August 2017
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Poppies and Thistles in the Wind

Posted By on July 16, 2017

Marker post at entrance to Brookside Cemetery, Winnipeg. (P. Ferguson image, July 14, 2017).

Marker post at entrance to Brookside Cemetery, Winnipeg. (P. Ferguson image, July 14, 2017).

Canadian Scottish Pipers at Rest
Piper Major James Groat and Piper James Low

Our cab takes us to Brookside Cemetery in Winnipeg. It’s a fine day with the sun above and the wind across the ground making this particular place a welcome start to our blitz of military history sites in Winnipeg. For a very long time I have wanted to spend time here in this town, home to the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders of Canada and whose ancestors were the pre-Great War 79th Regiment, of which many 16th Battalion men had served prior to that August 1914 day that led men and women to war.

The 16th Battalion CEF was formed from drafts of men from four Canadian militia regiments at Valcartier, Quebec, the 50th Regiment (Gordon Highlanders, Victoria, British Columbia), the 72nd Regiment (Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, Vancouver, British Columbia), the 79th Regiment (Cameron Highlanders of Canada, Winnipeg, Manitoba) and the 91st Regiment (Canadian Highlanders, Hamilton, Ontario). It is here in Winnipeg that I have come, along with my friend Mike, to find the resting place of Pipe Major James Groat DCM, MM and Bar who returned to Winnipeg after the Great War.

Piper James Groat DCM, MM and Bar.

Piper Major James Groat DCM, MM and Bar, 16th Battalion CEF.

I take my list of names, five persons of interest including Groat, to the administrative office for verification. Only Groat is here at Brookside and not amongst the 12,000+ military markers that we will walk this day for some seven hours. The wind is kind…the wind is good as the sun and ourselves are blazed along the row upon rows of trails.

Whilst wandering in Area 28 in search of Groat, Brookside employee, Tim Barnett hops out of his sizeable loader/digger to help. Seemingly, wandering aimlessly (but with purpose) is a good indication of assistance required. Tim is very kind helping us with my scribbled plot location and map and then stepping off the distance to find a numbered marker that leads us to Mr. Groat. I was so very pleased and Tim took it all in stride as I thanked him for his kindness. It’s what he does, helps people, like me, who have travelled to find someone.

Asked if Mr. Groat was a relative I respond by telling Tim, “No” and then explained my interest in Mr. Groat, the Canadian Scottish, military history and documentary film. In that instance Tim becomes reflective of Mr. Groat and all the 12,000+ men and women here at Brookside who gave of themselves in their nation’s time of need. And with his thoughtful words I remind myself that by coming here these veterans continue to give as we try to find their stories here amongst the markers and elsewhere.

Brookside employee, Tim Barnett, who helped assist us in locating the resting place of Pipe Major James Groat. P Ferguson image, JUly 14, 2017)

Brookside employee, Tim Barnett, helped us in locating the resting place of Pipe Major James Groat DCM MM and Bar. (P. Ferguson image, July 14, 2017)

For the next several hours Mike and I walk the rows finding record after record, story upon story, name after name, some familiar some, not so familiar but providing clues to follow at a later date. It is during the second half of our day at Brookside and towards the end that Mike asks if I saw Piper Low’s grave? I had not. Here amidst all these men and women one more 16th Piper, James Moir Low wounded at Ypres 22-28 April 1915 and who died 11 days after the 11 November 1918 armistice.

The day has almost drawn to a close here at Brookside and Mike returns to the entrance area as I return to Mr. Groat to see how the sun may have shifted upon his marker. As I walk by the Brookside pond, the sun at my face, I watch as the wind moves and tousles the thistles on their stalks and in an instance I seize upon the idea that a few emblematic thistles would add to the day for Mr. Groat and Mr. Low. As if by fate in its thinking, the wind then picks at the petals of a nearby remembrance poppy that flutters slightly at my feet. A few prickly thistles later, and now having gathered a few other wind-swept poppies I have my bouquet.

