Splintered trees of the Western Front.

Fragments of Memory

Like inverted stakes in the hearts of France and Flanders, the splintered trees from the fields of battle stand as rooted silhouettes. Their splinters litter the ground on which men once walked, crawled or ran; the belligerent skelfs, large and small, hurling about tearing and ripping the flesh, piercing the souls of men.  Amongst the metal fragments, aimed engineering, gas and shrapnel balls these organic shards of nature took their toll. They, the soldiers, from all the pictures – seem to live in a world of black and white, with gray washes suggesting a continual haze from which men emerge between the trunks. The colour gone, leached from the landscape, drained into the ground where the roots of seemingly dead trees struggle to find a source of regeneration.

And yet with peace, and the passage of time, this bleak terrain that harnessed all participants for the years of the Great War has returned as green fields filled with new life. The shattered remains of Ents, witnesses to the dreary course of men have passed but like the bones of men, their fragments haunt the ground in search of sweet memories instead of the bitterness of war.

Splinters, bits of whole things, fragments of memory, much of it lost to us, but once in a while, captured in a note to mother or another loved one, in the rekindling of the past, or in the telling of a story that has survived. When Tolkien wrote his trilogy, there are reminders of the Great War woven throughout its pages, his time on the Somme, and the acts of men are there for all of us to become immersed. How few today realize that Tolkien’s epic reflects, his Great War, the age of men­­­.

Tolkien first served on the front July 14, 1916 taking part in the unsuccessful attack on Ovillers.

Did you know?

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien served during the Great War with the 11th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers. He arrived in France in June 1916 and during the Battle of the Somme was a signals officer.  Tolkien saw action at the Battle of Thiepval Ridge and took part in the assault on Schwaben Redoubt. Having suffered from trench foot on numerous occasions he developed trench fever in late October 1916 and returned to England November 8, 1916. The rest of his war was spent on garrison duties and in hospital. Still Tolkien’s experiences on the Somme gave to the world, through the sites he was witness, a trilogy long regarded as epic and classic in nature. Best then to remember his words, “By 1918 all but one of my close friends were dead.”

J.R.R. Tolkien’s revolver at the Imperial War Museum.

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.


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