Fields of Fire Travel Client Anne Strickland's Posting: "Do His Bit"

Anne Strickland travelled with Fields of Fire Battlefield Tours during the Return to Vimy Tour 2017 with her husband, Roy.  She shared this note about her family history and her reason for travelling with us on the Return To Vimy 2017 commemorative tour. As Anne has included quotations directly from her uncle's correspondence - his voice travels through time from letters his family and school received while he was at the front. Thanks for sharing this part of your family history with us Anne.  Remembrance is personal.

HUGH GORDON MUNRO

DEC 30, 1896 - OCT 9, 1916

Corporal, 15Bn CEF

(48th Highlanders of Canada)

 

This memoriam is in gratitude to my uncle Hugh Gordon Munro and all those like him who did their bit.

While on tour, it was gratifying to see the Regina trench at the Battle of the Somme where Hugh Gordon Munro was injured.  I have a letter, the Nursing Sister who looked after Gordon for the two hours he was at the 49 Casualty Clearing BEF Station before he died, wrote to his mother.  In it she said “when I told him he was going to die, he said that he was not in the least afraid, and he had tried to do his bit.”  

I have a number of letters he wrote home from the front, among them, travelling by ship to England and also a letter outlining his furlough to London before going back to the front, prior to his death.  What a privilege to have them. They made him alive for me and so my trip to Vimy Ridge last year was not only to go with Roy, but as an act of memoriam for my Uncle, Hugh Gordon Munro.

While Gordon was over in France, the Oakville High School, sent him a book of pictures, stories and jokes, and I have sent you some of his words from the letter of thanks to the Staff and Pupils of the High School.

 …“I have just put in one of the most pleasant times I have had since I came to Northern France, thanks to the wonderful book you sent. The book arrived last night just at “tea up”.  Tea up is the way supper time is announced.”

“ That night I took it out to show a friend and in making the journey I foundered, in about two feet of mud and water, got hung up on barb-wire and fell off a ladder that had no rung in the middle of it.”

“Perhaps you do not get a good chance to hear about the life out here. I will try to tell you a few things that happen around the part we are in.  We landed in _______ almost 6 months ago and stayed there for a few days and then we took the train to the front.  At the station behind the lines we were excited to get out but then we heard the big guns, I got uneasy.  To make matters worse, we were asked by one of the Imperials (British Army) who we were.  We told him we were going to reinforce the Fifteenth Battalion Canadians.  He said Oh, I don’t think there are many Canadians left.  This cooled us down and I wished I had not been so anxious to see the front.”

 “But things were pretty quiet.  In the trenches you get to do sentry every day and night, and then, by the time you have cooked and slept, it does not take long for the time to pass. There is not much firing going on, but there is continual sniping going on, but it is not very dangerous to anyone. The trenches are 200 to 300 yards apart, although in places they are close as 25 to 30 yards apart.  We opened up a rapid on a German working party first night in.  It is good fun blazing away though.”

 “Rats and Mice are a great pest in your dug-out.  They run over you at night and steal your bread and so on.   I shot a great big one the other night [which] is probably about the best deed I’ve done for a few days.  We will be in the trenches for Christmas and New Years.  I intend to celebrate somehow and intend to sing the German National Anthem to see what happens.  I wish I had paid more attention in my French and German classes as the languages are useful over here…"

 

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The Littliest Gunner: Meet Mason

When I heard that a five-year old was joining us on the Return to Vimy Tour, I was a little concerned.  Mason was travelling with his granddad, Len Seymour on one of the gunner buses.  I knew the pace and content of the trip was going to be very adult and perhaps a challenge for a young child to keep up with or to stay interested in.  By the end of the trip, Mason had taught me and the other very seasoned travelers a few things about how to handle the rigors of a 10-day battlefield tour.  Mason took every chance he could to enjoy himself and these are the traveler tips he modeled for all of us on the tour: sleep whenever and wherever you can to shake off jet lag, enjoy a hot drink at the gas bar stops; talk to as many people as you can; let tourists take your photo; dress well for all the special activities; always make use of your imagination at the museums and remember at the cemeteries.  Mason was a fine traveler and his happy disposition was infectious for the rest of us.  The trip was a multi-generational experience for both Len and Mason.

