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In the morning, evening, at night…

Posted By on May 1, 2017

Ole Berget

Private Ole Berget, 31st Battalion CEF, Missing in action, Fresnoy, 3 May 1917. (Author’s family)

Om morgonen, kvelden, natta*

In the darkness of the early morning the men of Alberta waited for the barrage to commence which would send them “over the top.” In spite of the heavy enemy bombardment, there were few casualties before the opening of the attack; but in front, swept by rifle and machine-gun fire and an open target for enemy shells, lay “No Man’s Land,” and beyond that – the enemy wire.

Promptly at 3:45 a.m. the barrage came down on the German positions, the whole terrain erupting suddenly into red flashes of bursting shells. In the darkness the men of the 31st Battalion climbed the parapet and went forward to the attack. Even as they did so the German counter-barrage fell on the leading companies and the deadly German machine-gun fire slashed through their ranks.

Onward and upward over the gently-sloping ground the attacking waves pressed at the double. In the darkness men stumbled over debris and pitched into shell holes, to rise and again push forward. Others fell, riddled with machine-gun bullets or disrupted by bursting shell, to rise no more.

(H.C. Singer, History of the Thirty-First Battalion C.E.F., pages 216-217)

French village of Fresnoy En Gohelle (Fresnoy)

The now peaceful and rebuilt French village of Fresnoy En Gohelle (Fresnoy). (P Ferguson image, 2009)

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In 2009 I drove to Fresnoy, France with two friends for an exploration of the village of Fresnoy. It was here, to the north of the town, that my Great Grandfather was to lose his life…missing in action…commemorated on the Vimy Memorial. Today, near to a hundred years ago, I know it is time to return to this village. A time to wander this ground again and to include in my visit a nearby Commonwealth War Graves cemetery where there, amongst the markers, perhaps a Canadian soldier, Known Unto God.

*In the morning, evening, at night…we will remember them.

The first language of the Berget family who lived at Alderson, Alberta, near Medicine Hat was Norwegian*. Ole Berget left behind his dear wife Emma, and six children. Emma’s brother, Private Bernard Kyllo, 50th Canadian Infantry Battalion, was killed in action at Souchez, 1 February 1917 and is buried at Villers Station Cemetery, France.

Berget Children

The Berget children identified L-R back row; Willie and Myrtle, second row L-R; Unknown [possibly Rugna] and Edwin, front row L-R; Hazel and Mabel (undated). (Esplanade Arts & Heritage Centre, Medicine Hat, Alberta, Accession 0596.0004)

Storm of Steel – Fresnoy

Posted By on April 27, 2017

German soldier and author Ernst Junger.

German soldier and author Ernst Junger. (Wikipedia)

After Vimy

Ernst Jünger was a German military officer whose memoir, Storm of Steel is considered a classic of Great War literature. Commissioned from the ranks, Jünger continued to serve with his regiment, the 73rd Hanoverian Regiment, and was wounded on 14 occasions. His description of his time in the French village of Fresnoy, prior to 3 May 1917, is of particular interest to this writer. Ernst Jünger was a recipient of the Wound Badge in Gold, the Iron Cross 2nd and 1st Class and the Pour le Mérite. Prior to his regiment’s move into Fresnoy, Jünger and his 2nd Company learned that the Allies captured Vimy.

Projectiles on exhibit at the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917, Belgium.

Projectiles on exhibit at the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917, Zonnebeke, Belgium. (P. Ferguson image, September 2016)

The terrain between the edge of the village and the dressing-station was receiving a total artillery barrage. Light and heavy shells with impact-,fire- and time-delay fuses, duds, empty cases and shrapnels all participated in a king of madness that was too much for our eyes and ears. In amongst it all, going either side of the witches’ cauldron of the village, support troops were advancing.

Fresnoy was one towering fountain of earth after another. Each second seemed to want to outdo the last. As if by some magical power, one house after another subsided into the earth; walls broke, gables fell, and bare sets of beams and joists were sent flying through the air, cutting down the roofs of other houses. Clouds of splinters danced over whitish wraiths of steam. Eyes and ears were utterly compelled by this maelstrom of devastation.

(Jünger, Storm of Steel)

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TO BE CONTINUED…

ANZAC Day: April 25, 1937

Posted By on April 21, 2017

Australian Contingent, London 1937

Australian Coronation Contingent sent for the Coronation of King George VI. ANZAC Day, 25 April 1937, the Cenotaph, Whitehall, London. (State Library, Victoria, Australia).

The Australian Coronation Contingent

Eighty years ago an Australian contingent of 100 soldiers, 25 sailors and 25 airmen traveled to the United Kingdom for the Coronation of King George VI, 12 May 1937. One of the contingent’s tasks was to return the remains of British soldier, Arthur Evans VC who died in Sydney Australia 1 November 1936.

Evans served in the Lincolnshire Regiment, of the British Army, using the alias Walter Simpson and was previously awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. Evans was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry 2 September 1918 south west of Etaing, France.

