HIST 3370 University of Guelph Memory of The Great War in Cultural Contexts Discussion

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HIST 3370

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Discussion forums have been set on the Course page where students can discuss the weekly readings and corresponding content learned within each unit. Students are expected to engage in these discussions on a weekly basis. Discussions will focus on the readings’ merits and pitfalls, major arguments, contributions to the field of study, and how they connect to the information and activities discussed in the corresponding unit. Along with posting your own thoughts on the readings, each week you are expected to engage with a post from one of your classmates.

Compose a post and within that post, for each of the assigned articles you read this week, discuss the following:

The article's main argument and purpose

The article's main points of discussion

  • How the article complements the content of the unit it was assigned with
  • The most important thing you learned from the article about the First World War
  • A question that comes to mind after reading the articleOverview
    An important aspect of the learning experience in this course is the online discussions which require you to respond to different topic questions. This experience provides you with the opportunity to share the knowledge you gained in the course and to engage in a dialogue with your classmates.In this assignment, students discuss the weekly readings and corresponding content learned within each unit. Students are expected to engage in these discussions on a weekly basis. Discussions will focus on the readings' merits and pitfalls, major arguments, contributions to the field of study, and how they connect to the information and activities discussed in the corresponding unit. Along with posting your own thoughts on the readings, each week you are expected to engage with a post from one of your classmates.You will participate in these discussions in groups. To find out which group you have been assigned to, select Groups from the Tools dropdown menu on the navbar.Instructions
    There are specific discussion questions posted in each unit of the course. Each week you are required to make at least two contributions to the discussions, including one original post and at least one response to another student's post in your group. Your original post should be thoughtful, and should directly relate to the questions posted, include your own thoughts on the topic(s) being discussed, and use the course readings and content to support these thoughts. Your response posts to your classmates should include more than "I agree" or "Well said," and should provide opportunities for further engagement in the course content.It is crucial that you post your original comment as early as possible in the discussion week to help get the dialogue going and keep the conversation flowing. Posting retrospectively (i.e., for previous weeks) will not count towards your overall discussion mark.
  • 300 words for the initial post

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Canadian Military History Volume 22 Issue 2 Article 3 2013 “Time but the impression deeper makes”* Approaches to Canadian Epitaphs of the Great War Eric McGeer Follow this and additional works at: https://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh Part of the Military History Commons Recommended Citation Eric McGeer "“Time but the impression deeper makes”* Approaches to Canadian Epitaphs of the Great War." Canadian Military History 22, 2 (2013) This Article is brought to you for free and open access by Scholars Commons @ Laurier. It has been accepted for inclusion in Canadian Military History by an authorized editor of Scholars Commons @ Laurier. For more information, please contact scholarscommons@wlu.ca. : “Time but the impression deeper makes”* Approaches to Canadian Epitaphs of the Great War “Time but the impression deeper makes”* Approaches to Canadian Epitaphs of the Great War Eric McGeer T his paper begins with a flight of fancy meant to put its subject in a novel perspective. Imagine archaeologists at some distant time in the future coming upon the British memorials and war cemeteries clustered along the old Western Front. Suppose, too, that although the written sources for the Great War no longer survive, the mandate of the War Graves Commission to maintain the monuments in perpetuity has ensured a good state of preservation. In the same way that archaeologists test the historicity of the Trojan War against the evidence from Bronze Age sites, or reconstruct the workings of the Roman army from its camps and fortifications, our imagined archaeologists would set about collating and interpreting the details in the commemorative monuments to form a reasonably coherent picture of the Great War. They would infer from the sheer density of the war cemeteries that it had been a very static conflict; from the dates, regiments, and nationalities incised on the headstones they could establish a chronology of events and a latter-day “Catalogue of Ships” listing the peoples drawn * From the inscription on the headstone of Lance Corporal Andrew Ramage, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (Wimereux Communal Cemetery). Abstract: Studies of the effects and memory of the Great War are sure to gain new impetus with the arrival of the centenary in 2014. This article outlines the approaches to a body of evidence not yet fully appreciated by scholars examining the impact of the war and the reaction to a tragedy of unprecedented proportions. The personal inscriptions engraved on the headstones of the fallen preserve a record of grief and consolation unique in history, one that forges a bond of sympathy between the Great War generation and our own, yet one that also exposes the profound differences between their thought world and ours. This preliminary survey of Canadian epitaphs reinforces the position that if studies of the myth and memory of the Great War are to flourish, it is imperative that we ground them in the cultural, literary, and religious traditions that guided the bereaved in their search for consolation and meaning. from all over the world into the British Empire’s order of battle. The number of nameless graves, tallying with the registers inscribed on the memorials to the missing, would induce recognition of a frighteningly destructive war that inflicted not only mass death but mass annihilation. Some explanation for this would emerge from the insignia on the headstones identifying artillerymen, machine gunners, tank crewmen, and fliers, which bear witness to the © Canadian Military History, Volume2013 22, Number 2, Spring 2013, pp.19-30. Published by Scholars Commons @ Laurier, advances in military technology that made such a rigidly concentrated war so consumptive of human life. An archaeologist sensitive to the contradictory logic of human affairs might perceive the trap into which the belligerents worked themselves, that victory alone, at any price, could redeem the sacrifice that mounted with each year of the war. The evidence responding to the basic questions of who fought the war, when and where and how it was fought, would naturally lead to more speculative inquiry. Anyone beholding these monuments would marvel at the herculean effort involved in creating them and at the scrupulous desire to commemorate every last one of the fallen by name, signs of the debt of remembrance which the survivors felt they owed to the dead. In seeking answers to the very human and very taxing questions as to how people at the time justified so costly a struggle, and how the victors rationalised the appalling price of victory, our future archaeologists would seize upon a body of evidence, unique in history, which historians of our age have been slow to exploit in their study of the memory of the Great War. Thousands of personal inscriptions, engraved on the headstones of the fallen, convey the grief of the families who suffered the loss of fathers, husbands, 19 1 Canadian Military History, Vol. 22 [2013], Iss. 2, Art. 3 brothers, sons (and, lest we forget, daughters), and the consolatory themes by which they reconciled themselves to their loss. In their great abundance, cutting across all levels of society, and in their affecting simplicity, the epitaphs preserve the voice of the generation that bore the burden of the war and tried to find meaning in its terrible exactions. They invite us to explore the sources of comfort to which they turned in their distress, and – to do what our age finds it very hard to do with respect to the Great War1 – to accord fair recognition to sensibilities and attitudes which we have long since discarded, and to beliefs and ideals which ever since the 1960s have come to have less and less meaning. “Our dear Daddy and our hero”; “Baby of the family. Mother still anxious for his return”; “Also in memory of his brother Samuel, killed at Courcelette, 16th September 1916”2 – these are but three of countless examples reminding us of the claim of the bereaved on our sympathies and of our obligation in return to examine the epitaphs through the prism of their emotions, values, and sources of consolation.3 The personal inscriptions, let it be said, have not gone entirely unnoticed. The provision allowing next of kin to contribute short valedictions is duly noted in histories of the Imperial (now Commonwealth) War Graves Commission,4 even if its significance as the first occasion in history that the general populace could add a private voice to the official commemoration of the war dead is not as emphasized as it might be. The poignancy of these inscriptions – and many truly are gems of compression – has inspired two anthologies, John Laffin’s We Will Remember Them, presenting Australian epitaphs, and Trefor Jones’s On Fame’s Eternal Camping Ground, a wider selection of British and Dominion examples. 5 Both fulfill the purpose of anthologies in providing a selection of memorable personal inscriptions; and it is not to detract from the value of these collections, particularly Laffin’s, to point out that neither ventures into the larger questions of the cultural context and provenance of the epitaphs. It is to say, however, that there has as yet been no attempt to situate the epitaphs of the Great War in the long tradition of sepulchral inscriptions originating in Antiquity,6 to identify and elaborate upon their sources,7 and to integrate them within the cultural history of the Great War, a subject in which myth and memory have come to occupy the high ground. Such an undertaking lies beyond the remit of this paper, which proposes instead to outline the approaches to a deeper, and potentially more revealing, study of the personal inscriptions. Although the focus is mainly on Canadian epitaphs, the sense of imperial unity and the close cultural affinity between Great Britain and the English-speaking dominions make the observations offered here broadly applicable to the corpus of epitaphs from the First World War.8 Any discussion of the personal inscriptions must first balance their worth against their limitations as sources. Though they echo the sentiments of their time, they speak directly for only a small proportion of the dead and those who commemorated them, as some rough calculations will show. Of the 66,000 Canadians killed in the Great War, 11,000 have no known grave; of the identified graves, just under Canadian graves at Niagara Cemetery, Iwuy, France. 20 https://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh/vol22/iss2/3 2 : “Time but the impression deeper makes”* Approaches to Canadian Epitaphs of the Great War Photograph by author. Photograph by author. first to enlist. A worthy half carry a personal son of his father.”12 inscription, many of which repeat formulae The taut, pointed (“Rest in peace,” “Gone simplicity of these but not forgotten,” examples proves yet “Son of ... born in ...”) again that economy of of little more than words makes for much fleeting interest. The greater impact than does number of inscriptions prolixity, something that offer insight that Rudyard Kipling into the minds of the and Frederic Kenyon bereaved, individually well understood and collectively, comes when they made their to about 3,000 by my recommendations on count, speaking for personal inscriptions.13 about five percent of The infrequent but 9 Canada’s war dead. telling departures from the norm also bring out Their form and realm of another point deserving expression, though not of emphasis. Whatever without variety, adhere control the Commission to the restrictions exercised over the imposed by the War personal inscriptions Graves Commission should be construed and by the conventions not as censorship of the time. Here the but as a safeguard of exceptions prove useful propriety and dignity in illustrating the rules in the war cemeteries. and, more importantly, The restrictions on the latitude shown in length, and the small their application. When fee charged for an scanning the collection, inscription, were for instance, it becomes deterrents against “the clear that while most effusion of the mortuary inscriptions stay within mason, the sentimental the prescribed length of versifier, or the crank,” 66 characters (including and are consistent the spaces between A little girl’s farewell to her father: “Death is not a barrier to love, Daddy.” with the opposition to words), a great many The headstone of Private Peter Lapointe, St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen. inappropriate epitaphs do not, the most striking that the proponents example being a text of of the cemetery reform movement over 450 characters covering the bud on a slender stem, broken and of the nineteenth century had long headstone of a Canadian lieutenant wasted, our boy”; “Another life lost, made part of their programme. 