The gravestone of Pipe Major James Groat DCM, MM and Bar, 16th Battalion C.E.F. P.Ferguson image, July 14, 2017)

The  Brookside Cemetery gravestone of Pipe Major James Groat DCM, MM and Bar, 16th Battalion C.E.F. (P.Ferguson image, July 14, 2017)

It has been a fine day as the sun continues with its steady gaze upon us and as the wind provides comfort to us in this steady heat. I had come this day to find Pipe Major Groat but have now learned of 12,000+ others. It is here at Brookside, with thistles and poppies in the wind, that the flowers of the forest have connected all that I strive to do, connecting lives to this good earth, finding the stories within plain view, learning about those who have given and can continue to give and where old friends can find new friends…here in the sun and where the wind is kind and good.

Piper James Moir Low, 16th Battalion C.E.F., Brookside Cemetery. P. Ferguson image, July 14, 2017)

Piper James Moir Low, 16th Battalion C.E.F., Brookside Cemetery. Died 22 November 1918. (P. Ferguson image, July 14, 2017)



Canada’s Birthday from Coast to Coast to Coast

Posted By on July 1, 2017

Dedication of the National War Memorial, St. John's, Newfoundland. (Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador via Wikipedia).

Dedication of the National War Memorial, St. John’s, Newfoundland. (Provincial Archives of Newfoundland and Labrador via Wikipedia).

July 1 – Remembrance and Celebration

Its Canada’s birthday a time to reflect on the past 150 years of counting though we well recognize that there was much time before the counting. We celebrate our achievements, cast our minds upon our foibles, provide recognition, and generally say good things about ourselves. Within the glow of our hearts we watch from coast to coast to coast our people. But this day too is one of the greater known anniversaries of the Great War the 1st of July when the British Army on the first day of the Somme, 101 years ago met the might of those against it and suffered nearly 20,000 men killed and more than 57,000 wounded on this single day.

One of the regiments with the British Army was the Newfoundland Regiment who, every Canada Day, not only commemorates its losses of this day but, having joined Canada March 31, 1949, celebrates this nation’s birthday.

It was at Beaumont-Hamel, Somme, France that the Newfoundland Regiment, at the end of the day, had only 68 men remaining to answer to the roll call. With 324 killed and 386 wounded the words of Robert Laurence Binyon remind us…

Age shall not weary them
Nor the years condemn
At the going down of the sun
And in the morning
We will remember them

On 1 July 1924 the Newfoundland National War Memorial was dedicated at St. John’s, Newfoundland by Field Marshall Douglas Haig.

National War Memorial stamp issued by Newfoundland, 3 January 1928.

National War Memorial stamp issued by Newfoundland, 3 January 1928.

And so as we watch the sun rise and roll across the horizon and settling as it does at the end of the day, let us recall all those who gave and were left to recall those who passed through the Canadian gate towards the light. It is a day to celebrate but also a day to pause. Happy Birthday to all Canadians of those from time immemorial through to these counting years. From sunrise to sunset we will remember them…and in that spirit a Canadian sunset.

Wheat – Will Ye No Come Back Again

Posted By on June 17, 2017

A Scottish soldier passes through a field of wheat.

A Great War reenactor from the Flanders Jocks moves through the allegory of wheat. (Image from Flanders Jocks via Pipes of War Facebook site).

A Powerful Allegory

This all started with a reminder of wheat blowing across the fields to the beat of the wind, anchored to this good earth.

This earth, this place that keeps us despite all that we have attempted to carve from it. A recent post by the Flanders Jocks of a Scottish soldier standing within the sway sent me upon the trail to a film delivered to my stage at an appropriate time. That film was Gladiator, the story of Maximus, a story of strength, honour, family and home. Scene upon scene there are details that have remained; not least the passing of Maximus’ hand through the reminders of his other life, his farm, his harvest…his home.

We feel this wheat as the soft tassels pass through “our” hands, we feel the emotion, we feel the connection, we become part of these moving images. Wheat, known to many as a symbol of resurrection, reminds us we are connected to this good earth, to the sun and to the heavens. Though we may not know what tomorrow will bring, it is our universal desire to find our home that keeps us.

