September 2017
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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.

France and Flanders 2017

Posted By on September 18, 2017

It’s Better When it Rains

We wander over to the car rental to acquire our rolling steed for the day and head out for Vimy (September 18, 2017). This is the first time I have ventured onto the frontier, driving and navigating myself and my friend towards various landscapes of conflict. Ceratinly there are challenges, such as the GPS path, wonderfully displayed in colour, but our Dutch voice directions from our virtual host are without understanding on our part. Towards Arras we leave the system preferring to town hop towards the ridge.

Roadworks and diversions pose several options for unvoluntary learning of this landscape, but overall we are pleased with our re-routing. After much bobbing and weaving we arrive at the new Vimy Interpretive Centre and following our visit I move on to the Memorial itself. I enjoy these repeated visits, there is family here, and I am especially pleased with today’s hostile skyline. There is drama in the skies across this stage as I once again visit with Ole Berget, Mother Canada and then look towards the slag heaps of Lens. It is time to return to the car and as I descend the steps the rain begins to fall in torrents. Quickly I am reminded of a Remenbrance Day ceremony in Chilliwack, British Columbia where many years ago I stood with Dick Smith, a Canadian Merchant Navy veteran of the Second World War. Both of us huddled side by side, beneath our umbrellas. The solemnity of the service, a slight bit of discomfort, nature’s special effects….it’s better when it rains.

That was the first time I thought of this expression and the phrase always comes to mind when I make my way on my path that sometimes features these tears of heaven. This day will also take us to Mont-Saint-Eloi, then to the Somme where I visit Newfoundland Park (Beaumont-Hamel) to find the bronze caribou upon the rocks and where below a record of names is to be found. This visit is for Dave Parsons, also of Chilliwack, and whose family is recorded here on this record. Then on to Thiepval, to visit their interpretive centre to see what changes have occurred since I was last here. Though time has become of the essence, I change my mind as I am about to enter the car, and return to the giant stone record of the missing of the Somme. A few images and reflections later I turn towards the car park as the skies open upon me. Soaked and smiling when the slight bit of hail begins I remind myself again…it’s better when it rains.

However, there is one more stop to make before we return to Ypres (Ieper) where we will again take in the evening’s Last Post Ceremony which will feature soldiers of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada. Across the fields towards Adanac we come to the graveside of Piper James Cleland Richardson VC, whose parents lived in Chilliwack. The rain upon the Somme has added its effects this day. As I stand at the Piper’s graveside I look back towards Thiepval and across the plains of these battlefields, a panorama of mud and black sky. The rain continues to fall. I am soaked and smiling…it’s better when it rains.

Ypres 2017

Posted By on September 17, 2017

In Today’s News

On site once again and looking forward to a day of travel. Yesterday was spent walking about Ypres and on to other smaller towns within the area. Evidence of the Great War can still be seen when one remains observant and cognizant of the history of this area. We visited two Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries and were pleased to learn of the new help center located near to the Menin Gate Memorial. Incidentally yesterday also marked the first time I saw the “Australian” lions returned to Menin Gate. The 8:00 PM Last Post service was attended by many people and wonderful to witness. All the best and we I will be writing again over the next few days.

Heart in the Darkness – Vietnam

Posted By on September 9, 2017

U.S. Army helicopters, Vietnam, 1965. Image by German photo-journalist Horst Faas (1933-2012).

U.S. Army helicopters, Vietnam, 1965. Image by German photo-journalist Horst Faas.

“We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness.”
Joseph Conrad, 1899

In 1978 I read Heart of Darkness. In 1979 I watched Apocalypse Now.

I went to the cinema on my own that early evening and still, to this day, recall the opening. Rotating sound across a black screen, jungle, the hint of smoke, silence, more rotation, the passing closeness of a helicopter, haze, music from the Doors…napalm at 1:07 – lyric at 1:08.

The film was the first instance of my educated interest in the art of story-telling and led me on the journey of re-evaluating many earlier productions. Apocalypse Now made me interested in the more.

I learned much in my first year University English class. Starting with Dickens’, Great Expectations, our professor told us we would read the book beginning to end over the weekend, a review to start on Monday. At the time, and judging from the book’s thickness, I wondered how this read could be possible. Nevertheless, my eyes and mind accepted the quest and on Monday we started on the more.

Symbolism, imagery, ideas. Our prof was student and academic – passionate of these works. He read the same words as you and I, but saw things that I did not see, but wanted to see. Soon we were on to Faulkner’s Light in August and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

There was more to these words than mere writing. The minds that produced these stories fed their words with the challenges of other meanings, almost slight of hand and misdirection, providing clues for recognition, some subtle, some subliminal, some direct and some very abstract…there was so much more to this more.

