STE. MARIE DUMONT, WWII RE-ENACTORS: WWII re-enactors descend on Normandy in France each June. Community festivals are held. Battles on beaches are re-enacted. All kinds of military equipment is on display and on the roads. It’s been said that on these weekends, there are more jeeps in Normandy than during the D-Day landings. Swap meets are terrific places to see the re-enactors in their full gear. Most are French citizens, but many come over from England. I have even seen re-enactors from former Soviet-bloc countries participating. The small village of Ste. Marie duMont in one of the many communities in the region where celebrations are held with re-enactors out in force. Almost all take on the roles of American soldiers.
Shot handheld with a Nikon D40X with a Nikkor 70-300mm lens at 210mm, f6.3, 1/500 sec., ISO 800. Photo by John Ecker | pantheon photography
REMEMBRANCE DAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2012: Top photo: Canadian flag and Calgary Highlanders, Juno Beach Centre D-Day Commemoration, June 6th, 2010. Shot handheld with a Nikon D40X, Nikkor 70-300mm lens at 300mm, f20, 1/640 sec. ISO 800. Photo by John Ecker | pantheon photography.
Bottom two photos: Queen’s Own Rifles House, Juno Beach; D-Day and modern day photos. Click here for an account of the D-Day landing by the Queen’s Own Rifles: http://www.members.shaw.ca/junobeach/juno-4-1.htm
REMEMBRANCE: VIMY CANADIAN CEMETERY, FRANCE: Shot handheld with a Nikon D300, Nikkor 18-200 lens at 127mm, f22, 1/125 sec. ISO 1000. Photo by John Ecker | pantheon photography
WINDMILL NEAR MONT ST. MICHEL, BEAUVOIR, FRANCE: It’s not easy finding a new perspective from which to photograph Mont St. Michel. It must be one the most photographed sites in all of France. Driving across the countryside, looking for a new angle, I spotted this well-known (to others, not to me until then) windmill perched atop a ridge in a field. Windmills have been in use in the area for hundreds of years. Now, an ambitious wind generation plan is said to be compromising Mont St. Michel, a UNESCO heritage site. The wind farms are part of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s plans to generate electricity from alternate sources. UNESCO, along with local authorities preservationists across France, are concerned that the proposed wind turbines will be a blight on the landscape and compromise the spectacular views of Mont St. Michel. I could not agree more. This windmill is located near Beauvoir in the Lower Normandy Region. Nearby are the towns of Saint-Georges-de-Gréhaigne and Tanis.
Shot handheld with a Nikon D300, Nikkor 16-85 lens at 85mm. f/16, 1/200 sec, ISO 800. Photo by John Ecker, Pantheon Photography
FERDINAND FOCH TOMB, PARIS, FRANCE: This is the tomb for Ferdinand Foch. He died on March 20, 1929, and was interred
in Les Invalides, in Paris, near the tomb of Napoleon. Foch is considered to be one of France’s greatest military minds. (He must have been smart; they even named a variety of wine grape after him!) Foch rose quickly through the ranks during World War I and was appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Armies on March 26, 1918 with the title of ‘Generalissime’ (supreme General). Foch believed that the Treaty of Versailles a “treason” because only the permanent occupation of the Rhineland would prevent future German aggression. As the treaty was being signed Foch reportedly said: “This is not peace. It is an armistice for 20 years.” His words were prophetic. World War II started just twenty years and sixty five days later. The tomb is located one level above that of Napoleon.
Shot handheld with a Nikon D40X, with a Nikkor 70-300mm lens at 127mm, f5.3, 1/15th sec., ISO 800. Image by John Ecker | pantheon photography
BEACH REMEMBERED, NORMANDY, FRANCE: June 6 is the anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Operation Overlord. The Canadians took Juno Beach that day. They landed near Courseulles. Advance bombardments by air and sea before the landings had done a good job. German beach defenses were quickly stopped, with some accounts noting that Canadian landing craft were not being shot at just 15 minutes after the Juno assault began. Today, the shoreline looks much as it did almost 70 years ago. Period photos show many landmarks that still exist today. The top photo shows defeated German troops guarded by their Canadian captor. The bottom photo is a modern day shot near the same spot. John Ecker | pantheon photography
POPPIES AGAINST A BLUE SKY, NORTHERN FRANCE: Poppies are widely recognized as a flower of remembrance. The poppy become a strong emblem remembrance due in large part to the famous poem, In Flanders Fields written by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae who wrote the poem on May 3, 1915. As a Canadian traveler in northern France, it is impossible not to notice the ubiquitous flower. Most Commonwealth countries observe one or two minutes of silence each year on November 11th at 11:00 a.m. (eleventh day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour).