14 buried in France.10 Similar discretion is hearts broken, for what”; “Sacrificed to the fallacy that only war can end evident in the content of the epitaphs. They took the view that irreverent war”; “Many died and there was The Commission reserved “absolute or semi-literate inscriptions much glory.”11 The lengths to which power of rejection or acceptance” undermined the moral benefits to over the inscriptions submitted, persons visiting cemeteries to reflect the Commission was prepared to yet there are several noteworthy on the vicissitudes of this life and go in accommodating the wishes examples giving vent to anger or the promise of the one to come. of next of kin stand out in one stark resentment which demonstrate the As this view took hold, collections inscription, indescribably moving range of acceptability. “He did his of epitaphs judged suitable for in its restoration of honour to the duty. My heart knoweth its own sepulchral inscriptions proliferated memory of a soldier executed for bitterness. Mother”; “A bursting throughout the second half of the 19th desertion: “Shot at dawn. One of the Published by Scholars Commons @ Laurier, 2013 21 3 century. The trend in civil cemeteries towards the spiritual edification of visitors was even more pronounced in the military burial grounds, in which the common aim of the architects and horticulturalists was to create the tranquil, contemplative atmosphere of an English garden, a setting designed to inspire reflection and meditation on the sacrifice of the fallen. We must also take into account the emotional restraint bred into a generation of parents born in the 1850s and 1860s commemorating sons born in the 1880s and 1890s – in other words, people deeply rooted in the Victorian Age – which surfaces in this epitaph, “Sadly missed, silently mourned by his wife and children,”15 and many more referring to private sorrows, silent thoughts, or hidden tears – faultlessly Victorian in concealing the intensity of the grief behind the stoic façade presented to the world. Few epitaphs represent original compositions. The Victorians preferred to select their gravestone inscriptions, and it seems to have been the assumption on the part of the Commission that next of kin contributing epitaphs would draw from venerable authorities. In the years immediately following the war, a canon of remembrance verse took shape, including such familiar pieces as Laurence Binyon’s “For the Fallen” and John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields,” which supplied a number of apposite lines; but most of those seeking literary valedictions turned to the poets whose works they had learned in their schooldays when memory work and recitation were staples of pedagogy. A trawl through the University of Toronto’s calendars from the years before the war reveals that the poems most often quarried for epitaphs – Tennyson’s “Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington” (“The path of duty was the way to glory”), “Break, break, break” (“O for the touch of a vanished hand and 22 https://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh/vol22/iss2/3 Photograph by author. Canadian Military History, Vol. 22 [2013], Iss. 2, Art. 3 “First Canadian Contingent.” Pride in Private Austin Keens’s readiness to do his duty. Headstone in Woods Cemetery, Belgium. the sound of a voice that is still”) or Shelley’s “Adonais” (“He hath outsoared the shadow of our night”) – were required reading for highschool matriculants in English who, like all students of the time, went through a thoroughly Anglocentric c u r r i c u l u m . 16 S u n d a y s c h o o l , following or followed by church, immersed people from an early age in the hymns and writings, particularly John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress and John Henry Newman’s “Lead, Kindly Light,” which provided a plentiful source of spiritual comfort. But if the generation raised before the war entrusted the expression of its grief, acceptance, or hope to one book, it was to the King James Version of the Bible. It is impossible to overstate the centrality of the Bible in Victorian culture. To paraphrase one scholar, Scriptural knowledge is a prerequisite for entering into the thought-world of the generation that went through the Great War.17 “(Assurance) What time I am afraid I will trust in Thee. Ps. 56.3”; “O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in Thee. Ps. 84.12”; “God hath delivered my soul from the place of hell for He shall receive me. Ps. 49. 15”; “My favourite reading, 1st bk. Cor. ch. 13”:18 these are among the epitaphs that display the family’s awareness of the passages which the soldier read each day and to which he turned in times of trial. The annotated Bible of a Canadian soldier killed in 1918 contains a list of 18 passages, all from the New Testament, connecting the teachings, experiences, and tribulations of Christ and His followers to the various aspects of a devoutly Christian soldier’s life on active service – and in two texts frequently used as epitaphs, 2 Timothy 4: 5-8 (“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”) and Revelation 21: 4 (“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes”) – to the eventuality of his death and reward.19 If these readings formed a kind of spiritual anchor for the men in the trenches, other standard selections supplied comfort to the bereaved. The very Victorian habit of reading one’s experiences through the lens of the Bible, and making sense of this earthly pilgrimage by identifying oneself with its stories or characters, guided the next of kin who in like fashion turned to familiar consolatory passages (“Blessed are they who mourn”) or sought reassuring parallels. The mother of a Newfoundland soldier killed on 1 July 1916 chose a line from Luke 7: 12, “The only son of his mother and she was a widow,” that movingly depicts the loneliness of her grief, eased, we can only hope, by the compassion which Christ shows to the sorrowing mother in the Biblical passage.20 Epitaphs drawn from the Bible broadened rather than narrowed the range of expression. There are 4 : “Time but the impression deeper makes”* Approaches to Canadian Epitaphs of the Great War of triumphalism that puts paid to the Kaiser and all his works without overtly hostile reference to the enemy, a practice discouraged by the Commission. 21 “By this I know Thou favourest me, that mine enemy doth not triumph against me” quotes Psalm 41.11 to imply that God had denied victory to Germany; an epitaph drawn from Psalm 68: 30, “Scatter Thou the people that delight in war,” issues a veiled call for divine retribution against a militaristic enemy held responsible for causing the war.22 Those opposed to war were aware that no one could object to the Canadian War Museum 19710261-0662 examples to suggest that families selected passages to give voice to feelings which, phrased in less authoritative tones, might have been rejected as too contentious or excessive. “Young men, ye have overcome the wicked one. I John 2.13,” represents a rare instance In Charles Sims’ Sacrifice (ca. 1918) Christ looks down from the Cross upon the agonies of the soldiers struggling to save a world in which their parents, wives, and children would dwell in peace, and the mourners find solace in the Christian heroism of Canada’s soldiers. This painting was to be the centrepiece of Lord Beaverbrook’s projected (but never achieved) memorial art gallery in Ottawa. Published by Scholars Commons @ Laurier, 2013 23 5 Canadian Military History, Vol. 22 [2013], Iss. 2, Art. 3 Library and Archives Canada e007914135 experience a warning to injunction against violence the future: “If death be the uttered by Christ, “They that price of victory, O God take the sword shall perish forbid all wars”; “Break, with the sword. Matthew day of God, sweet day of 26: 52,” or His promise of peace, and bid the shout benediction, “Blessed are of warriors cease.” 28 The the peacemakers.”23 unquestionable sincerity The depths of love of these pleas compels us between a wife and to recognise the consoling husband might find their vision of a better world most tender expression which the people of Britain in Scripture, particularly and the Dominions drew in the oft-chosen Song of from the Allied victory. The Songs (“Mine till the day losses, terrible as they were, break and the shadows had resulted in the triumph flee away”; “Many waters of one set of principles and cannot quench love”), or in values over another: “Right this richly allusive passage: is stronger than might”; “My beloved is unto me “For King and country as a cluster of camphire thus he fell, a tyrant’s in the vineyards of Enarrogance to quell.”29 The Gedi.”24 The great number of personal inscriptions defeat of autocracy and citing the Song of Songs militarism which had should also remind the brought on the war, and the present generation, no moral obligation imposed longer on instantly familiar by the horrendous cost terms with the King James to uphold the ideals of Version, not to overlook the freedom, democracy, and significance of epitaphs that concord among nations can sometimes pall through (“Justice owes them this, “A hero. He suffered and died for freedom’s cause. Asleep in repetition. Though often that what they died for Jesus.” The epitaph of Private George Fitch, 54th Battalion (buried in Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension) is one interpreted in allegorical not be overthrown”), 30 of many that express in words what James Clark’s The Great or mystical ways, the Song would ensure that such a Sacrifice conveys in image – the community of sacrifice of Songs was for the people catastrophe could never between Christ and the Glorious Dead. who lived at the time of happen again. In the minds the Great War the most of contemporaries the powerful expression of married love replacement of Tsarist Russia with general belief that this had been and the firmest pledge that this love democratic America in the Allied “the war to end all wars.” From our was stronger than death.25 coalition had reinvigorated the disillusioned perspective a century Allied cause by transforming it into on, this idealism seems wishful and Where the study of Canadian a crusade to create a better world naive, but the people who had these epitaphs proves most fruitful, (taking Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen epitaphs engraved on the headstones however, is in further elucidating the Points as its blueprint) that would of their loved ones had grown up themes of consolation so thoughtfully abide by a just and stable peace.31 The with the Victorian world view that explored by Jonathan Vance and in suffering and death had purpose, all broadening our understanding of the belief that a husband, son, or father disasters had a moral, and progress meaning assigned to the Great War had given his life in what was surely came at a price.27 They also belonged by those whose lives were blighted a divinely sanctioned cause (“Yet by loss and grief. Two inscriptions, remember this, God and our good to the first generation to realise “He gave his all for freedom, the cause fight upon our side”)32 found what kind of war the technically whole wide world to save” and “I advanced armies of industrialised, its way onto many a headstone: “He have given my life to promote peace fully mobilised countries could allured to a better world and led the 26 between nations,” encapsulate the fight; and they saw in this harrowing way”; “We grudge not our life if it 24 https://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh/vol22/iss2/3 6 : “Time but the impression deeper makes”* Approaches to Canadian Epitaphs of the Great War Published by Scholars Commons @ Laurier, 2013 artilleryman who died four days after the Armistice.38 The war was over, the