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

IMG_5567.jpg
IMG_5568.JPG
 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!

Wolfe Island Remembrance Day Talk 11 November 2017

Clarence Raymond Watts was born on Wolfe Island, Ontario, January 3, 1890.  He was the son of Rev. Asa Orlando Watts and Emma Augusta Miner Watts.  He had four younger sisters and one older brother. His father was a Methodist minister who may have been preaching here on Wolfe Island when Clarence was born, the family moved around quite a bit in the following years. The 1891 census has the family in Stanstead QC, while the 1911 census lists their residence as Storrington, ON. At the start of the war his family was in Merrickville, which was his mother’s home town.

Like many Canadians, Clarence moved west at some point after 1911. The recently-created provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta were booming and Clarence found employment as a bookkeeper in Regina. It was while he was there that he decided to enlist on the 24th of January 1916 just after his 26th birthday; however he did so in Winnipeg, joining the 179th Battalion, Cameron Highlanders of Canada. He was unmarried at the time of his enlistment and was 5 feet, 5 inches tall with a dark complexion, brown eyes and dark hair. He left a good job in Regina to enlist – we don’t know his reasons nor do we know if his parents in Merrickville were aware of his decision.

The 179th Battalion trained at Camp Hughes south of Brandon, MB during the summer of 1916 and shipped out for England in the fall. When it got there, like so many other units, it was broken up for reinforcements. Clarence found himself in the 43rd Battalion, Cameron Highlanders of Canada, a Winnipeg unit, in the 3rd Canadian Division.

Clarence missed the Battle of the Somme but would likely have participated in the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917 and at Hill 70 in August. He survived both these major engagements in which over 7,000 Canadians died. In October 1917, Field Marshall Haig ordered the Canadian Corps, the most effective formation in the British Army, north to Flanders where he needed Lt-Gen Currie’s experienced battle-tested troops to provide some sort of victory to close out the Battle of 3rd Ypres. This battle, also known as Passchendaele, remains one of the most controversial of the First World War. Over 500,000 soldiers on both sides were killed or wounded in the battle that raged across the devastated landscape west of Ypres – the last major town in Belgium not occupied by the Germans. The rainiest summer in Belgian memory led into a rainy fall, as the British Army slowly pushed the Germans back at great cost to both sides. The water table of the low lying countryside was already shattered when the Canadians arrived in mid-October. Lakes of mud swallowed men, horses and guns whole, with progress across the battlefield measured in metres, and movement in the rear areas largely confined to wooden walkways called duckboards.

General Currie was not happy to be in the Ypres Salient that fall. He demanded and received from Field Marshall Haig, more time to prepare, more guns, and a switch in Army boundaries so he would not have to fight under a commander in whom he had no confidence. Currie could make these demands due to the great reputation of the Canadian Corps, a reputation earned in blood.

Clarence’s battalion the 43rd was scheduled to attack on the first day of the Canadian assault – 26 October 1917. They had to attack uphill through a sea of mud and capture Bellevue Spur, the high ground on the north side of Passchendaele Ridge. Their objective was one kilometer away – the Red Line.  The attack went in at 5:40 am in a mist that quickly became a driving rain. After initial success the two battalions of the 9th Brigade – Clarence’s 43rd and the 46th, stalled about 600 m from their start point. They were falling back when Lt Shankland and his platoon seized the initiative and captured some stubborn German positions. Shankland would earn the VC, but Clarence Watts would be cut down and die that day. The terribly muddy conditions meant that his remains were not recovered and as result he has no known grave. He is instead remembered with honour at the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, in Ypres along with over 53,000 other Commonwealth soldiers. Each night at 8:00 pm the traffic is stopped at the Menin Gate while buglers of the local Fire Brigade sound the Last Post in the roadway under the Memorial’s arches.

Clarence Watts was not on Wolfe Island for long, but he will be long remembered by the community where he was born. We will remember them. Thank you,  Miigwetch, Nia;wan, Merci.

 Pte Clarence Watts

Pte Clarence Watts