert Reekie Macnaughton was killed 26 April 1916 serving with the 24th Canadian Infantry Battalion. Prior to his service during the Great War he attended McGill University, Arts 1909-11, Law 1914-1915 and attended Royal Military College 1912-1913. Ian’s father John Macnaughton was Professor of Latin at Toronto University and on 17 March 1921 he spoke to the Empire Club of Canada where he mentioned his travels to France and to Ypres.

my real object in going over was to visit France, where I had to look out two graves, and I had to go to a part which was well known to our Canadians; we heard a great deal about that ploughed salient of Ypres…There one saw graves, graves in dreadful desolation. There one saw the desolation of all the buildings; scarcely one stone left standing on another…I am glad to say that those graves are being gradually brought to order now. In France I saw one of the completed cemeteries, and really it was very beautifully done…Then, of course, one had many reflections there. Around Ypres, was the peculiarly deadly part for our Canadians, and one felt: What a loss we have had in those boys, our very best! What a loss Canada has had. Yes, indeed, a great loss, a loss to which there is no way of doing adequate justice.(The Olde Country Revisited, The Empire Club of Canada Addresses, 17 March 1921, p. 114-128)

NOT JUST A NAME

Posted By on November 9, 2019

14th Canadian Infantry Battalion

Chester Farm Military Cemetery, the resting place of James Duncan Montgomery MacGillivray.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2017)

The Soldier

While taking part in operations with his company, of the 14th Canadian Infantry Battalion, in the trenches south of Zillebeke, Montreal-born Private James Duncan Montgomery MacGillivray, age 41, was killed at 7:25 PM on 25 April 1916.

Next-of-Kin

As I search through James MacGillivray’s service record I learn from his attestation papers that his brother William is recorded as his next of kin living at Marblemount and later Concrete, Skagit County, USA. It is while living in Rockport, another town of Skagit County, that William received a parcel containing a silver War Medal and bronze Victory Medal recognizing James’ service in the Great War.

William would receive two other items memorializing James’ service, a parchment scroll sent to him 16 June 1921, He whom this scroll commemorates was numbered among those who, at the call of King and Country, left all that was dear to them, endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of men by the path of duty and self-sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom. Let those who come after see to it that his name is not forgotten.

A bronze memorial plaque, despatched 4 October 1921, was Stolen In the Mail, returned to the authorities ten days later and re-sent to William on 21 October 1921. Upon the circular border edge HE DIED FOR FREEDOM AND HONOVR along with the name of the soldier,  in a separate banner, JAMES DUNCAN MONTGOMERY MACGILLIVRAY.

Killed in action

Headstone of Private James Duncan Montgomery MacGillivray.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2017)

Ancestors

It is here at Chester Farm Military Cemetery, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium that we discover the MacGillivray heritage of 170 years previous. Recorded on James Duncan Montgomery MacGillivray’s marker there is an inscription A DIRECT DESCENDANT OF THE YOUNG CHIEF WHO FELL ON CULLODEN FIELD.

Culloden, the final Battle of the Jacobite Rising, 16 April 1746, Alexander MacGillvray was killed leading his clan.

Visitors

As I walk towards the iron gate entry/exit-way, I search through the visitor’s book where people provide their thoughts about their paths here. Another visitor, of a different family – and not a MacGillvray, wrote of their family – and so too it applies to them all, NOT JUST A NAME.

Here Be Dragons

Posted By on November 8, 2019

The Red Dragon of Wales on the Pilckem Ridge, Belgium. (P. Ferguson image, September 2016)

The Red Dragon of Wales on the Pilckem Ridge, Belgium.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2016)

Unsure of our bearings we rode…

Observing the horizon I watch familiar church towers on the horizon drift back and forth in perspective. Distant…closer…always to our right or soon to be on our right. The roads meander here amongst the fields of battle and bounty. At times and without warning (no orange pylons here) the onset of “construction defence” systems take us on unexpected detours – and the whole while I keep watch…to ensure, when we are ready, to find whence we came.