long agony had ended, and death had been swallowed up in victory, leading many families to exalt their dead as “One of Christ’s faithful warriors,” “A volunteer for Jesus,” or “A Christian hero,”39 as they found solace in a conviction widely shared among Canadians that the battlefields of France and Flanders had been, in the words of John Arkwright’s hymn “O Valiant Hearts,” “a lesser Calvary.” For those pondering the reward for the soldiers who had not lived to see the victory which their travails had helped to achieve, there were comforting reminders from Scripture of God’s covenant with His Photographs by author give larger life to them that live”; “Liberty and freedom had to be won by the willing sacrifice of life”; “He died so that life might be a sweeter thing to all. He liveth.”33 “Christ Jesus Who gave Himself, a ransom for all”; “By his death our life revealing, he for us the ransom paid”; “He died for others. Even so did Christ.”34 From casting a soldier’s death as an offering towards a world made new, it was but a short step to hallowing the fallen as an elect who had died that their kin and country might live and, in the highest sense of sacrifice, laid down their lives for humanity: “Our soldier boy endured the Cross and won the crown” is one of many epitaphs assigning redemptive significance to the suffering of the soldiers who in remaining “faithful unto death” had given the ultimate proof of their devotion: “He gave his pure soul unto his captain Christ”; “Jesus died for me. I’m not afraid to die for Him.”35 As Vance has shown, after the Somme or Passchendaele, the established churches, which had wholeheartedly supported the war, were at a loss to explain the carnage in terms of historical theology or as the operation of God’s providence.36 The only explanation lay in passages emphasizing the Christian virtues of suffering and sacrifice (“Thou, therefore, endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ”) which bestowed meaning and purpose on the deaths of so many soldiers whose sacrifice had led to victory (in itself confirmation of the righteousness of the Allied cause) and the prospect of a world purged of iniquity: “The blood of Christ, God’s Son, cleanseth us from all sin,” on one soldier’s headstone, could not proclaim more forthrightly the belief that the fallen had done their part to redeem mankind by shedding their blood in willing emulation of the Redeemer.37 “It is finished,” Christ’s dying words in the Gospel of John, is inscribed on the headstone of a young servants: “And I will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten”; “And their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. Heb. 8. 12”; “If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him.”40 But where the soldiers’ endurance and sacrifice had won them salvation and life everlasting, the mourners had to carry on along their own Via dolorosa: “I lift my cross each day and think of thee, brave heart”; “He wears a crown. I wear a cross. Mother.”41 “For God and right. Let not a whisper fall that our hero died in vain.”42 Confronted by a death toll so terrible and benumbing, those left to cope with their grief were understandably inclined to embrace the idealism or religious faith that made the sacrifice meaningful and necessary. These were not the only barriers against the unwelcome – and unbearable – feeling of despair or futility at so great a loss of life. “I will give him a white stone and in the stone a new name – victory.”43 Canadians could also take considerable pride in the exploits of their soldiers which in many cases tempered the grief of the mourners. The same impulse that led Canadians to name schools, streets, geographical features, and even their children, after famous battles is apparent in epitaphs proudly noting soldiers’ deaths in the feats of arms that made the reputation of the Canadian Corps: “Died of wounds received at Ypres”; “He fell at the Above left: The Lusitania sinking affected Canadians as well as Americans. The headstone of Driver Albert Morrison, Canadian Field Artillery, “Whose father, Kenneth John Morrison, was lost on the Lusitania, May 7 1915.” Below left: “Go on, I’ll manage.” Testimony to the self-sacrifice of Private Ernest Proven, mortally wounded at Vimy Ridge and buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery. His brother, Sergeant Harry James Proven, was killed in September 1918. 25 7 Photograph by author. Canadian Military History, Vol. 22 [2013], Iss. 2, Art. 3 Headstones of Canadian soldiers killed in the Ypres Salient, 1916. Rifle House Cemetery, one of three Commonwealth cemeteries in Ploegsteert Wood. Somme. It is immortal honour”; “Mort à Vimy à l’age de trente ans en combattant pour la grande cause”; “Killed near Passchendaele”; “Killed in action at Cambrai”; and one more that reflected the renown won by the Canadians in spearheading the war-winning offensive that began at Amiens on 8 August 1918 – “Tomorrow will be Canada’s day.”44 Other epitaphs no less proudly record the soldier’s courage in the performance of his duties or the esteem in which his comrades held him: “Died for King and country while keeping line open under shell fire”; “Killed leading an attack at Regina Trench”; “Mentioned in despatches for gallant and distinguished conduct;” “Beloved by officers and men”; “His captain said ‘No braver soldier ever led men into battle’”45 – this last being one of several examples indicating that letters of condolence to next of kin 26 https://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh/vol22/iss2/3 inspired the inscription on a soldier’s grave. Just how protective Canadians were of the heroic and morally bracing legacy of the Canadian Corps can be seen on the headstone of a soldier killed in May 1917, five weeks after the United States entered the war. “I raised my boy to be a soldier” states the epitaph supplied by his mother.46 Her choice of words, baffling to our eyes, would have met with grim approval at the time. It is a Canadian retort to the popular American song, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Soldier,” which grated on Canadian nerves when the sanctimonious Yankees stayed out of a struggle that strained Canada to the limit, and again when the Doughboys began to claim all the credit for winning the war. 47 The doyen of Canada’s military historians, Charles Stacey (1906-1989), recalled a joke passed around after the war which had the American general Pershing annoyed about the late arrival of his cab in Paris. “When it did arrive, Pershing protested to the driver, who was a female, ‘My good woman, you’re three minutes late.’ And the lady replied, ‘My good man, you’re three years late.’”48 When borne in mind that the Dominion of Canada had lost a much greater proportion of her young manhood than had her far more populous, late-coming neighbour, both the levity and the epitaph make palpable Canadians’ resentment at the diminution of their efforts in the Great War, not simply for patriotic but for intensely personal reasons. A new appreciation of the composition of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and of the assorted backgrounds and loyalties of the men in its ranks, emerges from the epitaphs. If the CEF is pictured as a pyramid, the “Canadians” born in 8 : “Time but the impression deeper makes”* Approaches to Canadian Epitaphs of the Great War Photograph by author. another drawing attention to Canada’s a part of Canada’s experience of Britain would form the broad base of rediscovered war poets: “In years to the Great War as the deeds of her the structure, their origins indicated come when time is olden, Canada’s soldiers. May we take, for instance, by the hundreds of inscriptions dream shall be of them.”52 Within the many epitaphs emphasizing the noting addresses or birthplaces in the soldier’s voluntary enlistment or United Kingdom, and by professions the great cross-section of Canadian the ready acceptance of his duty (“I of allegiance to their native lands society represented in the epitaphs am going. My country needs me”) and empire: “A son of England – (“From a homestead, Quantock, as the last shots in the battle over from Canada, given to the Empire”; Sask.”; “Dearly beloved son of Maj. conscription?54 “Rejected four times, “Mortuus est pro Scotia” (i.e. “He Gen. S.C. Mewburn C.M.G. Minister 49 53 died for Scotland”). A sprinkling of Militia & Defence, Canada”), we accepted the fifth”; “Discharged from N.Z. forces as unfit, having lost of epitaphs in Welsh (“Yn eich Duw find faint but perceptible echoes of the sight of an eye. Re-enlisted at coeliwch uchw dig gelyn all alw’n the trials and controversies as much Vancouver”55 – what do iach” – “Believe in God and even your enemy these two extraordinary The headstone of Private Victor Hugo Sorensen, a Danish will respect you”) and examples tell us volunteer “kept in loving memory by his loved ones in Denmark.” in Scots Gaelic (“G’un about the standards robh dia grasmhor for enlistment as the ohuit a mhic” – “God need for men became be gracious to you, my ever more desperate son”) show that English after 1916? The was by no means the paucity of epitaphs mother tongue of all in French testifies to the British immigrants Quebec’s indifference who made up half the to an English war, 50 CEF. The next layer yet if few in number these adieux attest to up would contain the the determination men born in Canada, of the only Frenchwhose epitaphs display speaking battalion in an increasingly selfthe teeming hosts of conscious national the British Empire to identity. Many record uphold the reputation Canadian birthplaces; of their people on the and while declarations field of battle: “O Dieu, of loyalty to Britain prenez ma vie pour and Empire abound Votre gloire et celle du (“One of Canada’s Canada-français”; “A la gifts to the Empire, a fleur de l’age il sacrifia life”), a swelling tide of héroïquement sa vie Canadian sentiments pour son pays.”56 Also (“Our lad is a hero, great Canada’s pride”) among the epitaphs that support the general should spur interest in consensus that the Great the groups which have War marked the first until recently gained step on the road from little purchase in the Dominion to nation.51 predominantly EnglishCanadian narrative of Nor was all the patriotic the war are the ones phraseology penned which commemorate in Britain, for we find native soldiers (“One an epitaph citing what of the many Canadian would one day become Indians who died the national anthem for the Empire”) and (“O Canada, he stood the men from nonon guard for thee”) and Published by Scholars Commons @ Laurier, 2013 27 9 Canadian Military History, Vol. 22 [2013], Iss. 2, Art. 3 British backgrounds (“He was the first Icelander to give his life for Canada”).57 As we move up towards the apex of the pyramid, the CEF begins to resemble the Foreign Legion. Not surprisingly, given the geographical proximity, we come upon Americans who headed “over there” by way of Canada long before April 1917. One acted on the outrage felt by Americans at an incident that nearly brought the United States into the war in 1915: “A volunteer from the U.S.A. to avenge the Lusitania murder.”58 Some were students (“One of American Harvard vanguard, entering Canadian service in 1916”) motivated by the desire to help not Britain but a country much dearer to American hearts: “A citizen of the United States who fought and died for France.”59 One wonders if this young man ever crossed paths with Private Victor Hugo Sørensen, one of a surprising number of soldiers identified by their inscriptions as a “Dansk frivillig” (Danish volunteer).60 A handful, like Sørensen and the impressively named Count Ove Krag-Juel-Vind-Frijs, 61 had immigrated to Canada, yet most were Danish citizens motivated either by the strongly Francophile tendencies shown in Private Sørensen’s given names, or, as is more likely the case, by lingering anger at Bismarck’s craftily orchestrated annexation of Schleswig-Holstein in 1864 and concerns that the Kaiser’s Germany had the same regard for Danish neutrality as it did for Belgian. A handful of epitaphs in Dutch may hint that men from another traditionally neutral country bordering Germany shared these apprehensions. If the Danish and Dutch volunteers were 20 years ahead of their time, there were others whose motives to enlist in Canadian service had more to do with defeating Germany’s major ally. The epitaph of a Czech who died on active service with the Canadian Pioneers strikes the nationalistic note of a people longing to be free from 28 https://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh/vol22/iss2/3 Austro-Hungarian rule: “Lehkou ti zeme Belgie chloubo matky čechie” – “May the earth of Belgium be light upon you, pride of the Czech motherland”; 62 that of a Serbian immigrant and volunteer leads us to shake our heads yet again at the incredible