Len’s reflects: “The reason I did this trip, was really to honour my own grandfather as he arrived in France with his Unit in the Spring of 1915 and he didn’t return to Canada until the Spring of 1919 when his Regiment returned to Winnipeg and it demobilized. Even though he was a member of the 50th Gordon’s in Victoria, at mobilization he joined the 48th Reserve Battalion, and then when the 27th Battalion organized he trained with them, since he was originally from the Winnipeg Region and before that, a lumberjack on Vancouver Island.

Having a chance to honour my own grandfather at Vimy Ridge, alongside my own grandson was terrific. I was very young, when my grandfather passed away, and my greatest memory of him was listening to him amongst his friends at the Legion in Victoria after a Remembrance Day Parade, that my parents always took us to.  I recall a friend of my grandfather’s leaning close to me and telling me that he owed his life to my grandfather, as he saved his life during the First World War.”

Mason earned the title of the littliest gunner on the bus and the Best Traveler Award, a package of Canadian licorice presented on the last day, along with a round of hearty applause.

 

 Sleep when you can.

Sleep when you can.

 Enjoy a hot drink when the bus stops.

Enjoy a hot drink when the bus stops.

 Using my imagination on the German gun at Pegasus Museum, Benouville.

Using my imagination on the German gun at Pegasus Museum, Benouville.

 Mason ready with his granddad Len, for Menin Gate ceremony in Ypres, Belgium.

Mason ready with his granddad Len, for Menin Gate ceremony in Ypres, Belgium.

 Meet as many people as you can.

Meet as many people as you can.

 Remember at the cemeteries; Beny-Sur-Mer, France.

Remember at the cemeteries; Beny-Sur-Mer, France.

La Faisanderie Restaurant: My Most Extraordinary Meal

Jannick was the owner of the lovely Chateau Fresnoy, located just outside Arras.  Dave picked this Bed and Breakfast for us to stay in and the sprawling garden impressed me as we drove through the gate. She recommended we drive 20 minutes into Arras for our dinner that evening.  This meal, to me, is a meal that will likely never be equaled again. 

The city square of Arras at night is illuminated to reveal the fronts of buildings that had to be rebuilt after the shells of the First World War.  Only the roof of the original building that houses La Faisanderie, caved in during the war.  The original façade greets guests as they enter.  The dining area is nestled in the bricked cellar two floors down. When I ask about the horse collars on the wall and harness, the owner Laurent Duburquoy, explains that during the war when his family owned the building, this space was used as a stable. The history of the building was intriguing but the food was unparalleled. Laurent served us as his only waiter had just quit without notice.   I thought that might not be a good sign; the chef changed my mind.

I have never tasted a CO2 infused cauliflower emulsion with crispy pancetta before but it was a silky, flavorful delight that preceded our meal.  Dave had the fois gras – having only had one previous experience with fois gras myself – I am now a convert and ready to eat it on toast if I could afford it!  Dave’s meal was rich and meaty in a traditional northern French style and mine, a local white fish, arrived plated like a work of art.  The other outstanding moment, a French Sauvignon Blanc arrived for me, which was excellent.  I am challenged sometimes when travelling in France because I love crisp, zesty, white New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs – now I have a favourite French one I love.  If you find yourself anywhere near Arras, this gastronomic delight awaits you.  Contact information: www.restaurant-la-faisanderie.com

 Arras at night

Arras at night

 Uassuming interior

Uassuming interior

 The chef working his magic in the spotless kitchen

The chef working his magic in the spotless kitchen

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 Artful medley of vegetables present the local fresh fish

Artful medley of vegetables present the local fresh fish

 Bourgignon fig gravy

Bourgignon fig gravy

 New favourite for me to find again in France

New favourite for me to find again in France

 Michelin guide worthy; can't imagine what you have to do to earn a star!

Michelin guide worthy; can't imagine what you have to do to earn a star!