Photo illustration by John Ecker | Pantheon Photography
THIEPVAL BRITISH MEMORIAL, THIEPVAL, PICARDIE, FRANCE: Britain’s largest World War I memorial is found in northern France near Thiepval in Picardie. The structure was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. Started in 1928, it was completed in four years and inaugurated by the Prince of Wales on July 31st 1932. The battlefield monument required extensive reinforcement to its foundations due to war-time tunneling. The memorial is reserved for missing or unidentified soldiers with no known grave. The Portland Stone piers bear the names of over 72,000 men lost in the Somme battles. Visitors may wonder why there are gaps in the stone between some names. This is because the names of soldiers whose graves were subsequently found are removed from the memorial.
April 17th is an important date in World War I history, so the date of this post is no coincidence. April 17, 1915 was the date of the British assault on Hill 60 when the Brits blew up several mines under German positions. It served as a turning point and was the prelude to the Second Battle of Ypres. This is also the date of the arrival of the 1st Canadian Division in France. On French soil for just five days, the Canadians were moved to the front lines where they found themselves in the biggest defensive fight to that point by Canadian troops. April 17, 1917 is also a momentous if not ignominious date for the French. After France’s disastrous Nivelle Offensive, French infantry started to mutiny in protest of the military leadership and trench conditions. By the time the mutinies subsided several months later, over 35,000 soldiers were found to be involved with 68 out of 112 French divisions affected. Fewer than 3,000 men were punished.
Shot handheld with a Nikon D300, with a Nikkor AF-S 16-85mm lens at 20mm, f25, 1/400th second, ISO 2000. Photo by John Ecker | Pantheon Photography
CANADIAN MEMORIAL, VIMY, FRANCE: I’ve visited Canada’s Memorial a few times over the years. Each time, the skies have been mostly gloomy, adding an even great sense of solemnity. When the clouds do break, and the sun shines on the bright white stone, the sight’s true beauty emerges. The memorial overlooks the Douai plain in northern France, about ten kilometers from the town of Arras.
On April 9, 1917 the Canadian Corps was ordered to seize Vimy Ridge. The heavily-fortified seven-kilometre ridge held a commanding view over the Allied lines. Previous French attacks had failed with over 100,000 casualties.
The names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers who were killed in France and whose final resting place was then unknown are carved into the stone. Facing the Douai visitors can see other places where Canadians fought and died. 7,000 plus more are buried in 30 war cemeteries within a 20-kilometre radius of the Memorial.
At the base of the Memorial, these words appear:
To the valour of their
Countrymen in the Great War
And in memory of their sixty
Thousand dead this monument
Is raised by the people of Canada
The Memorial was designed by Canadian architect and sculptor Walter Allward. The foundation of the memorial is a bed of 11,000 tonnes of concrete. It is reinforced with hundreds of tonnes of steel. The figures were carved on site. The large cloaked figure on the front (east) side, was carved from a single, 30-tonne block.
Over the decades, the memorial became weather worn and damaged by the elements. In 2007 a major re-construction and restoration project was completed. The work was massive. The main elements of the memorial were pretty much dismantled. The monument was re-pointed; damaged stone was replaced; lighting and draining was improved.
Many people assume that the ‘front’ of the memorial is on the approach from the parking area. On the contrary the front is actually on the opposite side. To full appreciate this sculpture, it is necessary to walk to the edge of the lawn in front of the monument, with your back to the Douai plain.
Nearby the memorial is the Vimy Canadian Cemetery. Row, upon row of graves– many without names.
Photos by John Ecker | Pantheon Photography
POPPY IN WHEAT FIELD, NORTHERN FRANCE: Spring will soon be here and the poppies will emerge in Northern France. The poppy is, of course, a flower of remembrance. Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote his famous poem “In Flanders Fields” around May 3, 1915, lamenting the loss of a close friend in battle. Pretty well every school child in Canada knows the poem and it’s publicly recited year after year on November 11th. Poppies can be seen all along country roads in France and Belgium. This one was growing in a wheat field.
Shot handheld with a Nikon D40X, Nikkor AF-S 18-200 zoom lens at 145mm., f13, 1/640 sec, ISO 800.
Photo by John Ecker | Pantheon