Changing Seasons: War and Peace

As I sat down to sift through almost 1,700 photos from the month of April, my initial thought was that it would be a challenge to summarize this month into a handful of images.

However, I then spotted the single picture that seemed to capture the meaning of this month for me …. peace.

I am so profoundly lucky to have lived my life in a peaceful country.

Distillery District, Toronto

A few days after I took the above photo, I left for Northern France.

We spent 2 weeks touring the countryside tracing the path of war … from the beaches of Normandy in honour of the 75th anniversary of the Allied landing in 1944, to the Belgian border to tour the ‘Western Front’ of WWI in honour of last year’s 100th anniversary of the Armistice.

On Omaha Beach – one of five beaches along the Normandy coast that made up the D-Day invasion. In the background, what I initially thought were rocky outcrops are actually tanks that never made it to shore. They can be seen at low tide.

The contrast between the peaceful demeanour of today compared to the evidence of darker days from the past is everywhere – if you choose to see it.

Meanwhile, the seasons continue to come and go, gently softening the ugly scars.

Juno Beach where the Canadians landed. All is now peaceful and calm.
Trenches at Maisy on the Normandy coast
Pointe du Hoc on the Normandy coast
Normandy coastline at low tide
Nature is gradually reclaiming the battlefield trenches at Beaumont-Hamel from WWI

I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t a vacation for everyone. I thought I could remain detached … until we visited our first cemetery.

Thousands, upon thousands, upon thousands of lost lives, on both sides. The vast majority of them young men under 30 years old. Children really.

The youngest Canadian casualty of the Normandy invasion. He lied about his age and enrolled when he was only 15 years old.

As we walked through the various cemeteries we openly cried. At each marker I stopped at, I thought of my own sons. There is nothing more terrible than losing a child … regardless of their age.

Some cemeteries were harder than others. At the WWI cemetery near Vimy Ridge, the dead were buried shoulder-to-shoulder “as they fought in battle” with their stones touching each other.

They may have died over a hundred years ago, but I grieved for them as if it was yesterday.

In many ways, this wasn’t a vacation at all.

It was a pilgrimage.

Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge (WWI) with its symbology of peace

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Changing Seasons is a monthly photo feature hosted by Su Leslie from Zimmerbitch.

75 comments

  1. Beautiful post, Joanne. I think it’s so easy to read about this in a book and the depth of it all to not take root. I can’t imagine how emotional it must have been walking through history and the death associated with it.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I attend St. Andrew’s church in Toronto (next to Roy Thomson Hall) and we are the “home” church of the 48th Highlanders Regiment. They were part of the battle of Vimy Ridge and their museum in the basement of the church is home to one of the wooden Vimy Ridge crosses that survive – with the names of the dead scratched into it immediately after the battle.
    In 2017 the cross left to make the journey back to France for the 100th anniversary of the battle and in 2018 it was returned to the church & museum during our annual regimental service. Over 600 people attended and it was very, very moving. The cross was carried into the church by 3 soldiers dressed as WWI recruits and yes, they were so young.
    The museum is open a couple of days per week and the altar holds the book of remembrance = the names who died in both WWI and WWII and were members – each year at the regimental service 1 page is turned.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I actually knew this museum was there and it’s been on my list of places to visit for some time. I didn’t know about the cross or the book of remembrance. Thanks for the nudge that I should get there sooner rather than later!

      Like

  3. Beautiful post. I got teary. Sometimes I wonder if there will ever be a time in the future when people will have the same experience touring places in Afganistan or Syria, etc, wondering how we allowed such destruction and death to go on for so long and being grateful for the peace they live in.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You and I think along the same lines because that very thought crossed my mind. Case in point – Viet Nam and Cambodia are now very popular tourist destinations.

      What a strange species we are 😕

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for bearing witness and sharing with us. I can imagine the “conflicting” feelings (conflicting in quotes, because I’m sure it’s an understatement.) Drawn in at the same time, wanting to run as far away as possible.

    During my research into the local history of the war veterans, I encountered a story of a young man who enlisted because this was his chance to play the coronet! Another story tells about a mother who caught her under-aged son in the line up to enlist. She dragged him home by his ear. This, I cannot imagine. Being a mother with a son who was drawn in by the glory of going to battle!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Researching the experiences of real people somehow makes those years even more powerful. Instead of just statistics, they become real emotions – like those of that mother!!

      Yesterday I was talking to one of my neighbours from down the street and she mentioned that her father-in-law fought in WWI. He kept a diary during his years in the war and she is currently in the process of trying to write a story about it. THAT’S up close and personal!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I give you a lot of credit for going, and am more than grateful for the pictures you took. Over the years I’ve given thoughts occasionally about seeing those memorials in France (I have an uncle who served there), but ultimately decided against it. I’m glad I could vicariously see some of it through your photos. Thanks for sharing. – Marty

    Liked by 2 people

    • There are 2 schools of thought on this one, Marty. Those who feel compelled to go and those who prefer not to.