Arthur Percival Sullivan

During the Great War, Arthur Percival Sullivan VC served with the 10 Battalion Australian Imperial Force and later joined a unit of the Australian artillery. (Wikipedia via the Australian War Memorial).

Sadly, another Victoria Cross recipient Arthur Percy Sullivan of the Australian Coronation Contingent lost his life, 9 April 1937, when he accidentally fell in Birdcage Walk, Westminster, London near to Wellington Barracks. Sullivan earned his Victoria Cross shortly after the Great War with the British Army’s North Russia Expeditionary Force.

Arthur Sullivan VC plaque, London, England.

Arthur Sullivan VC plaque on the iron railings at Wellington Barracks, London, England. (P. Ferguson image, 2016).

Citation for the Award of the Victoria Cross
London Gazette 26 September 1919

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on the 10th August 1919, at the Sheika River, North Russia. The platoon to which he belonged, after fighting a rearguard covering action, had to cross the river by means of a narrow plank and during the passage an officer and three men fell into a deep swamp. Without hesitation, under intense fire, Corporal Sullivan jumped into the river and rescued all four, bringing them out singly. But for this gallant action his comrades would undoubtedly have been drowned. It was a splendid example of heroism, as all ranks were on the point of exhaustion, and the enemy less than 100 yards distant.

ANZAC Day Commemorative Service ticket.

Admittance ticket to the ANZAC Day Commemorative Service, St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, 25 April 1917.

During the visit of the Australian Coronation Contingent in London, ANZAC Day (25 April) was observed at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. The service was led by Canon P.E. James of Wellington, New Zealand who spoke upon Guide Our Feet into the Way of Peace (Luke 1:79). Following the service the contingent marched to the Cenotaph where buglers from the Royal Marines sounded The Last Post and wreaths were laid by several dignitaries including General Sir Ian Hamilton and General Sir William Birdwood.

General Sir Ian Hamilton first commanded the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force until October 1916 when he was relieved. His place was taken by Sir William Birdwood the former commander of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC).

Nature’s Hymn – Birdsong

Posted By on April 15, 2017

Easter Dawn 1916

Easter Dawn. I am with you alway[s]. At our Easter communion we are praying from you. From All Saints’ Clapham Park SW. F. Beaumont-Edwards, Easter 1916. From us all”

Dawn of a New Day

With each new day there is a chorus of birds chirping and flitting about from one branch to another announcing the dawn. Content to rejoice as the sun shines upon their places, bringing them warmth, my slightly weary eyes open one at a time. It is dawn, a new beginning.

I enjoy the sound of our feathered friends. Their work, as heralds, never disappoints me. And so as the dawn of Easter approaches it is a good time to think upon their work – how the song of birds…birdsong afar…in France, Flanders and elsewhere has and continues to be nature’s hymn amidst and after the tumult of war.

…and in the sky…The larks, still bravely singing, fly…Scarce heard amidst the guns below.

(John McCrae, In Flanders Fields, published December 8, 1915)

When I go to a Commonwealth War Graves cemetery…it is like walking into a very beautiful church and you have to be silent…there is usually no music except birdsong and it’s a time for reflection.

(Michael Morpurgo. Silent Witnesses, The Cemeteries of the Somme, CWGC, 2016)

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Nature’s hymn, the song of birds adds the soundtrack to our wanderings of these silent cities. These guardians announce themselves upon our arrival and continue their song, without audience, upon our leaving. Within their realm we see new life reborn, nature’s cycle of gentle green grass, the colour of flowers and the weeping of trees tending these gardens of souls whose shortened lives knew their song.

My Vimy

Posted By on April 11, 2017

Private Ole Berget late of the 31st BAttalion CEF. Missing in action Fresnoy 3 May 1917.

My Vimy . Private Ole Berget, 2007 Vimy Memorial Rededication.

It is as if Vimy is the start of what I do

Vimy is connected to family. Its personal.

This I learned many years ago from my grandmother who told me stories about her father…..which were…..upon reflection…..stories her mother had told. This was the man Grannie knew…..memories…..passed from one generation to another. Grannie was two years old or thereabouts when her Papa left this plain for another place, at another battle – known as Fresnoy – now so near to a 100 years ago.

Watching this past Sunday, I learned of many who followed this desire that rises in some of us to see for ourselves. I did not go this time but have been before and will go again. There is peace in what I do. I am at home here – walking, cycling, feeling these places as they ache into the heart and allow me to find connection through the space of years from conflict to calm. What noises, sites and smells were here then and what is here now? Patient, continuous observation without the chaos, within my own plain.

There can be no doubt that the consideration to remain at home was for a reason. I did not go. I did not speak – but found solace in words and thoughts from the wreckage of this past. My Vimy was 2007 at the rededication of the Vimy Memorial when I took my Great-Grandfather’s portrait with me and upon that ridge looked into this man who somehow brought me here. That day Private Ole Berget, late of the 31st Battalion CEF seemed to say, “I have been here before……………take me home”……….he just wanted to come home.

Somehow, I like to think that this is what many of us feel when we watch amongst this emotion and search for our peace. We find ourselves, our Vimys, our Fresnoys…….…its personal.