Help the Scottish Women’s Hospitals

Posted By on June 11, 2017

Scottish Women's Hospitals donation box, Imperial War Museum,, London. (P. Ferguson image, March 2017)

Scottish Women’s Hospitals donation box, Note the NUWSS initials. Imperial War Museum, London. (P. Ferguson image, March 2017)

The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies [NUWSS]

Elsie Inglis who initially studied medicine at the Edinburgh School of Medicine in 1887, completed her studies in 1892 at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Inglis was especially cognizant of the required specialized knowledge and treatments for female patients and was appalled by the lack of standards turning to the suffrage movement with whom she became politically active. In the 1890s, Inglis became the Secretary of the Edinburgh National Society for Women’s suffrage and worked closely with the NUWSS.

The NUWSS was a suffragist organization, distinct from the suffragette movement which was a splinter group of former NUWSS women who chose a more fervent political path choosing direct action that included acts of violence. The NUWSS organization favoured peaceful protests, petitions, organized meetings, leaflet campaigns and debating their positions through interactions with Members of Parliaments. Suffragists also worked with men to achieve their aims, whereas Suffragettes preferred a “Women Only” policy.

Dr. Elsie Inglis. Wellcome Library Collection, London via Wikipedia.

Dr. Elsie Inglis. Wellcome Library Collection, London via Wikipedia.

With the support of the NUWSS, Inglis founded the Scottish Women’s Hospitals Committee  that established the first Scottish Women’s Hospital in France in November 1914. The work of Inglis, and the NUWSS provided for fourteen medical units during the Great War including field hospitals, specialized facilities for the treatment of fever, dressing stations and clinics. Located in France, Serbia, Corsica, Salonika, Romania, Russia and Malta these units were created through the dedication of women such as Inglis and other associates of the NUWSS.

In all the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Society raised more than £500,000 during the Great War.

Like Things – Dissimilar Things – Creating Connection

Posted By on June 4, 2017

Chance – Observation – Imagery – Voice and even a little Research

A recent opportunity allowed me to think a bit more about what I do to create content – to find relationships between like things, dissimilar things and to create or perhaps reconnect connections. I suggested to my audience there were five keys that I use – research – imagery – voice – chance and observation. It’s about storytelling finding the why of events, people and places that can create a lasting memory of a day, of a time – something that might harness our own past with our own present – a chance to reconnect, a chance to find the me in this day of others.

And so this day I reflect upon a seemingly regular day walking across the park grass, hand in hand with my girl Rosemary passing by the idle amusement park rides which will soon propel excitable youth this way and that with cries and shrieks emitted amidst the tumult.  The rides remind me of one of my life’s soundtracks…

Hey little girl take me by the hand,
Walk me down this boardwalk
Once last time again
See those pretty pier lights
Hear those carnival sounds
Stop right at the top tonight
When the ferris wheel goes round

We wander over to the pancake breakfast alongside the waterfront, as young and old willfully and wistfully wander about the grounds in anticipation. As one happy youngster proudly exclaims “I’ve got the pancakes!” I turn my head towards their table to see family together, mom, dad, kids, siblings and a grandmother who tells the table “It will be fun!”

Family together…and for the day I am reminded of my own time spent with parents at similar events and what this year has meant to the family Ferguson. These reminiscences will take me back for a Take 2 of a museum exhibit whose panels about Away and Apart and A Death in the Family need no further explanation. Caught in these emotions of yesterday this day becomes the perfect day when the final connect is delivered. Is it chance, is it observation? Yes and so too imagery, voice and a little bit of research.

The perfect day with the perfect soundtrack, singer and guitarist Peter Bourne.

The perfect day with the perfect soundtrack, singer and guitarist Peter Bourne, Victoria, B.C.

Peter Bourne, Lion and Elder delivers his songs to his audience from a chair, with the Salish Sea as a backdrop, guitar across his legs, caught within the melody of his tunes, dark glasses and ball cap, a jacket covered with lapel pins, Peter bars the chords and sings the tunes of today’s soundtrack capturing all of today and all of yesterday, What About Me and Hey Good Lookin’.

It’s a fine day, a beautiful day as the rides swing into motion and families walk together.