interplay of events that linked Canada in common cause with a country to which few Canadians can have given much thought before 28 June 1914: “Za otatsbinu i saveznika život svoj dao” – “For his fatherland and ally he gave his life.”63 The study of the personal inscriptions, as this paper has attempted to show, touches on subjects ranging from the broad to the particular, casting light on national, cultural, and social history, and, above all, on the myriad experiences and stories submerged within the vast depths of the Great War. “Be ashamed to die until you have gained some victory for humanity’; “Son of my heart, live for ever. There is no death for you and me”; “It is well done, Dad”64 – ennobling, saddening, austere, rarely bitter, never cynical, the epitaphs cannot fail to touch the hearts of sympathetic readers; however, to return to the flight of archaeological fancy with which we opened, it has been the purpose of this paper to take the reader below the layer of emotion and expose the strata where further investigations must begin if the epitaphs are to enhance our understanding of the memory of the Great War. It is no great revelation to say that the epitaphs speak with the voice of a very different time, not of artists or writers, but of a populace in mourning. It warrants saying only to point us in the direction in which further research should proceed – back into the nineteenth century, not forward into the twentieth, led by Jay Winter and other scholars who have rightly insisted on the durability of the cultural traditions which sustained the generation faced with the mass death of the Great War, and would sustain a following generation faced with the mass evil of the Great War’s sequel.65 Only by excavating, so to speak, down to the foundation of the epitaphs, unearthing clues to the reasons behind their choice and setting them firmly in the cultural context of their time, can we hope to retain our ever attenuating link with a generation whose response to the tragedy of the war is so rich in historical and human interest. Notes 1. The contrast between the attitudes of one time and those of another struck one historian at Tyne Cot War Cemetery as he compared the inscriptions on the headstones with the comments in the visitors’ book; see Paul Reed, “Vestiges of War: Passchendaele revisited,” in Peter H. Liddle, ed., Passchendaele in Perspective. The Third Battle of Ypres (London: Leo Cooper, 1997), pp.467-78, esp. 471-72. 2. Epitaphs of Private George Brignell, 54th Battalion Canadian Infantry [CI] (Cantimpré Canadian Cemetery); Private Albert Kick, 4th Battalion CI (Sancourt British Cemetery); Private Alec Feltham, 52nd Battalion CI (Nine Elms British Cemetery). 3. Best described by David Cannadine, “War and death, grief and mourning in modern Britain,” in Joachim Whaley, ed., Mirrors of Mortality: Studies in the Social History of Death (London: The Stanhope Press, 1981), pp.187-242, esp. 212-17. See also Jonathan Vance, “Remembering Armageddon,” in David Mackenzie, ed., Canada and the First World War: Essays in Honour of Robert Craig Brown (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005), pp.409-33, and Alan R. Young, “We throw the torch’: Canadian Memorials of the Great War and the Mythology of Heroic Sacrifice,” Journal of Canadian Studies 24, no.4 (Winter 1989-90), pp.5-28. 4. Philip Longworth, The Unending Vigil: A History of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (Reprinted Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen and Sword Books, 2003); Mark Quinlan, Remembrance (Hertford: Authors OnLine Ltd., 2005, pp.69-153). The cemeteries in which Canada’s Great War dead are interred are the subject of Norm Christie’s projected Sacred Places: Canadian Cemeteries of the Great War (Ottawa: CEF Books, 2011-). 5. John Laffin, We Will Remember Them: AIF Epitaphs of World War 1 (Kenthurst, New South Wales, Australia: Kangaroo Press, 1995); Trefor Jones, On Fame’s Eternal Camping Ground: A Study of First World War Epitaphs in the British Cemeteries of 10 : “Time but the impression deeper makes”* Approaches to Canadian Epitaphs of the Great War 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. the Western Front (Trowbridge, Wiltshire: Cromwell Press, Ltd., 2007). The study of the epitaphs and the standard themes of consolation which have endured in western culture from Antiquity down to the present day begins with Richmond Lattimore, Themes in Greek and Latin Epitaphs (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1962), esp. pp.215-65, and Joshua Scodel, The English Poetic Epitaph: Commemoration and Conflict from Jonson to Wordsworth (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1991). This cuts both ways, since scholars writing on the epitaphic tradition have not taken the personal inscriptions of the two world wars into consideration. They have no place, for example, in Karl Guthke’s otherwise valuable study, Epitaph Culture in the West: Variations on a Theme in Cultural History (LewistonQueenston-Lampeter: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2003), pp.325-58. British, Canadian, Newfoundland, Australian, and South African epitaphs would come together within this corpus. The New Zealand government forbade personal inscriptions on the grounds that not all families would be able to afford the cost involved. Though one can appreciate the egalitarian spirit of this decision, it must be reckoned a great loss to posterity that the families of New Zealand soldiers – so highly regarded for their performance in both world wars – could not add their voice to the commemoration and popular memory of the Kiwis. Jones estimates that about 45 percent of identified graves have an inscription, noting that the percentage on officers’ graves is much higher since their families could afford the fee charged by the Commission (which was eventually made voluntary, but too late for poorer families who had declined to submit an inscription). The issue of cost did not affect Canadian families since the Canadian government covered the cost of inscriptions. See On Fame’s Eternal Camping Ground, pp.11-12; Longworth, The Unending Vigil, p.44. Lieutenant Alfred Evans, buried in Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension. In full it reads: “In loving memory of Lieutenant Alfred James Lawrence Evans. B.Sc. McGill. 1st Canadian Division 7th December 1915. Aged 26 years. Born at Quebec. Died of wounds received on 23rd November 1915 while in command of 1st Bde Mining Sec. 3rd Btn. front line trenches, Belgium. Mentioned in despatches for gallant and distinguished conduct in the field. ‘The brave die never, being deathless they but change their country’s arms for more, their country’s heart.’” Private Reuben Haley, Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (Puchevillers British Cemetery); Private Thomas Quinlan, Royal Warwickshire Regiment (Ration Farm Cemetery); Private William Rae, 20th Battalion Australian Published by Scholars Commons @ Laurier, 2013 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. Infantry (Villers-Bretonneux Cemetery); Lieutenant Arthur Young, Royal Irish Fusiliers (Tyne Cot Cemetery); Sergeant William Clegg, Canadian Army Medical Corps (Bramshott Churchyard). Private Albert Ingham, Manchester Regiment, (Bailleulmont Communal Cemetery); on his execution and his father’s insistence on having the details of his death inscribed on his headstone, see Cathryn Corns and John Hughes-Wilson, Blindfold and Alone: British Military Executions in the Great War (London: Cassell and Company, 2001), pp.256-60. The recommendations on personal inscriptions were set out by Sir Frederic Kenyon, War Graves. How the Cemeteries Abroad Will Be Designed (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1918) (reprinted in Quinlan, Remembrance, pp.245-63 (the relevant passage on pp.251-52); Rudyard Kipling, The Graves of the Fallen (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1919), passim. See also Jones, On Fame’s Eternal Camping Ground, pp.8-14, and Laffin, We Will Remember Them, pp.24-27, with examples of the inscriptions suggested by the Commission. See John Morley, Death, Heaven and the Victorians (London: Studio Vista, 1971), pp.42-44, 52-57; Guthke, Epitaph Culture in the West, pp.67-81; Karen Sanchez-Eppler, “Decomposing: Wordsworth’s poetry of epitaphs and English burial reform,” Nineteenth-Century Literature 42, no.4 (1988), pp.415-31. Private Alfred Cogan, Canadian Army Medical Corps (Oxford Road Cemetery). On the reading material in Ontario schools before and during the war, and the values it imparted, see the illuminating, well-judged new study by Susan Fisher, Boys and Girls in No Man’s Land: English-Canadian Children and the First World War (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), pp.15-27, 51-103. Timothy Larsen, A People of One Book: The Bible and the Victorians (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp.1-8, 295-98. Private William Barnes, 19th Battalion CI (Warloy-Baillon Communal Cemetery Extension); Private James MacDonald, 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles (Menin Road South Military Cemetery); Driver Charles Maxted, Canadian Engineers (Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery); Private Alfred Blackmore, 46th Battalion CI (London Cemetery and Extension). Michelle Fowler, “Faith, Hope and Love: The wartime motivation of Lance Corporal Frederick Spratlin, MM and Bar, 3rd Battalion, CEF,” Canadian Military History 15, no.1 (Winter 2006), pp.4550. Lance Corporal Spratlin died on 8 August 1918, and lies buried in Toronto (Demuin) Cemetery. Given the strength of his character and convictions, the inscription on his headstone, “I died that truth and honour might live,” is no empty sentiment. The evidence of the epitaphs also throws light on the religious beliefs of Great War soldiers studied by Richard 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. Schweitzer, The Cross and the Trenches: Religious Faith and Doubt among British and American Great War Soldiers (Westport, CN and London: Praeger, 2003), pp.84117, 129-39; see also Duff Crerar, Padres in No Man’s Land: Canadian Chaplains and the Great War (Montreal-Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1995), pp.161-65. Private Arthur Jones, Royal Newfoundland Regiment (Knightsbridge Cemetery). Private William McGreer, 47th Battalion CI (Cérisy-Gailly Military Cemetery). The Australian historian Bruce Scates gives an example of an epitaph rejected by the Commission (“His loving parents curse the Hun”) and again when resubmitted (“With every breath we draw we curse the Germans more”); see Return to Gallipoli: Walking the Battlefields of the Great War (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp.48-53. Private Vernon Earle, 27th Battalion CI (Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery). Private Eugene Smith, 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles (Bouchoir New British Cemetery); Private William Harpham, 50th Battalion CI (La Chaudière Military Cemetery). Private Kenneth Neil MacDonald, 13th Battalion CI (Rue-Petillon Military Cemetery). The interpretative approaches to the Song of Songs in Jewish and Christian exegesis are reviewed by Marvin H. Pope in The Anchor Bible: Song of Songs. A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, Inc., 1977). Private Adon Smith, 87th Battalion CI (Adanac Military Cemetery); Private Emanuel Fulton, 31st Battalion CI (Passchendaele New British Cemetery). It is very striking to compare reactions to the First World War with reactions to various catastrophes in the Victorian Age. To take one example, the collapse of the Tay River Bridge in 1879 was seen as a regrettable but acceptable accident in the great march of progress. As one contemporary put it, “life is not lost which is spent or sacrificed in the grand enterprises of useful industry.” See John Prebble, The High Girders (London: Pan Books, Ltd., 1959), p.59. Private John Wray, Lancashire Fusiliers (Authuille Military Cemetery); Sergeant Wellesley Taylor, 14th Battalion CI (Chester Farm Cemetery). Private Albert Boustead, 15th Battalion CI (Bruay Communal Cemetery Extension); Private Harrison Allen, 16th Battalion CI (Villers Station Cemetery). Private George Hargrave, 29th Battalion CI (Brussels Town Cemetery). The ideological contest of the Great War, and the issues at stake in the minds of contemporaries, are well expounded by John Bourne, “The European and International consequences of the Armistice,” in Hugh Cecil and Peter Liddle, eds., At the Eleventh Hour. 29 11 Canadian Military History, Vol. 22 [2013], Iss. 2, Art. 3 32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. Reflections, Hopes and Anxieties at the Closing of the Great War, 1918 (Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen and Sword Books, 1998), pp.315-326. The