Anne Strickland was very glad to be on our Return to Vimy 2017 tour. It is here that she knew she was retracing the steps of her uncle Hugh Gordon Munro. From Oakville, Ontario, he signed up to fight in May 1915 at 18 years old. In a letter he sent home to the family, he writes, " The best thing that we can do, is to lay in the bottom of the trench and chew gum." He was wounded in The Battle of the Somme, near the Regina Trench, France on the 9th October, 1916. The nurse, who cared for him at the Casualty Clearing Station, wrote a "lovely letter home" to his family when he succumbed to his battle wounds. He is buried at the Contay British Cemetery, on the main road from Amiens to Arras. The family possessions that have been passed on to Anne included the temporary wooden crossbar grave marker with his name on it, his "death penny", and a personal identification bracelet. Anne wore his bracelet on the return to Vimy Tour as she walked the preserved trenches of the Somme.
It took a bit of time to identify what I was trying to photograph on our trip to France in March. With spring just starting, there were no leaves on the trees. I could spot round clumps of bright green leaves high up in the boughs of mature trees. I finally got my answer – mistletoe. This plant with its round white berries provides romantics with a chance to kiss beneath it at Christmas time. When we were travelling a little later on our Return To Vimy Trip in April, another month of growth revealed its bright leaves and it growing robustly. Many clumps were growing in a tree hanging above the Canadian War Cemetery in Dieppe on the sunny day we visited. It was the first time I was able to look at it really closely. The white berries are just starting to form. The parasitic nature of mistletoe can overtake the host tree but often it is part of a complex ecosystem and its presence supports other creatures in its vicinity. It made me wonder if mistletoe was growing in the trees in northern France 100 years ago during the Great War. I found these photos that capture, that in spite of the war, soldiers were still trying to embrace the spirit of Christmas.
Givenchy en Gohelle, a tiny village in France, was liberated from German occupation during the battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917. Now many of the homes in the village are flying the maple leaf in honour of the Canadian contribution. The flags all come from a New Brunswick hardware store and were shipped to France in time for the Vimy commemoration. Our battlefield guides Cindy Brown and Lee Windsor, joining us from The Gregg Center at the University of New Brunswick, have a special relationship with the town and all 200 of our Return To Vimy tour clients will all be visiting the village tomorrow to help them commemorate. Villagers have been taking free lessons in English this year to help them greet the Canadians who visit.