Ypres Salient South 2017

Expressions On Their Faces

The wheels begin to roll earlier today, across the cobbled back streets towards the Groote Markt and on through the Lille Gate. We are headed south of Ypres past Bedford House towards the St. Eloi Craters. The route today is almost a re-creation of our first visit to the Salient. At that time our host and driver delivered us from town to town, site to site. As guests we were both bewildered and astonished while trying to take it all in. The tour was a combination of operational and remembrance histories. Now some years later we are here again at St. Eloi, then to Spoilbank, Chester Farm, the trio of CWGC cemeteries near to each other – DCLI, Woods and Hedgerow. The difference this time – we have done it ourselves. Our visit this year has been good and we are, as before, equally bewildered and astonished. I feel as though we have graduated (seemingly) and though it took us a bit (or a lot depending on viewpoint) to ferret out a new path when driving – we own the bicycle routes.

There was much on view today – a gathering of Great War rusted iron, piece upon piece, from a farmer’s field. Here today but gone the next as the Belgian Ordnance patrol has taken the Great War pieces away. At one of the St. Eloi craters, in order to gain entrance through the locked gate, one had to call the Belgian Tourism Office in Ieper (Ypres) for the gate code. At Spoibank we walked the wood along the Ypres-Comines Canal towards the sluice gate which was used during the Great War as a headquarters and medical facility. Much has changed this year – many sites have been interpreted with well made boardwalks and signage aiding us and all in our understanding of what happened here. Returning to Ypres we pedal along a paved trail (bicycles only)  running adjacent to the canal. As we head towards the towers that mark our landscape we pedal alongside several other visitors cycling their way along the Great War trail. Many are armed with our same map…many are here for the first time. On the main road we are repeatedly passed by tour busses and vans, covered in painted poppies, soldier silhouettes and signs – drivers with poppy symbols and passengers engaged in hand to hand combat with our same multi-fold maps of the battlefields. So too tractors, trucks with produce and other farm equipment pass by. These are their fields from planting to harvest that each year continues to reveal the debris of the Great War.

When here we always attend The Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. Our stay here, three of these four nights, has featured pipers from Canada, Scotland and Ireland. The Gate is our theatre, the echoes are the bugles and pipes in surround sound. Cameras and mobiles held atop the crowd attempting to gain access to these moments that surely for many is a first visit. The crowds are enormous, jockeying for position. looking at and upwards upon the names, seeing poppy crosses and wreaths – you can read the expressions on their faces and on occasion – there are tears when they discover that there are 54,896 reasons to visit here.

 


About The Author

pferguson
In April 2007 Paul met Casey and Ian Williams of the Paradigm Motion Picture Company in Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul has worked with Paradigm since 2009 as Producer and Historian. 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 amazed by films such as David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Film captivated Paul and he became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography 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 entranced when he learned Weir had visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. The film "Gallipoli" alone led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii and Gallipoli. It was, however, when Paul watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", that 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 would be 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, he 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.

Comments

Leave a Reply