impetus given by American churches to the notion of a Crusade for a better world has been analysed by Richard M. Gamble, The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, the Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nation (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2003), pp.163-79, 209ff. Private Sydney Turner, 2nd Battalion CI (Fosse No.10 Cemetery); Private Reginald Aldridge, 5th Battalion CI (Bully-Grenay Communal Cemetery, British Extension). Company Sergeant-Major Arthur Dunlop, 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles (Nine Elms British Cemetery); Captain Alexander MacGregor, 28th Battalion CI (Rosières Communal Cemetery and Extension); Private William Stanley Mills, 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles (Maple Copse Cemetery); Private William Sime, 29th Battalion CI (Adanac Military Cemetery). Private Mackie Stewart, 102nd Battalion CI (Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery); Private Alexander Dunn, 78th Battalion CI (Barlin Communal Cemetery); Lieutenant Thomas MacKinlay, 29th Battalion CI (Boulogne Eastern Cemetery). Private Charles Everett Clark, 5th Battalion CI (Maroc British Cemetery); Lieutenant Guy Drummond, 13th Battalion CI (Tyne Cot Cemetery); Private Alexander McDonald, Canadian Machine Gun Corps (Bac-du-Sud British Cemetery). Jonathan Vance, Death So Noble: Memory, Meaning, and the First World War (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997), pp.35-48. Private Ernest McClelland, 1st Battalion CI (Chester Farm Cemetery). Driver Alex Henderson, Canadian Field Artillery (Etaples Military Cemetery). Lance Corporal Colin Broughton, 5th Battalion CI (Railway Dugouts Burial Ground); Private John Reid, 52nd Battalion CI (Nine Elms British Cemetery); Private Leslie Unthank, 18th Battalion CI (Ridge Wood Cemetery). Corporal William Bowyer, 7th Battalion CI (Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension), citing Joel 2: 25; Corporal Alfred Jones, 20th Battalion CI (Ridge Wood Cemetery); Sergeant David Hunter, 102nd Battalion CI (Givenchy Road Canadian Cemetery), citing 2 Timothy 2: 12. Lieutenant William Clipperton, 8th Battalion CI (Lapugnoy Military Cemetery); Private Charles Ainslie, 8th Battalion CI (Brookwood Military Cemetery). Lieutenant Lloyd Scott, 38th Battalion CI (Bourlon Wood Cemetery). Private Hal Bowers, 47th Battalion CI (La Chaudière Military Cemetery). Private Eusèbe Loiseau, 22nd (French Canadian) Battalion (Wimereux Communal Cemetery); Private James Stickels, Royal Canadian Regiment (Contay British Cemetery); Private 30 https://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh/vol22/iss2/3 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. Arthur Goyette, 22nd (French Canadian) Battalion (Bruay Communal Cemetery Extension); Private Edward Beldam, 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles (Tyne Cot Cemetery); Private William Bartling, 52nd Battalion CI (Canada Cemetery); Lieutenant-Colonel Elmer Jones, DSO and Bar, 21st Battalion CI (Longeau British Cemetery). It is worth noting that references to the battles of the war set the corpus of Canadian epitaphs apart from British and Australian collections, in which one finds comparatively fewer specific mentions of the engagements where the soldier lost his life. Sergeant Harold Flynn, 38th Battalion CI (Albert Communal Cemetery); Lieutenant Willoughby Chatterton, 3rd Battalion CI (Adanac Military Cemetery); Major Edward Norsworthy, 13th Battalion CI (Tyne Cot Cemetery); Corporal George Brown, Canadian Field Artillery (Brandhoek New Military Cemetery No. 3); Lieutenant Eric Lane, 85th Battalion CI (Vis-en-Artois British Cemetery). Private Mostyn Scott Sands, 28th Battalion CI (La Targette Military Cemetery). Vance, Death So Noble, pp.176-80; see also Paul Litt, “Canada Invaded! The Great War, Mass Culture, and Canadian Cultural Nationalism,” in Canada in the First World War, pp.323-49, esp. 333-40. C.P. Stacey, Canada in the Age of Conflict: A History of Canadian External Policies. Vol.1: 1867-1921 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984), p.234. 2nd Lieutenant Francis Lawledge, Royal Flying Corps (Bailleul Road East Cemetery); Private Harry Walker, 29th Battalion CI (Wulverghem-Lindenhoek Road Military Cemetery). Private Llewellyn Jones, 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles (La Targette Military Cemetery); Lance Corporal Alexander MacDonald, 72nd Battalion CI (Nine Elms British Cemetery). Private William Smith, 49th Battalion CI (Raillencourt Communal Cemetery Extension); Private Wilfrid Spicer, 2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles (Caix British Cemetery). Private Reginald Box, 16th Battalion CI (Sancourt British Cemetery); Gunner Donald McKinnon, Canadian Field Artillery (Aubigny Communal Cemetery Extension). The line is taken from a poem by Helena Coleman (1860-1953), “Autumn, 1917,” which appeared in her Marching Men: War Verses, first published in 1917 and republished in 2008 by Dodo Press. The themes and diction of Canadian war verse would make for an interesting comparative study with the epitaphs; see Jonathan Vance, “Battle verse: Poetry and nationalism after Vimy Ridge,” in Geoffrey Hayes, Andrew Iarocci, and Mike Bechthold, eds., Vimy Ridge: A Canadian Reassessment (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2007), pp.265-77. On the resurgence of interest in Canada’s war poets, see Joel Baetz, Canadian Poetry from World War I: 53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58. 59. 60. 61. 62. 63. 64. 65. An Anthology (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2009). Private Ayrton Wragge, 13th Battalion CI (Puchevillers British Cemetery); Lieutenant John Mewburn, 18th Battalion CI (Courcelette British Cemetery). Private Edward Panabaker, PPCLI (Nine Elms British Cemetery). Private Charles Turner, 10th Battalion CI (Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery); Private Arthur Hackney, 29th Battalion CI (Rosières Communal Cemetery Extension). Lieutenant Joseph Hudon, 22nd (French Canadian) Battalion (Tranchée de Mecknes Cemetery); Captain Maurice Bauset, 22nd (French Canadian) Battalion (Sunken Road Cemetery, Contalmaison). On the 22nd Battalion as the standardbearer of French Canada’s martial reputation, see Jean-Pierre Gagnon, Le 22e bataillon (canadien-français) 19141919 (Ottawa et Québec: Les Presses de l’Université Laval, 1986), pp.301-307. Private Lawrence Marten, 52nd Battalion CI (Wimereux Communal Cemetery); Private Magdal Hermanson, 8th Battalion CI (Wimereux Communal Cemetery). Driver Leland Fernald, Canadian Field Artillery (Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery). Lieutenant Phillip Comfort Starr, Royal Engineers (Bedford House Cemetery); Private Roy Marshall, Canadian Army Service Corps (Lapugnoy Military Cemetery). Private Sørensen, 4th Battalion CI, is buried in Quatre-Vents Military Cemetery. His name is incorrectly rendered on his Canadian attestation paper and in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database as “Sorenson.” Buried in Kemmel Chateau Military Cemetery; his inscription in Danish would read in English: “Now my eyes are closed, Father in Heaven, and I enter the care of the world above.” Private Dominick Naplava, Canadian Pioneers (Tyne Cot Cemetery). Private Chris Meti (Metič), Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (BoisCarré British Cemetery). Lance Corporal George Edward Pike, Royal Newfoundland Regiment (Y Ravine Cemetery); Private Hal Sutton, 5th Battalion CI (Hinges Military Cemetery); Private Richard Boughton, 21st Battalion CI (Courcelette British Cemetery). The reliance on Great War precedents in the epitaphs commemorating Canada’s Second World War dead is discussed in my book, Words of Valediction and Remembrance: Canadian Epitaphs of the Second World War (St. Catharines: Vanwell Publishing Ltd, 2008), pp.44-54, 57-91. Eric McGeer teaches Latin and History at St. Clement’s School in Toronto. He is currently working on the military history of the University of Toronto, focussing mainly on the university’s contingent of the Canadian Officers’ Training Corps. 12 Canadian Military History Volume 20 Issue 2 Article 5 2011 The 1936 Vimy Pilgrimage Eric Brown Tim Cook Canadian War Museum, tim.cook@warmuseum.ca Follow this and additional works at: https://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh Recommended Citation Brown, Eric and Cook, Tim "The 1936 Vimy Pilgrimage." Canadian Military History 20, 2 (2011) This Canadian War Museum is brought to you for free and open access by Scholars Commons @ Laurier. It has been accepted for inclusion in Canadian Military History by an authorized editor of Scholars Commons @ Laurier. For more information, please contact scholarscommons@wlu.ca. Brown and Cook: 1936 Vimy Pilgrimage The 1936 Vimy Pilgrimage Eric Brown and Tim Cook C anadians regard the Battle of Vimy Ridge as an iconic event in our nation’s history. The story of Vimy has been taught to succeeding generations in English Canada, to the point where it has been embraced by many as one of our country’s founding myths.1 The four Canadian divisions, consisting of soldiers from across the dominion, came together to attack the reputedly impregnable German-held ridge in northern France over the Easter weekend of 9 to 12 April 1917. Through meticulous preparation, training, determination, and sacrifice, the Canadians succeeded where both the British and French armies had failed in the past. The Corps’ victory solidified its reputation among allies and opponents as an elite fighting force. But this was no glide to victory, with the 100,000-strong Canadian Corps suffering 10,602 casualties.2 Countless newspaper articles, histories, children’s books, documentaries, novels, plays and A b s t r a c t : T h i s a r t i c l e ex p l o r e s the significance of the 1936 Vimy Pilgrimage. More than 6,200 Canadian veterans and their families voyaged to France for the unveiling of Walter Allward’s Vimy Memorial on 26 July 1936 by King Edward VIII. The symbolism of the pilgrimage, along with the messages presented during the unveiling ceremony, played a key role in establishing the importance of the Vimy Ridge memorial to Canadians. poems have been produced about Vimy as a central event in the Canadian war effort. Individually and collectively, these cultural products have shaped our memory of the battle. While almost every component of the preparation and fighting at Vimy has been dissected by historians, few have attempted to examine carefully the story of why Vimy Ridge matters to Canadians.3 How did a battle at the mid-point of the Great War become a founding myth that is now woven into our history and national identity? Vimy over time has become more than a battle, because it represents to many Canadians, much like the 1915 Gallipoli campaign for Australians, an event where the nation seemed to be fundamentally changed from a self-governing colony to a fullfledged nation. In Canada, this is represented by the much-repeated phrase that Vimy was the “birth of a nation.”4 This article seeks to unpack some of the strands of constructed memory surrounding the battle and the memorial. By examining the pilgrimage to Vimy made by more than 6,200 Canadian veterans and family members for the unveiling of the Vimy Memorial on 26 July 1936, we hope to shed light on how the battle was infused with new meaning, and perhaps how Vimy and the memorial became lodged firmly in the Canadian imagination.5 © Canadian Military History, Volume2011 20, Number 2, Spring 2011, pp.37-54. Published by Scholars Commons @ Laurier, Choosing a Memorial T he Great War killed an estimated ten million combatants, of which Canada contributed more than 60,000 to that grim figure. As a result of this sacrifice, and perhaps directly because of the agonizingly high number of deaths, Canada was said to have come of age during the war. Canada was different after the war, but these changes were not immediately apparent. In 1919, hundreds of thousands of veterans returned to a grief-riven and debtladen country plagued with social unrest. The conscription crisis had revealed old and new fault lines with English pitted against French, labour against employers, farmers against urbanites. Résumé : L’article analyse les activités des membres du Corps expéditionnaire canadien pendant leurs temps libres en Grande-Bretagne lors de la Première Guerre mondiale. Pour plusieurs de ces soldats en poste outre-mer, ce pays devint leur « chez-soi à l’étranger », et Londres, leur principal lieu de séjour. En dépit du fait que des milliers de soldats du Corps purent visiter la capitale britannique, les autorités canadiennes, fédérales et militaires, conservèrent une approche passive en ce qui avait trait aux activités des hommes en dehors de leur service. Préoccupée de leur bienêtre, la philanthrope canadienne Julia Drummond mit sur pied le seul . 