May 26, 2017 § Leave a comment
The début of Le Retour will take place at Salle Père Maurice in Tusket, Nova Scotia this summer on July 7, 2017 with a second performance scheduled for July 14th. This will also mark the birth of a new theatrical troupe, Théâtre Générations. In many ways, we are a troupe spanning the generations ourselves from 70 years to 8 years and all ages in-beteen. Our common bond is our allegiance to one another and our ancestral bond to Nova Scotia. Acadian and English blood runs through our veins, the same mix of blood spilled on the far-flung battlefields of WWI.
The story of Le Retour is not a new story. There was a war. Governments ordained and men (often boys) went to fight in that war. Families were involved. In our story, two brothers enlisted in the Royal Canadian Regiment during WWI. One came home from that war, one did not. What is new about that story? It’s such an old, old story but one continually new to the families who experienced it, even now, almost 100 years later.
What is the return home like for the soldier who has been and who has done what he has been required to do in that other life that is now over. But, is it really over?
My father was seven years old when his oldest brother, Léo, enlisted in the Royal Canadian Regiment in 1915. Ten months later Léo was reported missing and then killed in action in Ypres, Belgium. His body was never recovered. His name is now engraved on the Menin Gate along with the more than 55,000 other names of the missing whose bodies were never found.
The next son in that family, my Uncle Felix, lied about his age and also enlisted, but four years later, he came home to the village. Le Retour imagines that story. The story of the boy who comes home.
I am writing this Blog entry on Memorial Day weekend, 2017, in the United States of America. On Memorial Day, I will think of my two uncles. Next summer, 2018, Théâtre Générations plans to go and present our play not far from the Menin Gate where every evening since 1928, traffic stops, people gather and bugles sound in remembrance of those whose names are engraved on that wall who have no known grave.
It is a simple and dignified ceremony. I was there once and I look forward to participating again in 2018. I was moved by the ceremony because it was simple and for the few words said and the silence of those gathered and the haunting loft of the buglers’ notes that rose in the still air. For my own part, I did not want to hear patriotic words. I did not want to hear praise for sacrifice although sacrifice there was and valor and, I am sure, its concomitant of regret for some actions done. That is what soldiers endure when they come home from war, if they come home, and what they and their families must bear up and until today in this year 2017.
For those of you who can, please come to our production this summer. All this year and into the next, we will be raising money for our troupe to travel to Belgium in June of 2018. We have already garnered a generous donation of $1,800 from the Municipality of the District of Argyle to assist us in presenting our play in Ieper, Belgium and, hopefully, we will be presenting Le Retour in other venues in the maritimes.
In the next few weeks, while we are in rehearsal, I hope to post some clips on these pages for you to see a bit of our process and also in order to introduce you to the cast.
For now, as befits this Memorial Day weekend, I will close with the sculpture of The Brooding Soldier, St. Julien Canadian Memorial at Vancouver Corner, Ypres Salient, Belgium.
The Brooding Soldier was designed by Frederick Chapman Clemesha, an architect from Regina, Saskatchewan. Clemesa, himself, had served in the Canadian Corps during the war and had been wounded.
May 4, 2017 § 1 Comment
Menin Gate At Midnight by Will Longstaff, 1927
As you look closely, the spectral soldiers appear in Will Longstaff’s 1927 painting as they move through the Menin Gate toward the Western Front. The Menin Gate Memorial was dedicated in 1927 and on its 59 panels are listed the more than 55,000 men killed at Ypres (Ieper) whose bodies were never found. My young uncle, Léo, is one of those. Perhaps hidden in that very darkness, he advances toward his fate.
Of course, in 1916, there was no memorial gate, only the scarred road in the photograph below leading to the trenches. The husk of the Cloth Hall and the destroyed remnants of Ypres (now bearing its Flemish name, Ieper) are behind them. One can only imagine the thoughts they must of had while marching.
The Menin Gate Memorial now stands astride that road leading out of the city to the then devastated lands known in the history books as, “the Salient” where 200,000 British Commonwealth lives were lost. Over the course of the war, 1,700,000 soldiers on both sides were killed or wounded around Ypres and an uncounted number of civilians. The last shell fell on what remained of the city on the 14th of October, 1918.
On a warm summer’s day, Sunday, July 24th, 1927, the Menin Gate Memorial was dedicated. Five hundred piles were driven 40 feet deep to ensure a stable foundation. Thousands of unexploded shells were painstakingly removed . Six thousand tons of stone, 11,000 tons of concrete, 500 tons of steel. With the weight of the panels and sculptures, the Menin Gate Memorial weighed 20,000 tons.
Thousands attended the ceremony including 700 mothers who had lost sons in the war. A view through the arches will give you a glimpse of how the city was beginning in 1927 to be restored. If we had been there in that crowd that morning, we would have heard Field Marshall Lord Plumer, former commander of the British Second Army, address his remarks directly to the families of the missing by stating that the memorial had been erected to be worthy of those who gave their lives and was an attempt to give them an expression of the nations’ gratitude for their sacrifice and to show sympathy for those who mourn. Lord Plumer continued that the memorial, “In its simple grandeur, fulfills this object, and that now it can be said of each one in whose honor we are assembled here today; ‘He is not missing; he is here’.” He is here. For my young uncle Léo, even at this remove, I wonder what he would say. But, that is my speculation this spring day almost 100 years after the conclusion of that war to end all wars.
Next year, in June of 2018, our theater group, Le Théâtre Générations, plans to present our play, Le Retour, in a venue not far from the Cloth Hall and The Menin Gate in Ieper, Belgium. Some members of our group are as young as the young men who served in that war, some members as old as their mothers or fathers, some as young as children in the families who said goodbye in front of steamships or trains. All of us carry that war in our historical memory, in our own family histories. In some sense, maybe we will all be returning.