France and Flanders 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. Certainly 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 Remembrance 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.

About The Author

Paul has worked with the Paradigm Motion Picture Company since 2009 as producer, historian and research specialist. Paul first met Casey and Ian WIlliams of Paradigm in April 2007 at Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul's sensitivity to film was developed at an early age seeing his first films at RCAF Zweibrucken, Germany and Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was captivated by David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Over time Paul became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography, narration and soundtracks. At the University of Victoria, Paul studied and compared Japanese and Australian film and became interested in Australian film maker Peter Weir and his film "Gallipoli" (1981). Paul was inspired when he learned Weir visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. "Gallipoli", the film, led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii, Gallipoli, North Macedonia and Salonika. When Paul first watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", Paul understood how his own experience and insight could be effective and perhaps influential in film-making. Combining his knowledge of Museums and Archives, exhibitions and idea strategies with his film interests was a natural progression. Paul thinks like a film-maker. His passion for history and storytelling brings to Paradigm an eye (and ear) to the keen and sensitive interests of; content development, the understanding of successful and relational use of collections, imagery and voice. Like Paul's favorite actor, Peter O'Toole, Paul believes in the adage “To deepen not broaden.” While on this path Paul always remembers his grandmother whose father did not return from the Great War and how his loss shaped her life and how her experience continues to guide him.


2 Responses to “France and Flanders 2017”

  1. Duane Loose says:

    Paul – thank you for sharing you thoughtful and inspiring insights. I truly enjoy reading your posts and look forward to receiving them in my inbox.



  2. pferguson says:

    Thank you Duane. Really glad that you enjoy them. Much appreciated.

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