      My father fought in WWII, but never wanted to return. It’s like he wanted to put those years in a vault never to see the light of day again.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I can imagine how powerfully sad it must be to go there. Those people fought in one of the worst battles in the history of mankind. Peace and security are some of the greatest gifts we can have.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Some years ago we had a similar experience while spending time in Normandy. My husand’s father landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day and was the only one in his unit to make it to the shore. Being there was a life-chaning experience and brought tears to my eyes more than once. We really need to remember both the sacrifices made by so many to keep freedom and the terrible costs of war.

    janet

    Liked by 3 people

    • April was definitely a wild ride.

      Sadly I look at the world now and fear that the worst from WWII is trying to make a comeback – xenophobia, racism disguised as overt nationalism, fear-mongering, “us vs them” mentality …

      Sigh. It never ends.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. The Peace sign means even more to me now, after reading your recent posts, Joanne. Your post conveyed the profound sadness you and your husband felt on this Pilgrimage. Very sad, yet, a very important story.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Interesting you should say that, Erica, because that was my reaction too about the peace symbol.
      I was too young in the 60s to be a hippy and definitively not cool enough in the 70s, so the peace symbol never really resonated with me … until now.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It’s shocking how little people know about the great wars now. Too much time has passed now and that last generation is quickly disappearing.

      Even worse is that we haven’t learned any of its lesson and there are new wars to preoccupy the collective consciousness 😕

      Like

  9. I got all choked up reading this, Joanne. I too can’t visit a wartime graveyard without seeing all the loss and the stories of lives left unfinished. Thank you for your photos, for your reflections, and for sharing your journey. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  10. We really don’t know what it’s like to have war raging at our front door, while trying to find scraps of food to stave off starvation. That’s a good thing, in my view, and I hope I never find out what it’s like. Posts like this help give us a small idea of something we should strive to avoid if we want to continue enjoying peace.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Thanks for sharing this incredible experience Joanne. I teared up as I read this.
    I can’t imagine living through these life changing events, but because of those who fought shoulder to shoulder, millions of us today can enjoy the peace you referred to in your comment.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. My father-in-law lied about this age too, and enlisted at 17. He made it back to Canada though, in one piece, and never talked about his war experience – at least not to me. Except to say that the Dutch people were very thankful to him, as one of the Canadian liberating forces.
    This is an important post Joanne. To remember the dead, whose lives were cut short by war. And to not take peace for granted.

    Deb

    Liked by 4 people

  13. It’s a long time since I was at Omaha Beach. The beaches along the coast were empty then too, but also not empty. The newsreels of Normandy landings play on. And how momentously sad the war cemeteries are. This a very fine post, Joanne.

    Liked by 3 people

    • For those of us who live in North America (and I imagine Australia and NZ), visiting these battlefields is staggering. We are just so far removed from these pieces of history.
      Yes, we pay honour to our soldiers on Remembrance Day, but the magnitude of the events are not ‘in our faces’ all the time like it is in Europe.

      Liked by 2 people

      • That is so true. One of the most sobering days of my life was spent in the Somme Valley trying to get my head around the fact that there were just so many war cemeteries. And that was before I began researching my family history and felt the personal connection to those places and to the young men lying there.

        As my son has grown, and I’ve learned more about the grandfathers and great uncles who served in WWI and WWII, I also feel the fear and anguish of the mothers and sisters back home, waiting so long for news of their loved ones.

        I really like the words of the Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, inscribed on the Gallipoli Memorial, which recognises women’s pain and loss too.

        “Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours … You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

        Liked by 2 people

        • That was my reaction as well, Su … just so many cemeteries 😢 In spite of the nice words, I can’t imagine that it would bring peace to the heart of any parent who has lost a child.

          … and we haven’t even talked about the thousands and thousands of civilian casualties 😕

          Liked by 1 person

          • Oddly, I think at the time Attaturk’s words might have been comforting. They were an assurance that the Anzacs (and others) were properly buried and that the cemeteries would be treated as consecrated ground despite the differences in religion. Given how tormented families are when they don’t have a body to bury, or a place to go and pay their respects, I think that’s an important assurance. I’ve read a bit about the establishment of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Australian war historian Charles Bean in particular (who survived Gallipoli); they were driven to try and make sure that as many service personnel as possible were identified, buried and commemorated. It’s not much, but in more faith-driven times, probably counted for something. Apparently my gg grandmother never came to terms with the fact that her youngest was lost at sea during WWII and she had nowhere to go and grieve.

            I don’t personally think it would help me get over such a loss, but I’m pretty faith-lite.

            Like

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