37 1 Photo by Mike Bechthold Canadian Military History, Vol. 20 [2011], Iss. 2, Art. 5 The Vimy Memorial. Because of the deep scars left by the war, many Canadians felt compelled to mark the nation’s sacrifice. Plaques, books and histories; stained glass windows, statues and edifices; official medals, certificates and awards – these and many other forms of commemoration provided meaning for Canadians.6 Memorials were erected in communities large and small, many with the names of the fallen engraved upon them. The Peace Tower of the Parliament Buildings and the National Cenotaph were commemorative structures, but before their unveilings in 1927 and 1939, there were also calls to erect memorials on the battlefields of Europe. Shortly after the Armistice on 11 November 1918, the commander of the Canadian Corps, LieutenantGeneral Sir Arthur Currie, and a small group of his officers met with British military officials to select battle sites that were significant to the Canadian Corps, although not, it should be noted, to those formations, like the Cavalry Brigade, that fought outside of the Corps. Eight sites were selected for monuments and recommended to the government in Ottawa.7 The minister of militia and defence, Hugh Guthrie, introduced a motion in the House of Commons on 21 April 1920, “to consider and report upon the question of what memorials, if any, should be erected on the battlefields 38 https://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh/vol20/iss2/5 of the late war to commemorate the gallantry of Canadian troops.” His motion received the unanimous support of the Commons. 8 With this vote, the House also agreed to the establishment of the Canadian Battlefields Memorials Commission (CBMC), a seven-member body under the chairmanship of Sydney Mewburn, a former minister of militia and defence.9 The CBMC was responsible for drawing up the specifications for the proposed monuments, which, at that time, were conceived as stones of remembrance. The sites were all significant Canadian Corps’ battles: five in France, at Vimy Ridge, Bourlon Wood, Le Quesnel, Dury and Coucelette, and three in Belgium, at St. Julien, Hill 62 (Sanctuary Wood) and Passchendaele. 10 The public competition for the design of the monuments was open to all Canadian architects, designers, and sculptors.11 Two years later, during a sitting of the House in May 1922, Mewburn informed members, and the nation, that the design of Walter Allward had been selected for the national overseas memorial. 12 A second memorial, designed by Regina architect Frederick Clemesha, The Brooding Soldier, was to be erected on the Second Ypres battlefield near St. Julien where Canadians faced the first chlorine gas attack of the war. Clemesha also designed the remaining six Canadian monuments, each one constructed from blocks of rectangular, grey Canadian granite, and bearing inscriptions related to the battle they commemorate. The CBMC had initially decided that Allward’s memorial was to be erected at Hill 60 in the Ypres salient, near the site of the June 1916 Battle of Mount Sorrel. While this was ground that offered a commanding view of the countryside, the battle itself was a costly draw at best, and certainly not an inspiring victory. Vimy Ridge was a better choice, although not a universal one, because the CBMC selection committee believed, strangely, that Allward’s memorial “would be lost in the mass of the ridge.”13 Others agreed that Vimy was not an ideal location for the memorial. The influential Sir Arthur Currie had remarked in April 1922 to a former Corps veteran – and also expressed this view to the members of the CBMC – that if they place the large memorial at Vimy it will confirm for all time the impression which exists in the minds of the majority of the people of Canada that Vimy was the greatest battle fought by the Canadians in France. In my mind that is very far from being a fact. We fought other battles where the moral and material results were greater and more far reaching than Vimy’s victory. There were other victories also that reflected to a greater degree the training and efficiency of the Corps. Vimy was a set piece for which we had trained and rehearsed for weeks. It did not call for the same degree of resource and initiative that were displayed in any of the three great battles of the last hundred days - Amiens, Arras, Cambrai.14 Although he was not alone in his thinking, he nevertheless agreed that 2 Brown and Cook: 1936 Vimy Pilgrimage monument commemorating the 1885 Northwest Rebellion. He was eighteen years old. This was followed by the stunning South African War Memorial in Toronto, which was erected in 1910.17 Upon being chosen to build the national monument, Allward was obliged to give up his work on several commissions already in progress, including Peterborough and Brantford war memorials. After selling his house and studio in Toronto, he moved with his family to London, England, during the summer of 1922 where, in his words, “my whole time [was] being given to Vimy.”18 Allward later remarked that the vision of the Vimy memorial came to him while in a Toronto park. He sketched on an old envelope two pylons, representing the mourning nations of Canada and France.19 While it was an oversight that Belgium, which had suffered grievously during the war and where thousands of Canadians had shed their blood, was omitted from Allward’s conception, the monument would eventually be perceived as not just a memorial for France and Canada, but as a memorial to the sacrifices of an entire generation of Canadians. While the construction and analysis of the memorial, with its many allegorical figures, is beyond the scope of this article, Vimy is aweinspiring in conception, size, and design, and regarded by many as one of finest war memorials of the Great War. Pilgrimages and Tours T ours to the Western Front battlefields began soon after the Armistice with veterans and civilians from Britain making the short and inexpensive trip across the English Channel to France and Belgium. They went for a number of reasons: to find the grave of a loved one, to accompany a veteran, or perhaps Library and Archives Canada (LAC) e002852543 the heights of Vimy Ridge would make an impressive setting. It would appear, however, that the Canadian prime minister, W. L. Mackenzie King, was the most influential champion for the Vimy Ridge site. While he had not fought in the war, and had never seen Vimy Ridge, King believed it was “hallowed ground” and that Allward’s memorial should be placed there as “Canada’s altar on European soil.” 15 These were inspiring, and perhaps surprising, words coming from a politician who spent much of his life countering criticism for not donning a uniform during the Great War. The prime minister eventually had his way and after intergovernmental negotiation with the French, which involved King’s personal intervention, Canada purchased and accepted donations of the land needed for the construction of the six stone memorials and The Brooding Soldier. In December 1922, the French government ceded 248 acres [approximately 100 hectares] on and surrounding Vimy Ridge to Canada in perpetuity. Contained within this parcel of land were two military cemeteries, German and Canadian trenches, a series of underground tunnels, and tens of thousands of unexploded and buried bombs and shells.16 It was here, over the next decade and a half, that Walter Allward would construct the national memorial. Walter Seymour Allward was already one of Canada’s most accomplished sculptors. Although his formal training as a sculptor and architect was not extensive, Allward’s ability and skill had won him his first commission in 1894 for the construction of Toronto’s Walter Allward, the designer of the Vimy Memorial, stands beside his masterpiece as it is constructed. Published by Scholars Commons @ Laurier, 2011 39 3 Canadian Military History, Vol. 20 [2011], Iss. 2, Art. 5 to simply walk over the desolate landscape before it flourished again as farmland. Tour books, battlefield guides, and maps guided the curious and bereaved alike in the footsteps of the soldiers. Attesting to the Great War’s influence on British society, in 1919, for instance, about 60,000 visitors explored the Western Front.20 Yet these tourists were often derided by veterans for trivializing the war, sneered at as “curious and disrespectful day-jaunters, sallying out from their comfortable hotels in fast motor cars,” buying gaudy souvenirs, and generally demeaning the war experience.21 The Western Front was not a place for mere sightseeing; too much blood had been spilled. However, pilgrims were seen as far different, as they engaged in more solemn acts of remembrance. There was a sacred nature ascribed to their sojourns. They often travelled with fellow grievers, stopping to place flowers or wreaths in the newly created cemeteries, speaking of their experiences in hushed voices. For mourning family members and warhaunted veterans, these reverential trips were about seeking answers and finding closure. It was much more difficult and expensive for pilgrims or visitors from Canada and Newfoundland to make the trans-Atlantic voyage. Although many veterans and their families from the overseas dominions felt compelled to visit the places and “imagined spaces” that they had seen in photographs and films, and read about in newspapers or histories, many could not overcome the obstacle of cost. In 1923, Thomas Nangle, an ambitious former chaplain of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment who had played a key role in rallying political, business, and veterans’ support for the erection of a memorial at Beaumont Hamel, attempted to organize a veterans’ pilgrimage to the unveiling of the site in 1925. Unfortunately, the expense and the length of time away from jobs 40 https://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh/vol20/iss2/5 made it impossible for the majority of Newfoundland’s veterans to even contemplate such a trip. Despite pleas for support in newspapers and veterans’ magazines, plans for a 500-strong pilgrimage had to be cancelled. 22 Over the years, however, numerous Canadians and Newfoundlanders did make the journey overseas individually or in small, unofficial groups. In 1927, for example, 30 pilgrims from the Maritimes made what is thought to be the first large group tour from Canada. 23 However, this trip was overshadowed by the pilgrimage of 15,000 American veterans and families to the Western Front that same year.24 During the 1928 national convention of the Canadian Legion, delegates passed a unanimous resolution asking that a pilgrimage be organized to the Western Front battlefields.25 Partially inspired by the Americans, but also no doubt miffed that the Yanks had carried it off first, the resolution instructed the Legion’s Dominion Council to approach railway and steamship companies in Canada, Britain, and on the continent to negotiate “the best rates which can be made available” for those wishing to go, and, should there be subsequent interest, to make arrangements for a trip.26 The concept of a pilgrimage – as it was soon known – soon began to take form, and the Legion aimed to coordinate the pilgrimage with the unveiling of Allward’s memorial, which was expected to take place sometime in 1931 or 1932. The stock market crash of 1929, and the high unemployment and financial uncertainty that followed in the nearly decade-long depression, was a blow to the Legion’s hopes for wide participation in the pilgrimage. Allward’s memorial had also been delayed, due in part to the sculptor’s obsessive search for the perfect stone. A series of minor controversies flared in the press and the House of Commons over the delays, but Allward would not be rushed. 