Onward we ride, occasionally we stop, the bicycles need a rest and…astride the frame I gaze upon our chart, raise my head to look across the edges and then upwards towards the sun. I drink its glowing warmth…rest my eyes within this heavenly sea of blue. We are not at the edges of the world.

A handy golf telescope (range finder) has proven itself here in the Salient. I scan the landscape from left to right and back again and in the distance something now comes into view, reminiscent of what we seek, though we are unawares. Soon it will become recognizable…in a short while we have happened upon Pilckem Ridge…here be dragons.

Welsh Memorial Park. (P. Ferguson image, September 2016)

Welsh Memorial Park.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2016)

Welsh Memorial Park is located between Langemarck and Pilckem. The memorial is sited on a ridge where the Battle of Pilckem Ridge took place 31 July – 2 August 1917. It is here at Pilckem that men of the Welsh Divisions, the 29th and 38th, and the regiments of Wales are commemorated, the Welsh Guards, Royal Welch Fusiliers, Welch Regiment, South Wales Borderers and Monmouthshire Regiment. The Red Dragon, Y Ddraig Goch, is the only Great War national memorial to the Welsh located outside of their home country…and it is new…dedicated in 2014. As well, the memorial further commemorates those individuals of Welsh heritage no matter where they served and so too any soldier who served within Welsh units and divisions. To all those of Welsh descent who took part in the First World War between 1914 and 1918.

Our time at Pilckem draws to a close, it is time to ride. This is our first visit to the site where the Red Dragon stands upon the Pontypridd stone cromlech. We push forward, the dragon unlike its days on charts as warnings has delivered two Canadians new directions towards our Ieper (Ypres) home…

I scan the landscape from left to right…so it continues…here be dragons.

From Here the Invader…

Posted By on November 7, 2019

Demarcatiepalen, Bornes, Paul Moreau-Vauthier du Front,

Lankhof Farm Demarcation stone outside of Ieper (Ypres), Belgium.
(P. Ferguson image, August 2018)

Bornes du Front, Demarcatiepalen, Demarcation Stone

On occasion, while wandering the hurt landscapes of France and Flanders the visitor will happen upon one of French sculptor, Paul Moreau-Vautheir’s demarcation stones introduced to this fractured landscape in 1921. Dotted intermittently along significant sites of the Western Front in France and Belgium, the stones are known to locals in France as Bornes du Front and in Belgium as Demarcatiepalen.

Moreau-Vauthier was a Great War veteran who served in the French Army at the Battle of Verdun commencing 21 February 1916 and ending 16 December 1916. The Battle of Verdun is of great significance to the French and is considered a sacred symbol for healing,  symbolizing both the suffering and endurance of the French soldier. France lost 163,000 of its soldiers while Germany lost an estimated at 143,000 soldiers. France’s Verdun-wounded numbered 379,000.

The Demarcation Stone proposal was met with support from the Touring Club of France, the Touring Club de Belgique, the Ypres League and French General Phillipe Pétain, hero of Verdun. Between 1921 and 1927, 118 demarcation stones were positioned, 22 in Belgium; the remainder in France. Two additional stones were placed in 1929 and 1930.

Paul Moreau-Vautheir

French sculptor Paul Moreau-Vauthier.
(Wiki Images: Germany)

Funding for the project was conducted by public subscription organized by the supporting organizations. In all the Touring Club of France provided monies for 96 markers in France. The Touring Club de Belgique raised subscriptions for 16 demarcation stones and the Ypres League provided for 6 stones.

The markers include a laurel wreath and may feature a French, Belgique or British helmet depending upon who held the particular sector where the stone was placed. Grenades appear at the base corners as well as a water bottle and gas mask case. Usually the stones are inscribed with the phrase, Ici fut repoussé l’envahisseur (From here the invader was pushed back). Many of the stones have survived, though some are worse for wear through years of exposure to the elements of nature. Others have left this landscape due to a second world war, when 24 demarcation stones became casualties to the paths of fighting forces once again crisscrossing this hurt landscape.