Joseph Conrad, author of Heart of Darkness, 1890. (Wiki image)

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) was based on his experiences in the Congo. The book inspired Francis Ford Coppola’s vision for Apocalypse Now (1979) set in Vietnam. (Wiki image)

It was the more in Apocalypse that intrigued me – Coppola’s vision, creating this Vietnam journey, was mirrored after Conrad’s darkness. I was entranced.  This war, this Vietnam War, had played out in my living room since our return to Canada in 1967. A new console colour television delivered our host Walter Cronkite night after night. Reports came from Southeast Asia with clips from journalists Dan Rather, Morley Safer, Eric Sevareid – photographs by Eddie Adams, Nick Ut, Sal Veder, Malcolm Browne, John Filo, Horst Faas and many others. Time Magazine and National Geographic delivered a steady diet of the war to our front door depicting a nation torn. Vietnam was also my Father’s interest. He was a soldier, a skilled photographer, a man who wanted to be a combat photographer. It has never left me.

The years passed and so too the reports and images of jungle and flame on our flat screens. However, very soon (September 17, 2017) American Herald, Ken Burns, will deliver The Vietnam War to public television. More than 40 years has passed since America’s Vietnam…though the memories live with those who were there…this more is reachable.  Several years prior to this upcoming film event, Ken Burns presented The Civil War, a moving image document that explored the story of a divided nation (1861-1865) and which captivated its viewers when debuted in 1990. The film – its story – its inter-twining – its more – connected Americans to America.

The film’s powerful call to national unity in the face of profound division seemed ideally suited to the bitter post-Vietnam cultural climate.

(James M. LundbergHistory Professor on Ken Burns’ The Civil War)

Ken Burns has returned again to a complex story of a war that divided a nation. It is with considerable appreciation, understanding and heartfelt respect for all, that we must know that The Vietnam War will re-spark sleeping memory – that hopefully in its retelling the better angels of our nature may yet be reborn.  Who will speak during and who will speak afterwards?

Though the four horsemen of the Apocalypse represent conquest, war, famine and death (the less) it is in the more – the understanding – the appreciation – the imagery – the voice – the soundtrack (and not in the less) that we resonate within our true selves and find heart in the darkness.

Black Saturday: 7 September 1940

Posted By on September 4, 2017

The London Docks on fire, 7 September 1940. (Wiki image)

The London Docks on fire, 7 September 1940. Tower Bridge and the  Thames. (Wiki image)

Prowler and Prey

The Luftwaffe crossed the English Channel and followed the Thames towards their targets over London. It was Saturday, 7 September 1940 at 4:43 pm. No longer focussed on British airfields the Luftwaffe turned their attention upon the Docklands – Silvertown with its associated factories, worker’s homes and warehouses. The afternoon light was clear – blue skies pitched with destruction were soon turned black and yellow. This was London’s Black Saturday the start of the Blitz that would last to 10 May 1941.

The disappearance of blue skies brought on by high explosives, oil bombs and incendiaries, set the Royal Docks and the Surrey Commercial Docks ablaze. Imported timber, shattered to matchsticks, was set alight by the cascading volley of bombs – steady and inescapable. Spirits were set alight as they poured into the open from their places of storage. Burning tar and rubber mixed with fumes from Beckton Gas Works, hit earlier in this day’s raid, added to the rampant and accumulating affects of black smoke, flame, acidic air and smell.

The theme of chaos and its rapturous soundtrack of violent explosions, combustion, suction, collapsing buildings and equipment, mixed together with flaming fragments that sizzled as they fell into the water. Sirens wailed and bells clanged as the Auxiliary Fire Service’s appliances navigated the cratered avenues of London, littered with debris as they attempted to enter the inferno where they could fight this Lucifer upon the earth. Add to this heat, confusion and exhaustion were the people of the home service, Air Raid Precautions, the Fire services, Londoners and so many others

The drone of this first raid continued until 6:30 pm when the Dorniers and Heinkels returned to their hives across the Channel, but this was a lull, as the quarry had been found, and the hornets returned to red glow of London at 8:30 pm. For the Luftwaffe who this time remained until dawn the prowler easily found its prey in the everlasting flames.

The war had arrived on the capital.

The lyrics of Pink Floyd’s 1979, Goodbye Blue Sky describe the memory of the Blitz.

The story of the Blitz endures to this day. A portrayal of mayhem in films such as Danger UXB and Hope and Glory. For those of us too young to have been there we can only imagine what our friends, families and history may have endured. There are books and exhibits and archives too for those wishing to learn a little more and it is here that I turn to one exhibit featuring the refrain of prowler and prey that epitomized a steadfast nation through humour, wit and the wink of an eye.

Noel Coward’s Run Rabbit Run was produced for The Little Dog Laughed in October 1939 and sung by the team of Bud Flanagan and Chesney Allen. At one time, the song was the feature music of the Home Front exhibit at the Imperial War Museum, London. Listening and observing as I do, wandering about the exhibit, the song has remained with me. I chose it as a feature tune in 1995 when veterans gathered for an exhibit on the Second World War. As the band played my heart showed through my pursed and smiling lips as the assembled gals and lads of 1939-1945 sang, On the farm every Friday…Run Rabbit Run Rabbit run run run.