27 Despite the problems with the memorial and the crushing Depression, the pilgrimage proceeded, in the words of decorated Great War veteran W.W. Murray, “quietly but with a dogged determination to see it realized.”28 In the summer of 1934, there was an enormous reunion of Canadian veterans in Toronto. For three days and nights some 75,000 veterans gathered to meet old comrades, sing familiar songs, and relive the best parts of the war. 29 One veterans’ pamphlet observed, “For those days of Ypres and Vimy Ridge and the Somme are unforgettable. As in shadowy procession they pass and re-pass, each awakens memories in the men who knew them. And once more we travel down a road that is twenty years away and share again its friendship, romance, laughter and tragedy.”30 The reunion was a celebration of service and an opportunity to embrace nostalgic memories. While many Canadians, veterans among them, decried the war as a senseless slaughter, and this was captured in memoirs and novels that were published during this period, most veterans did not want to completely turn their backs on the war.31 While there was much to lament about the terrible loss of life, the seemingly poor leadership, and frequent hardship, the camaraderie of service remained an important bond that kept veterans together in the difficult postwar years. Twenty years on from the start of the greatest cataclysm in modern history, and in the midst of the Depression, veterans refused to denigrate their service. The war could not be forgotten. Organization T he Legionary, the national magazine of the Canadian Legion of the British Empire Service League, 4 Brown and Cook: 1936 Vimy Pilgrimage LCMSDS Photo Collection In 1934 an enormous reunion of veterans in Toronto showed that interest and remembrance of the war had not declined in the 20 years since the start of the conflict. Top right: This box-car carrying veterans from Montreal bears its correct quota of 40 men plus pipers – but no horses. Note how the veterans have marked the car with their wartime phrases and slang. finally put an end to years of rumours when it declared in its July 1934 issue, “that the Canadian Legion is definitely organizing and conducting a Pilgrimage to the Battlefields for all ex-Service men and women in Canada.”32 Although the exact date for the unveiling was still not set, the Dominion President of the Canadian Legion, Brigadier-General Alex Ross, invited former service men and women “to forward inquiries and tentative reservations to Legion Headquarters in Ottawa.”33 The Legion approached the organization of the pilgrimage as if it were planning a military operation. Without the 21st century advantages of email or teleconferencing, the organizers had to depend on air mail and telegrams to pass plans and ideas back and forth across Canada, to England, and to Europe. The dominion organizer, or chief planning officer, was Captain Ben Allen, and to him fell the day-to-day responsibilities of administration and planning. He was ably assisted by the chief transportation office, a former Great War intelligence and staff officer, Lieutenant-Colonel D.E. MacIntyre. The success of the pilgrimage was unquestionably due to them and their small staffs, who over two years gave unstintingly of their time to this project. Published by Scholars Commons @ Laurier, 2011 LCMSDS Photo Collection Below right: Toronto had its first glimpse of the veterans in marching order when groups from each Canadian division and associated services paraded for the service of remembrance at the Toronto Cenotaph at noon on 4 August 1934. The photograph shows the parade coming southward on University Avenue and turning east on Queen Street. A host of matters were addressed before any pilgrims set foot aboard Vimy-bound ships. To avoid misunderstandings and ensure necessary tasks were not overlooked, the Legion and the government established their respective responsibilities. Government responsibilities included the selection of the official delegation and the program for the official unveiling of the memorial. Organizing the pilgrims, the most challenging aspect of the project, was the Legion’s task. Each day had to be planned: when and where meals would be served; accommodation was allocated taking into consideration families or people travelling in groups; all transportation arrangements needed to make allowances for veterans with disabilities or elderly parents with physical limitations; information had to be distributed on a timely basis across the country. Individual requests to visit specific cemeteries were arranged in conjunction with the Imperial War Graves Commission. The eventual gathering of over 6,000 veterans from all parts of Canada, moving them over an ocean, to join a comprehensive program of ceremonies, commemorations, and social events in Belgium and France, before partaking in the official unveiling ceremony on 26 July, to be then followed by more visits and commemorations in Britain and France, and the return to homes in Canada, was an incredibly complex undertaking. This would be the largest ever peacetime movement of people from Canada to Europe. 41 5 Canadian Military History, Vol. 20 [2011], Iss. 2, Art. 5 42 https://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh/vol20/iss2/5 but the pilgrims had to pay for their rail tickets (much reduced to one cent per mile) to Montreal.39 Five ships were contracted for the round-trip trans-Atlantic voyage; Canadian Pacific Steamships provided the Duchess of Bedford, Montrose, and Montcalm, and two ships, Antonia and Ascania, came from the Cunard-White Star Line. Although the Legion’s plans were supported by sympathetic groups and governments, the veterans’ organization emphasized that the pilgrimage would be funded by its members without subsidies or financial aid from the Canadian taxpayer. As one organizer wrote, “the Pilgrims would much prefer that the trip be organized and placed before the ex-soldier community on its own merits.”40 But the Canadian government assisted where it could. For example, it waived the passport fees for pilgrims who were Canadian or British subjects, issued a special Vimy pilgrimage passport, and allowed veterans in the civil service to have an additional 11 days of paid leave. 41 The corporate sector was involved too. The T. Eaton Company, a major Canadian department store chain, granted time off to employeeveterans. 42 Yet with about 30,000 veterans out of work, and tens of thousands more suffering from the devastating effects of the Depression, many veterans could not afford the costs.43 The Canadian Veteran lamented that many ex-soldiers were denied the right to return to the battlefields because of “lean and empty purses which [made] it seem impossible for them to go.”44 Speaking in the Commons near the end of April 1936, the minister of national defence confirmed that the monument would be unveiled a few months later on 26 July. It was later announced that King Edward VIII would unveil the monument in the presence of the president of France, Albert Lebrun.45 The unveiling would be the King of Canada’s first official engagement since the death of his father, King George V, earlier in the year. This was a significant gesture on the part of His Majesty and it was not lost on the veterans nor other Canadians, raising significantly the profile of the event in Canada and throughout the Empire. However, Mackenzie King had already made the decision not to go to Vimy for the unveiling. He felt “a little badly” about not being “at this event,- but with my fatigued state I do not see how it is possible.” 46 What King left unsaid was that he was never comfortable around veterans and that his lack of war service left him feeling that another of the veterans in his cabinet should take his place. The rancour caused by King’s harsh treatment of the then governor-general, Lord Byng (Baron Byng of Vimy) during the political and constitutional crises of 1926, and especially the prime minister’s accusation that Byng was trying to re-impose imperial control over the Canadian parliament, caused many veterans to despise King.47 The Voyage T he pilgrims were set to return to Europe in the midst of another dark period. Germany, now firmly under Nazi control, had reoccupied the Rhineland in the spring of 1936, challenging the governments of France and Britain to push her out. Unprepared in all respects for another war, the wartime allies offered no resistance beyond statements of outrage. Germany remained in place and Hitler was emboldened by his unpunished actions. That same year, the fascist Italian army conquered Ethiopia after a short war and once again the toothless international community failed to confront naked military aggression. The League of Nations seemed to be sleep walking towards its grave. In Spain, civil war erupted in July 1936, which Canadian War Museum (CWM) 19820602-017 The response from the veterans across the country was immediate and enthusiastic, with over 1,200 inquiries received by November 1934. 34 Prominent Canadians and Britons who had been associated with the Corps warmly supported the pilgrimage; Lady Currie, the widow of General Sir Arthur Currie, wrote to “wish the Legion all success in its splendid enterprise,” while Sir Archibald Macdonell, the former commanding officer of the 1st Canadian Division, “strongly endorse[d] the Vimy Pilgrimage.”35 Many of the Corps’ regimental and unit associations expressed similar views. One of the most welcome letters came from Lord Byng of Vimy, the Canadian Corps commander from May 1916 to June 1917, informing the Legion that he hoped to stand shoulder to shoulder with his former comrades-in-arms at the unveiling; alas, he died a year before the unveiling. 36 To encourage veterans to join the pilgrimage, the Legion announced the memorial would be unveiled on Dominion Day, 1 July 1936. Having a specific date in mind, it was thought, would spur the undecided to action. In truth, the government did not know when the memorial would be unveiled as they, too, were waiting for word from Allward. The Legion barrelled ahead. Succeeding issues of The Legionary urged members to plan for the once-in-a-lifetime event: “Cheer-io, boys – see you at Vimy!” was the Legion’s lighthearted call, while another plea sought to emphasis the “solemn pilgrimage to those hallowed places in France and Flanders where sleep the silent armies of fellow-Canadians and brother Britons we left behind.”37 By early 1935, the Legion had calculated the price of the 3½-week trip would be $160 (this would be approximately $2,600 today 38). The sum included all meals, accommodation, sea and land transportation and health insurance, 6 Brown and Cook: 1936 Vimy Pilgrimage set fascists against communists, with countless innocents caught in between. With nations at war, rearming, or intimidating neighbours, few believed that the “war to end all wars” had done little more than set the stage for another world-wide conflict. In mid-July, pilgrims from across the country boarded the special trains to Montreal. Coast to coast, newspapers had for the last month been highlighting the unveiling with breathless anticipation.48 “On to Vimy” had been the battle cry of veterans. 49 R.W. Trowsdale wrote “The Vimy Pilgrimage,” a poem for his fellow pilgrims; it contained the lines: Back once again to Vimy’s slopes, Where sculptured granites rear A nation’s tribute to her sons – Our friends of yesteryear.50 Trowsdale believed the “nation’s soul was mirrored,” at the ridge and the memorial. Not everyone felt that same sacred call. Arthur Kemp, from Olds, Alberta, a former member of the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles, and his wife Dorothy, wrote accounts of their pilgrimage, beginning with their departure from their home on 13 July. Dozens of trains carrying western pilgrims arrived and were said to hold over 2,000 veterans. The Kemps and others marvelled at the spectacle and scale of the event. “Three trains left Winnipeg ahead of us at half hour intervals and ours was the fourth then two after ours from Regina and Edmonton.”51 For the Kemps, and likely others, the enormity of the trip seemed to overshadow its reverential nature. Frances Owen, a 7-year-old travelling with her parents, spent much of the train ride looking for children her age, but she remembered that there was initially a mood of tense expectation on the train. But within a few hours, the veterans began to move about the car, discover old friends, renew acquaintances, and share stories.52 Wives and children were introduced; tears of joy and sadness were shed. There was a sense of nostalgia that infused the boisterous talk as old comrades celebrated together after nearly two decades. Over the course of two days, 6,200 veterans and their families boarded the ships waiting at Montreal. The group included 50 nursing sisters, some 60 to 75 French Canadians, and a few Japanese Canadians.53 There are no indications that Aboriginal Canadians took part in the pilgrimage. On one ship alone there were 50 Silver Cross mothers and widows, women who had lost sons or husbands in the war.54 Many of them travelled alone. Also among the pilgrims were a number of journalists, many, if not all of whom, were veterans. The Toronto Star, for instance, sent Gregory Clark, a veteran and holder of the Military Cross, and many of Clark’s stories were carried across the country.55 The Montreal docks were lined with thousands of well-wishers who cheered and shouted, while bands played and fireworks exploded above the wharf. Florence Murdoch, from Amherst, Nova Scotia, whose two Passengers enroute to the unveiling of the Vimy Memorial relax on the deck of one of the luxury passengers liners that carried 6,200 veterans and their families to France, July 1936. Published by Scholars Commons @ Laurier, 2011 43 7 Canadian Military History, Vol. 20 [2011], Iss. 2, Art. 5 Ephemera from the 1936 Vimy Pilgrimage. Clockwise