Remembering through Art: Reflections on Battlefield Tour 15

Remembering through Art: Reflections on Battlefield Tour 15

Article by OCdt Zoretich (26573), poem by OCdt Page, CD (M2080), contribution by Dr. Delaney (16080), photograph by artist-in-residence Chris Miner

I was told before embarking on the Battlefield Tour that it would be a life-changing event and after everything the 2015 group has experienced, I could not agree more. Trying to find the words to describe all that we learned is no easy task. Although this was a history trip, it was brought to life by the stories, the people, the music and photos both past and present.

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This year’s tour benefitted from the contributions of two cadets: a piper (OCdt Brenden Hogan, 26566), and a bugler (OCdt Jonathan Page, CD M2080), who played together at many cemeteries and sites. Hearing Amazing Grace, and the Last Post while standing among the many rows of those who gave their lives was a solemn, yet peaceful tribute. Ending the tour to the sound of “The Maple Leaf Forever” also felt appropriate.

One of the most emotional days of the tour was the visit to the Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery. We had been to a number of memorial sites and cemeteries already, but this time was different. Maybe it was due to the amount of time given to the group to absorb it all in, or maybe it was the opportunity to read the messages from loved ones engraved at the bottom of the tombstones. The music played by the piper and the bugler, along with the reflections of what those men had sacrificed through the Dieppe raid and throughout the war made the experience overwhelming. I had never before witnessed a group of people so touched and so openly emotional over complete strangers. This was one of those life-changing moments people talk about.

After we left the cemetery, we climbed back on the bus to take us to the next site. A silence had fallen over the group as we reflected on our shared experience. After a few minutes, the staff brought out red and white wine for a toast to the fallen. It was after the toast that I noticed that Jonathan was scribbling notes. I asked him what he was doing, to which he replied, “Nothing.” That “nothing” turned out to be the poem below. It was his way of working through the thoughts and emotions of playing the Last Post in remembrance for the soldiers past, of visiting the battlefields and cemeteries, of being a veteran himself and following in the footsteps of those who had gone before.

Another prominent site in the Battlefield Tour was Essex Farm Cemetery. It was here in the dressing station that Major John McCrae composed his poem, “In Flanders Fields.” Dr. Delaney spoke to the group at Essex Farm and elaborated on the poetry that was born during the war.

 

“The empires, the armies, the weapons, and the soldiers of the First World War are all gone.  The battlefields bear the faded scars of old trenches and the half-healed pockmarks of mine-craters, but there’s almost nothing left – except the poems.  There’s nothing faded about them.  The words pop off the printed page as clearly as they did when the poets first put them down.   Rupert Brooke’s romanticism remains unchecked, John McCrae still isn’t sure how the war will end, Wilfred Owen still suffers his smothering dreams and Siegfried Sassoon still spits in the face of the generals and their staffs.  And we understand them, one-hundred years on.  Ars Longa, Vita Brevis.”
                                                                                                  – Dr. Delaney (16080)

Of course we were all well acquainted with McCrae, and Brooke’s words grace the arch. I found Dr. Delaney’s explanation very interesting, especially how poetic structure evolved, from Brooke’s steady rhyme and meter through to newer poetry, no longer concerned and constricted by structure. I should not have been surprised when Jonathan said that Dr. Delaney’s words had influenced the writing of his own poem. Once again, he followed in their footsteps.

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Lors de la semaine de congé du mois de février, une vingtaine d’élèves-officiers ont eu la chance de participer à un tour des champs de bataille en France. Accompagnés de membres du corps enseignant, les élèves-officiers ont parcourus d’innombrables kilomètres pour visiter les champs de bataille de la Somme à la Normandie, en passant par la Belgique. Ils en ont appris beaucoup autant sur les faits de guerre de la Première que de la Deuxième guerre mondiale et ont pris le temps d’offrir leur respect aux milliers de soldats qui ont fait le sacrifice ultime pour défendre notre liberté.

Words cannot describe the emotions that were felt by the entire group throughout this trip. The visit to the beach of Dieppe and its respective cemetery was by far one of the most touching and emotional experience that the officer-cadets had during the tour. To see where so many soldiers fought and fell was quite a rollercoaster of emotions. It was very moving to see the entire group touched by the sacrifice of hundreds of soldiers even though they were strangers. Yet, it felt like saying one last goodbye to friends not just simply those who sacrificed, knowing that we too must now fight for the same maple leaf.

En tant que membre des Forces armées canadiennes, nous avons reconnu et respecter le service que ses soldats ont rendu à leur pays, espérant que nous aussi, nous saurons être à la hauteur de leur sacrifice. Il est certain que tous les élèves-officiers sont revenus de ce voyage un peu plus matures, un peu plus humbles et un peu plus familiers avec l’Histoire des deux guerres mondiales. « Truth-Duty-Valour » will never mean the same thing as it did before they left for this group of cadets that participated in a life-changing experience.

Finalement, il est important de remercier la Fondation de nous avoir permis de participer à ce voyage. Sans leur aide généreuse, ils nous auraient été impossible de vivre une telle expérience. La fondation des CMR occupe une grande place dans la vie des élof et nous permet de vivre de multiples expériences hors du commun.

Thank you very much to the RMC Foundation for giving this great opportunity to the fortunate twenty-six cadets. Without their generous aid, this trip wouldn’t have taken place. We are forever thankful for this experience that will make us, in a near future, better officers of the Canadian Armed Forces.

Élof 26374 MCA Pharand (III)

More photos by Chris Miner, Dan Ryan 26346 and Denice Zoretich 26573 from the BFT 2015 Here