Category: Remembrance

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Flowers of the Forest – The story behind the story. A young man’s journey to War.

Farquhar Mclennan
My Great-Uncle, Pte. Farquhar McLennan, killed in action, June 13, 1916

Join me, if you will , on a journey in time – a journey back 100 years!

I have designed this website as a media supplement to the novel “Flowers of the Forest”. The novel is a historical/fiction rendition of my Great Uncle, Pte. Farquhar McLennan’s time in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces in the Great War. This site gives the reader of the novel, the opportunity to see photos of the vivid characters and amazing places that live in the pages of the novel. The reader will also have access to background information and research that went into writing the story.  The Library and Archives in Ottawa provided a wealth of digital data that are displayed in this site. The project started out as my curiosity but soon became my passion. Read on as I update the site and find out why. Here is a chance to view some compelling  photos and documents. Travel back in time 100 years and feel the vibe!

800px-58_Bn_CEFBattalion Colours of the 58th Battalion, CEF

Light blue rectangle – 9th Brigade

Dark blue triangle- 58th Battalion

Brown background  – 3rd Division

Canadian Expeditionary Force

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Cap Badge, 58th

 

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My First Post

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Cap Badge, 58th

Just a little over a year ago, I started work on something I never dreamed I could do. Ever! I started work on a book; actually a novel. The book is now Published and available at Amazon, Chapters, Barnes and Noble and on this website. Needless to say, then, this is a very exciting time for me. At the same time, I am learning to set up this Blog page and Web site to provide background material for the book.

The project of writing this book started out innocently enough – about 5 years ago. I became curious about a Great Uncle who lost his life in the Great War. The only thing that I knew about him was his name; Farquhar McLennan. He was mentioned from time to time in family conversations. I remembered him because his name was so unusual. I grew up in Toronto Canada and nobody was ever named Farquhar.

As I said, about 5 years ago, I became curious and had some time on my hands. I sat down at the computer and did a search in the Library and Archives in Ottawa. I searched under WW1 records. Within a few minutes some documents came up on my screen. There in front of me was a document called “Attestation Papers”. In other words, enlistment papers. I could see detailed information about my Uncle and the thing that really blew me away – his signature.

Farquhar McLennan was no longer just a unique name, but a real person who lived and breathed and signed his name. And he was about to go away to war.

I was hooked.

Start here and follow the Blog through to the end. I will update it regularly.

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Remembrance Day, 2015

 

On Remembrance Day, 2015, I was sitting at home watching the Remembrance Day ceremony from Ottawa on my TV. My phone rang and I answered it. On the line was my great friend Karen Dallow and she was calling from the Menin Gate at Ypres, Belgium. She was with her son, Jake, and they were trying to find Farquhar McLennan’s name on the Menin Gate. I informed her that Farquhar was buried at Bedford House Cemetery which was close by.

“Would you and Jake mind going to the Cemetery and paying your respects on my behalf?” I asked.

“Certainly!” came the answer, and they hopped into a taxi and traveled to Bedford House.

With the help of the taxi driver, Karen and Jake were able to locate the grave stone. Karen took this video and emailed to me. A precious gift.

Within a year I was able to travel to Ypres and pay my respects personally.

I am forever thankful for the deeds of Karen and Jake.

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Jake at the Menin Gate, Ypres. (Ieper)

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Ypres

Well now, where did I leave off? Oh yes! Bedford House Cemetery. I did manage to make my own pilgrimage to the cemetery. It was in May, 2016, and the weather was beautiful. My wife, Beth, accompanied me. We flew to Luxembourg, to stay with our friends, the Defoa Clan. Karen (of the previous post) offered to drive us to Belgium, and ultimately to Ypres (now called Ieper). We arrived in the beautiful medieval  city in time for lunch on a gorgeous spring day. After lunch, we booked into our B&B and then headed out on the Menin Rd., through the Menin Gate towards the tiny hamlet of Hooge. At Hooge there is a road that right turns toward the south. The road is called Canadalaan. Less than a kilometre…

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Sanctuary Wood Cemetery

down this road is Sanctuary Wood and the museum. Beside the museum is Sanctuary Wood Cemetery. Just a little beyond the museum is the Canadian Memorial for the Battle of Mount Sorrel.

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Battle site of Sanctuary Wood – note the craters and the memorials.

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A reconstructed trench.

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Shell holes.

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Tree stumps that survived the War. Bullet holes and crosses!

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The view toward the Messine Ridge, from the Mount Sorrel Memorial.

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Using the Trench Maps that I have seen and Google Earth, it is possible to ascertain that Pte Farquhar McLennan lost his life on June 13, 1916, only a few metres from the the Sanctuary Wood Museum and the trenches.

Once we had paid our respects at this sacred place, we left for Bedford House Cemetery, where Pte. Farquhar McLennan rests.097

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The Cross of Sacrifice at Bedford House.

This cemetery, like all of the other Great War cemeteries are tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. They are all in splendid display and it is impossible to enter one of these sites without your eyes tearing and your heart hurting. After we walked past the Cross of Sacrifice, we could see the area where Farquhar was buried.

