John Macnaughton’s Walk

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)


About The Author

pferguson
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 in Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was further amazed by David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Film captivated Paul and with time 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.

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