from left: King Edward VIII’s Vimy Pilgrimage Medal. Each pilgrim received a medal that was worn on the right breast. The King’s medal was recently acquired by the Canadian War Museum; a beret issued to all pilgrims – khaki for the veterans and blue for the non-veterans (shown here); the Vimy Medallion; an armband indicating the bearer belonged to the 20th Battalion. CWM 20100131.001; CWM 20020070-003; CWM 19680100-002a; CWM 19680100-002; CWM 20020070-004 brothers Ward and Alfred had served at the front, was a passenger on the Antonia: “My, but what a send-off we had. It was a ‘royal’ alright, but then our whole trip was along the same line. Such crowds filled the sheds at Montreal, bands played, aeroplanes flew overhead, they threw flowers, streamers, and it was such a beautiful day.”56 At 11:00 a.m. on 16 July, the Montcalm, Montrose, Antonia and Ascana set sail, with the Duchess of Bedford casting off four hours later. While the ships were making their way down the St. Lawrence River, HMCS Saguenay steamed along as their trans-Atlantic escort. During the first day underway, pilgrimage kits were issued, containing a haversack, a beret (khaki for the veterans and blue for the non-veterans), an identification disc showing the ship’s letter and company number, a Vimy Pilgrimage Medal (also referred to as a membership 44 https://scholars.wlu.ca/cmh/vol20/iss2/5 badge), and a specially-prepared guide book. The berets became prized possessions for most pilgrims and the medal, worn on the right breast, opposite service medals and gallantry awards, was displayed with pride. Kathleen Murdoch, sister of Florence, felt it “an honour to wear the beret and we never had a hat on until we left the Pilgrimage. The old soldiers and war nurses wore khaki berets with green maple leave on the sides, and we wore navy blue with green maple leaves. Then we had a very lovely Vimy badge that we wore at all times and a white company pin.”57 The pilgrims were going to Europe, wrote Legion president Brigadier-General Alexander Ross, “as an Army of Peace, bearers of a message of goodwill, bent on a sacred mission.” 58 Ross implored the pilgrims to “re-capture the spirit of the Army, its comradeship and good-will,…that spirit of mutual helpfulness and co-operation…” 59 Pilgrims were reminded of the need to honour the dead during their hallowed trip. “The years have passed, but time has not obliterated the memory of those who went away and did not come back,” intoned Ross. “For all of us this visit has special memories which are very dear and very sacred.”60 The hallowed nature of the trip would have weighed heavily on the minds of many, especially those parents who were visiting the graves of sons or of veterans who steadied themselves for the reawakening of long buried emotions. Yet the pilgrims refused to be cloistered. Aboard the ships, the pilgrims talked and drank, shared old stories and told tall-tales. It was a period of joyous reunion rather than sombre pilgrimage, and all of the ships had issued autograph books with the names of fellow 8 Brown and Cook: 1936 Vimy Pilgrimage pilgrims, so that old faces could be put to names.61 Among the pilgrims rank seemed to dissolve, as all were now veterans in a new army. One reporter observed that a wealthy ex-serviceman who could have afforded the best accommodation on the voyage, decided to forego his stately rooms to instead bunk “with his comrades as comfortable and happy as a lark.”62 Another pilgrim, Japanese Canadian Saburo Shinobu, wrote, there was no such thing as an officer or a private now – all were ex-war buddies. There was one who, reunited with his platoon commander, was hugging him with affection. There were an orderly and his battalion commander who had not seen each other for eighteen years now standing silent and staring at each other with tears streaming down their faces.63 Adding to the nostalgic memories were good food and drink. Amid such bonhomie, old and new friends relaxed, played games, and danced. The rusty soldiers practiced their marching much to the amusement of guests who watched the smiling and laughing veterans move in every direction before their muscle memory took over.64 One woman observed how many of the “old soldiers sang from morning until night,” reliving their old camaraderie and basking in the shared emotions of time long gone.65 The Return A ll of the ships docked during the early hours of Saturday, 25 July: Antonia, Ascania and Duchess of Bedford at le Havre, with Montcalm and Montrose at Antwerp. Most of the passengers were awake from the excited talk and expectation when the ships arrived around 5:00 am. A thrilled Florence Murdoch wrote of Published by Scholars Commons @ Laurier, 2011 the landing: “The whole place was lighted with colored lights and every ship in the harbour; really it just looked like a fairy land. Everyone got up and listened to the bands and I for one can never forget the picture.”66 What did pilgrims hope to find when they returned to Europe, and ultimately to what remained of the Western Front? What was the inner call to explore a site of death and destruction? Many veterans might have wished to forget, but the scars were imprinted on the body and mind. Veteran W.W. Murray offered some insight into “the desire, which reposes wistfully in the heart of all war veterans, to return to the scenes of their own achievements and the graves of comrades. Memory is a vibrant thing, and the veteran is filled with remembrance.”67 Eighteen years on, the pilgrimage provided veterans an opportunity to make sense of the war for family members and themselves, to mourn and celebrate, and perhaps to find some closure. The pilgrims were met by bands, cheering civilians, and honour guards. Journalist Gregory Clark recounted how he witnessed veterans disembarking excitedly from the Antonia, but was moved by “the ranks of elderly mothers, women of 60 and 70, wearing berets on their heads and carrying haversacks slung from their shoulders, marching in fours to the waiting trains on the quay. These, the mothers of the men who died twenty years ago, marching in fours. If I wept I was not the only one.”68 Mary Botel was equally stirred, as she rode in a train to Vimy, passing the countryside and listening to veterans “explain where important engagements were fought and places now historic where they were in action or training or billeted during the war. Hard to believe that these beautifully cultivated fertile field had twenty years ago had been shell torn desolate war territory.”69 The logistical challenges were enormous. Moving 6,200 pilgrims by rail and bus from multiple sites and finding enough accommodation had required incredible planning, with veterans deposited in nine cities throughout much of Northern France and Belgium. There were problems with the 235 buses needed to move the pilgrims between hotels, the ceremony, and the battlefield tours. The principal French contractor, unable to fulfill his commitments, sub-contracted with a number of smaller, poorly equipped bus companies. Many of the drivers spoke no English, were unfamiliar with the Vimy region, and had to be directed by the veterans to battle sites and memorials. Cemeteries presented special challenges for the drivers as Canadians were buried at more than 300 sites along the Western Front. Surprisingly, there are no accounts of veterans missing the unveiling on 26 July.70 Some of the pilgrims visiting the graves of loved ones carried Vetcraft-made wreaths, created in Canada by wounded Great War veterans.71 The coming event was building towards a more sacred experience, as pilgrims moved ever closer to the ridge and the memorial. The Unveiling, 26 July 1936 S unday, 26 July, was a warm, sunny day. Beginning soon after dawn, pilgrims converged on the ridge. Marty Botel, who was travelling with her veteran husband Harry, and daughter Frances, wrote in her diary of the advance to the ridge: “The memorial on Vimy is a beautiful and impressive structure. We saw it from various points of vantage as we drove along the road, and gleaming white in the sunlight it seemed to dominate the landscape for miles and miles.” 72 During the morning and early afternoon, the pilgrims explored the ruined landscape, still pitted and cratered from the hundreds of thousands of shells that had crashed into the terrain. Many 45 9 Canadian Military History, Vol. 20 [2011], Iss. 2, Art. 5 LAC PA 803940 descended into the Grange Tunnel, one of the 13 sheltering tunnels that had been dug for the Canadians in the months before the assault. The tunnel had been restored in the late 1920s and it, along with a series of trenches with concrete sandbags, allowed some visitors to reimagine the battle and the environment.73 Other veterans had trouble reconciling the sea of mud and corruption from the war with green grass and growing vegetation around the new memorial. Even the Legion’s official publication, The Epic of Vimy, recognized the regenerated landscape: “from the monument one looked back, searching for what had once been landmarks; but failing to find them.”74 Perhaps more poignant were the Canadian and German cemeteries that lay as mute testimony to the terrible sacrifice. With an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 French civilians arriving at the site, the pilgrims were escorted forward to a privileged spot in the large amphitheatre in front of the memorial.75 Companies of veterans formed up here, with tall, numbered banners and emblems to guide veterans to their pre-arranged groups. The khaki beret-wearing veterans were placed in front of the memorial, while civilian-pilgrims stood on the veterans’ flanks. An honour guard from the HMCS Saguenay were situated on the south side of the pathway which runs across the memorial, while a colour party of 120 veterans were placed to the left of the sailors. The Royal Canadian Horse Artillery Band, a composite band from Canadian highland regiments and buglers were also on parade. French army engineers, and FrenchMoroccan cavalry men (who had fought at Vimy in 1915), wearing their traditional blue and scarlet uniforms and mounted on white Arabian horses, added to the pomp and ceremony. Canadian and French veterans bearing their national flags were placed on the monument’s steps, facing the parade. The monument rested on Hill 145, the ridge’s highest feature and site of ferocious and bloody fighting until it was captured. The base of the monument covered 2,000 square feet, and it seemed to emerge from the ridge and reach skyward, the pylons rising to a height of 138 feet. The 6,000 tons of white limestone, quarried from a 3rd century mine near Split, Croatia, had a warm, almost ghostly quality. Along the base of the memorial were the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who were killed in France and who have no known graves, and throughout the memorial were 20 allegorical figures. 76 The monument did not glorify war nor trumpet victory; it was a monument to loss and remembrance. Shortly before the King arrived at the monument, the Canadian Radio Commission [CRC], the forerunner of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, began a one hour and thirty five minute live broadcast of the event. The CRC utilized the shortwave facilities of the British Broadcasting Corporation to transmit the ceremony to Canada for broadcast over the national radio network, while the British shortwave broadcast was heard worldwide. The broadcast enabled people in Canada to be “present not only in spirit but as auditors,” according to the Winnipeg Free Press.77 At 2:15 pm King Edward, accompanied by Ernest Lapointe, the minister of justice, and Philippe Roy, the head of the Canadian Legation in Paris, arrived at the Canadian park and proceeded to the monument to be greeted by Ian Mackenzie, the minister of national defence, and Charles Power, the minister of pensions and national health. With the playing of “God Save the King” followed by “O Canada,” and a 21-gun salute, the King inspected the guards of honour. He also stopped to speak with a number of the bemedalled former warriors as he made his way down the ranks. After the inspection, he walked back to the monument to be introduced to distinguished pilgrims, such as Lady Byng, Lady Currie, Sir Robert Borden, and Walter Allward. Mrs. Katherine de la Bruère Girouard, whose husband was a Legion official and the designer of the Vimy Pilgrimage Medal, wa...
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The article's purpose at ascertains that it is imperative that we ground myth and memory
of the Great War in cultural, religious, and literary contexts if they are to flourish and inform on
the traditions that guided the bereaved when it came to their search for meaning and consolation.
The study of the epitaphs and the consolation standar...


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