Travel

In the corner of some foreign field

In my previous post, I mentioned the corner of a French cemetery housed soldiers from the first world war, and our tour group was able to locate a relative from the group.

The Commonwealth Graves Commission has done a fabulous job on maintaining the small bit of land here.

On the way back to our transports, I noticed a selection of headstones off to one side of the cemetery, with the same type of headstone and attention to detail on the landscaping. Upon closer inspection, I saw they were Hindu soldiers from the Indian army. There were nine.

A song from Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut came to mind. The song, A Gunner’s Dream, is a WWII theme of a gunner from a bomber that has been shot down. As the gunner falls (or floats on a parachute depending on interpretation), he thinks of how life could be without conflict. Specifically the lines:

In the corner of some foreign field
The gunner sleeps tonight.
What’s done is done.
We cannot just write off his final scene.
Take heed of his dream.
Take heed.

I thought of how these soldiers came half way across the world to fight for King and Country, to end here; and wondered how many, if any, of their families and friends would ever make the journey to this corner of a foreign cemetery to visit their final resting place.

Lost and Found

When I went to Belgium and France in April for the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge, I went with a small group. In that group were a brother and sister of an older age that had a grandfather that fought at Vimy. He died of his wounds and never returned home. They were on a tour a few years back and the tour company/bus, did not manage (or maybe want, I don’t recall) to find the location of the grave of the grandfather. The tour was going to Vimy. So close.

This time around, our group was small enough, and the tour guide compassionate enough to make the effort to find the grave. We were headed to Vimy for the anniversary ceremony, so we planned the small diversion.

The grave was in a small village near Vimy of which I cannot recall. But we had to drive around a few times to find it. It was in a small cemetery that was very out of the way. No wonder the bus driver before didn’t want to get there. The streets were very narrow.

Long story short, we found the location, which, as I mentioned, was in a French local cemetery. We needed to walk to the back corner to find the location. It was incredible. The Commonwealth Graves Commission had kept this small section in pristine condition to that of the major cemeteries.

We took a moment to have a small ceremony of remembrance, which I’m proud to say, my son read that was prepared by the brother and sister. It was very emotional and they were extremely happy to see the burial location. Below are a few photos.

 

Canadian soldiers that never came home.

 

A moment of remembrance.

 

 

Private Leonard Thomas Godwin. We will remember them.

 

Canadian soldiers.

 

French soldiers are also in this cemetery.

CP 150 Train

Over the last few weeks, Canadian Pacific railway has been touring the CP150 train across Canada. Consisting of vintage locomotives from the 50s/60s and old-school passenger cars (CP closed down passenger service, as did CN in the 70s, with the creation of the current passenger rail system, VIA rail).

I’ve seen great photos and stories of the train and the events surrounding it, including concerts and, well, the cool vintage locomotives!

The last stop was in Ottawa, so I was keen to see it. The week before it was in Montreal. Through my network of railfans, I learned it was laying over in Smiths Falls, a CP Rail yard about 45 minutes (by car) from Ottawa. I further learned when it would be coming into town, so I planned to find a spot to photograph it inbound. There are a few locations near the house where I could have caught it, but decided on a side road to give the best sight lines and hopefully less people.

My intel said the train would leave Smiths Falls around 10:30, 10:45. I knew there was a Toronto bound VIA train coming through at 9:30 and 11:00am, so I figured it may try to sneak in between those trains. The run time from Ottawa to Smiths Falls is about 30 minutes.

So I got to my locale at 10:30. Best be there early, scope it out and if changes are needed, there’s time. As it turns out, the 11:00am train came first which gave me opportunity to check angles and exposure.

Toronto-bound VIA.

By my calculations, then, the CP150 wouldn’t be by until about 12:30 (from this train, half hour to Smiths Falls on single track, then CP150 coming east). So I hunkered down for a wait. No one else was around until a little after noon when some guys from Albany NY showed up, frantic that they hadn’t missed the train. No worries, lots of time. They stayed for a bit and went further down the line to check out a trestle a little further down.

