Poppies and Thistles in the Wind

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)


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 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.


One Response to “Poppies and Thistles in the Wind”

  1. pferguson pferguson says:

    Special thanks to our Area 28 guide, Tim Barnett, at Brookside and to Matt Stevens in the Administrative Office. Grandly appreciated – all the best.

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