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Beth and I at the Cross of Sacrifice

 

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Farquhar’s Headstone. Beside is the headstone of Pte. Watson, 60th Battalion CEF.

 

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Karen and Beth, Bedford House Cemetery.

 

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The City of Ypers at sunset.

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Ypres during the Great War, same view as above.  Heavily shelled by the Germans.

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A “Jack Johnson”. 15 inch artillery shell in the Cathedral of St. Martin.

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Cloth Hall, 1916. One wall propped up.

Every evening, since 1929, the City of Ypres (Ieper) holds a ceremony at the Menin Gate to honour the dead. The ceremony starts at 8:00 PM with a procession to the Gate from Cloth Hall. Hundreds of people are there every night to witness the event. Below is a video of the ceremony.

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Cloth Hall, May, 2016.

Every evening at 8:00 there is a ceremony of remembrance at the Menin Gate. Hundreds of people attend each night. This has been an ongoing event since 1929 with a disruption during WW2. Below is a video of the procession which begins at Cloth Hall.

 

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Jake Defoa in front of the Menin Gate.

There are about 55,000 names of missing allied soldiers listed on the gate. All names are from the area we call Flander’s Fields, also known as the Ypres Salient, just east of Ypres.

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Our last night in Ypres and a chance to unwind.

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The next day, a trip to Passendaele.

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Grief’s Geography

Grief’s Geography – where the heroes lived. – click here for link

This link will show a map of Toronto and the location of the home (shown with a poppy) of every casualty of the Great War. Look to see if there were any heroes who lived on your street.  Enter your postal code. There is a poppy on 175 Boulton Ave., where Farquhar McLennan lived. Thanks to Global News for this site.

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The Great Trek – continued

Well now, where were we? Oh yes, St. Catharines! The 58th spent their first night at the Lake Street Armoury. The people of the city went out of their way to make the Battalions feel comfortable and welcome.

Early the next morning they were up and marching off, on the second leg of the trek. Grimsby was their destination. As they marched into Vineland they were greeted by the “Pie Wagon”. Here, the locals treated them to pies and refreshments. They passed through Beamsville and spent the second night on the beach at Grimsby, Chautauqua Park.

The next day set Hamilton as their new destination. When they entered Fruitland, they were again treated to apples and pies at the side of the road by an adoring public.  The Battalion spent the night at the Armoury in Hamilton.

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After leaving Hamilton, the troops passed through Burlington, and spent the next night at Bronte. Port Credit was next, where they spent the night at the St. Lawrence Starch Company grounds. The men were able to bathe in the vats at the factory.

John Boyd Sr. Toronto military training photograph album

The final destination, where all of the units would rendezvous, was High Park, in the west end of Toronto. Once here, the battalions readied themselves for a Grand Recruiting Parade into the city. This was the largest military parade the city had ever seen – 16 miles long.John Boyd Sr. Toronto military training photograph album

The People of Toronto treated the men like heroes, as they lined the streets to glimpse the passing parade. Homes and buildings were decorated all along the route. Whenever the parade stopped, the the cheering crowd would shower the men with gifts of cigarettes, tobacco and “sweet meats”.

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The parade wound through the city to Yonge Street, and then on to the City Hall at Queen and Bay. The final stop for all of the battalions was the Canadian National Exhibition.

 

 

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Europe, here we come!

On November 15, 1915, the 58th boarded a train at the Exhibition grounds and headed for Halifax, Nova Scotia. The men used this time to play cards, sleep, eat and enjoy themselves. Two days later they arrived. Not much time was wasted transferring them to the city port and to the ship that they were to sail on – the HMT Saxonia.

click for more information on the Saxonia

Saxonia loading for England.

Saxonia loading for England.

The ship had just arrived from a 4-day stay in New York City. The 58th was to share the ship with the 54th Kootenay Battalion and the 1st Siege Battery of Halifax. The Saxonia could accommodate about 1100 troops in relative comfort. For this trip, she would be carrying 2400.

A last glimpse of Canada for those destined to die.

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3rd class accommodations

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3rd class state room

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On deck

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Scenes taken by Col. Lamb when 1st Division crossed the Atlantic in Oct. 1914. The Canadian Press/HO, Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada

The Saxonia was originally a Royal Mail Ship of the Cunard Line. She was now one of His Majesty’s Troop Ships. She was painted in camo to make detection more difficult.

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HMT Saxonia, troop ship in WW1

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Saxonia in Camo

It certainly doesn’t take much imagination to picture the living conditions aboard ship. To make matters worse, they shared the vessel with a couple of dozen horses. There were many complaints about the amount of food that was served to the men. On November 29, some of the men raided the food canteen and this resulted in the Captain of the ship relenting, and increasing the portions given to the men.

Off the coast of Ireland the Saxonia picked up a destroyer escort for the duration of the journey. She arrived safely in Plymouth Harbour on December 1, 1915. For many of these men, it was a return home.