I had a medium-telephoto lens on my Fuji X-T1. With extra time, I figured I would put on the longer telephoto lens to get shots down the tracks. I had a bit of time, and there are other level crossings further on, that I would hear the train coming. My position was a bit aways from the car. I considered bringing the whole camera bag with the lens change, but decided against it. I have time (you see where this is going, right?).

I took some shots. Then I took this one.

Down the line east towards Ottawa, showing the not-so-flat right of way.

A second later, I hear the train horn as it crosses the bridge where the Albany guys went, about a kilometre away at about 12:20. Damn. Not enough time to get to the car, change lenses and get to my position.

In bound CP150. Snuck up on me.

Adopt, adapt, improve. I’m going with the telephoto 70-200 equivalent.

It worked out fine in the end. The adrenaline fired up, and I’m sure the image stabilization in the lens helped to obtain the shots.

After it had gone, I was looking forward to the event at the Ottawa train station. It started at 3pm. I got there at 3:30, so see people leaving. Already? When I got there I could see why. A bunch of tents were set up in the parking lot and three coaches were on display. One was the stage and two others. No locomotives. When approaching the coaches, most of it was blocked off for CP employee VIP section. So no once could get close to the coaches, really. No visiting the inside of the vintage coaches and not locomotives. So the best anybody not a CP employee could do was see the coaches from a distance and maybe the show.

My partner complained quite a bit to others listening on the sad event planning. Turns out the locomotives were at the station, but behind the coaches. Of course wouldn’t want to showcase them. The track the visible stuff was on was quite short, but could easily have accommodated at least one locomotive for photo ops and please the kids (and railfans).

There were a lot of unhappy people, and reading the Facebook posts on the event page made it clear; it was a shitty event. We drove around to the other side of the station and found a gravel parking lot to at least get a picture of the engines. I brought a wide-angle lens for some close ups of the train, so this is the best I could manage:

Hiding the star of the day from public view, even though advertised as a feature.

I had to stand on the hood of the car to get the picture. Very disappointing.

I had read of a great event in Winnipeg from railroad blogger Steve Boyko. Check it out. Great shots and coverage.

To end on a positive note, I did get to see the full train, got some fine shots and, as always, fun to watch trains, even in Ottawa where they are as sparse as they are.

All shots taken with the Fuji X-T1 with the 15-55 f2.8 (VIA), 50-170 f2.8 (inbound CP train) and 10-24 f4 (hidden locomotives).

Dieppe at 75

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe raid by the Canadian army. Very controversial, as to what was achieved, it is none the less, a key point in history.

The Canadians were tasked with storming the Dieppe beach, obtaining information, and getting out. It didn’t go so well, and was considered a disaster by many historians. Others consider this raid as a testing bed for what eventually became D-Day. No matter what the opinion, it was a key attack.

This year, I was able to visit Dieppe on our tour of Belgium and northern France.

On our visit, the day we were to arrive at the August 19th 1942 Memorial, we were running very late. The day before, we went back to Vimy to see the tunnels and trenches that were not open due to the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy ridge. And we had to drop some other travellers of our group in Arras. So we were there over two hours late. From what I could gather, the people at this memorial were waiting especially for us! The woman was very upset at our tardiness, and my girlfriend spoke to her in French and explained our situation. It seemed to mollify her. Her husband, one of the owners of the memorial, was still very welcoming. We soon learned why.

Turns out, his mother was in occupied Dieppe. The day of the raid by the Canadians, leaflets were dropped, saying “stay in your homes, be safe. This is not a raid. We are the Canadian army. We will be back”. The French held to that hope. He said, “and then in 1944, you fulfilled your promise…you came back”. As such, he holds the Canadians in very high esteem, because we came back and liberated Dieppe. Very powerful. The museum/memorial, which is an old theatre, is full of memorabilia, photos, portraits of Canadian infantry. While the old theatre held its own appeal (being a theatre type, and he allowed us to go on the stage and such), I felt both very honoured to be Canadian, and unworthy. I had no connection to the raid or liberation. Its amazing how much this man held Canadian citizens in such high esteem.

We kept our promise. We came back.

That still sticks in my memory. Photos were not permitted of the artifacts (see the link above for more information), but the man allowed me photos of the theatre itself. Maybe on a later post. We went down to the beach. These photos are of our trip down. Its no wonder the soldiers had a tough time on the rocky beach. Just walking normally was difficult; never mind having to run up it with an enemy firing at you!

And what sticks the most with this, is that the men who participated in this raid were volunteers; not professional soldiers. They gave up their lives to fight for freedom.

All photos taken with the Fuji X100T.

On the beach. Rocky, and difficult to walk on.

A soldiers view. How can anyone manage this?

Birds-eye view of the beach.

The works

We took in the Lac Leamy fireworks competition last night. Typically, this is an international competition over a number of weeks (Wednesdays and Saturdays) but this year, being the 150th birthday of Canada confederation, it is a Provincial competition this year. We took in Ontario last week. For a $10 fee, you can go down by the river where there is speakers to listen to the music that goes with the fireworks. This week, being a Wednesday and having other schedules, we could only make it to a free location to watch Alberta’s contribution.

I brought along the Fuji X-Pro1 with the 35 f1.4 on it, should I get some acceptable opportunities to make some pictures. The view wasn’t the best with a tree partly obscuring the view, so I went for silhouettes and other ambient shots.

To the next adventure

A few days ago was a terrific evening sky. No storm, just puffy clouds and a wonderful sunset. Being in the suburbs, seeing the sun to the horizon wasn’t going to happen, but the sky was still great.

A few planes flew over and I had my new 50-140mm f2.8 lens on the Fuji X-T1 at the ready to catch this silhouette of a jet taking travellers to some adventure.

Beaumont Hamel

While in Belgium, we visited the site/memorial of Beaumont Hamel.

The Newfoundland regiments signed up to fight for King and Country in a time when they were their own dominion, not yet a part of Canada (not until 1949). They sent a contingent over to fight, and on July 1, 1916, at the beginning of the battle of the Somme, they attacked. The Battle of the Somme was the regiment’s first major engagement, and during an assault that lasted approximately 30 minutes the regiment was all but wiped out.

Newfoundland purchased the land and preserved it and it stays to this day untouched. Shell holes and trenches remain. Although not a part of Canada yet, this is truly a Canadian place. The walking paths encircle the battlefield area and one can tour around from the Newfoundland side to the German side. From the German side, you can see a clear view of the Newfoundland position and can see how they had easy sight lines to mow down the opposition. Its terrible.

One of the cemeteries included a number of tombstones next (very close) to each other. I wondered why. I later learned that those this close together indicate comrades who died in close proximity or in the same battle together.

This is a very powerful site to visit.

The calling Caribou – iconic monument

Died in 30 minutes, brothers in arms.

Germany too

While in Belgium and Flanders visiting WWI sites, we visited a German cemetery. Similar to others we would visit, it was in farmland. The vibe was very different (as most cemeteries we visited were, all had a vibe; difficult to explain, but it was there).

The German one was very sombre and low key. Interestingly, there was wifi available here, however, it was very restricted such that one could only access an app that would describe the site. That’s fine. I found it interesting to have that technology to learn about the location, accommodating the next generation to keep history alive.

The Brooding Soldier

The Brooding Soldier is a memorial to Canadian soldiers in Langemark, who fought in the second battle of Ypres. This was the first time the Germans used gas. Of the nearly 6000 Canadians in the battle, 2000 were casualties. They did hold the line.

This is one of those monuments I’ve wanted to see in person for a long time. Our trip to Belgium included this, and it was fantastic to see. The location is in a small village on the edge of farmland. Not only is the memorial here, but a small garden area as well. We went first thing in the morning, and it was very peaceful. Looking around, the entire area was at one time a battlefield, which is a recurring theme in this area.

 

The Menin Gate

We stayed in Iepre (Ypres) a short two minutes from the Menin Gate. Every night at 8pm, they play the last post. The monument is dedicated to the 54,395 British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient of World War I and whose graves are unknown.

The time we were in there, it was coming up to the 100th anniversary of the battle of Vimy Ridge. On this occasion, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were there. Of course. I go half way around the world to see Canadian Mounties.

The structure is humbling. Everywhere you look there are names in this quiet little town.