AGIRA, SICILY, ITALY: This long abandoned building is near Agira, Sicily. It’s now home to a sizeable pigeon population that calls the old building home. The building is not far from the Agira Canadian cemetery which is the only exclusively Canadian cemetery in Italy from the Second World War. Elsewhere in the country, Canadian war dead were often buried with other Commonwealth soldiers. Agira is the final resting place for all 490 Canadians killed during the Sicily campaign.
Operation Husky was the code name for the invasion of Sicily. On July 10, 1943,160,000 British, Canadian, and American troops landed in southern Sicily in advance of future Allied landings on mainland Italy. The terrain in southern and central Sicily is very hilly and was mostly barren in 1943. The German defenders put up great resistance and the Canadians had it tough in their advance toward Agira. Still, today, one can see the locations of the German defences and the route Canadian troops took in their attack on the town.
After the taking of Agira, most of the Canadian troops were merged with the British for the final advance toward Messina on the northern tip of Sicily. Sicily finally fell on August 17th, 1943, just five weeks after the landings. Shot handheld with a Nikon D300, ISO 250, f/20, 1/40 sec. 56mm on Nikon 18-200 lens, photo by John Ecker | pantheon photography
Each year, at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, we pause to remember those Canadians who died in service to their country. We’ll wear poppies or forget-me-nots. We’ll think about loved ones lost or maybe relatives we never met because they made the supreme sacrifice.
Over these past almost 100 years since wearing a poppy started as a Canadian tradition, approximately 115,000 Canadians have died in war and military service: First World War, 66,665; Second World War, 46,998; Korea, 516; Peacekeeping, 121; Afghanistan, 154. As a percentage of population, in the First World War, almost 1% (.92%) of Canada’s population was lost to war. In the United States it was .13% and the United Kingdom 2.19%. In the Second World War, .40% of Canada’s population was lost to war. In the United States, .32% and the United Kingdom .94%.
Shot handheld with a Nikon D40x, Nikon AFS 70-300 lens at 300mm, f10, 1/250 sec. ISO 1600. Photo by John Ecker | pantheon photography
“MEETING”, WANG SHUGANG SCULPTURE, VANCOUVER, B.C. Wang Shugang’s sculpture, “Meeting” was installed in 2009 as part of the Vancouver
Biennale, an international contemporary art exposition. Shugang’s style is typically expressed in four colours only—red, white, black or bronze. Meeting is painted in ‘Chinese Red’. Historically red represents happiness. However, it also signified terror during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Red is the colour associated with the Chinese Communist Party. Says Shugang, “Today red is the colour of the faded lettering praising Mao on the ceilings of the factories. The Chinese flag, the walls of the temple, which coats the Buddhist monks, but also the clothes of a bride in red. But it is rather the Chinese, glowing red of communism, which I use.” It’s fun to sit and watch passersby interact with the sculptures. Most assume the same squat position as the figures. Others seem to enjoy poking and prodding the smiling painted bronze men.
Shot handheld with a Nikon D40X, with a Nikkor AF-S 18-200 lens at 170mm, f8, 1/800 sec., ISO 800. Image by John Ecker | pantheon photography
“MEETING”, VANCOUVER SCULPTURE: This sculpture, called “Meeting” was made by Chinese sculptor Wang Shugang. The figures are cast in bronze and painted red. All figures are from the same mould, with 8 of the figures arranged in a circle. Located along Vancouver’s waterfront, next to the Westin Bayshore hotel, this sculpture seems to always invite passersby to squat alongside one of the stoic figures, usually for a tourist photo.
Shot handheld with a Nikon D40X with a Nikkor AF-S 18-200 zoom lens. Image by 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
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
5 RED TELEPHONE BOOTHS, LONDON, ENGLAND: Red public telephones in London are ubiquitous. But as long-time travelers know, their ranks are diminishing due to the explosion of cell-phone use. The booths in this photo are located on Broad Street. The origin of these icons was a 1924 design competition. The basic look was updated over the years, including significant improvements in 1929 and 1934. In 1935, to celebrate the silver jubilee of King George V, thousands of the red boxes were placed throughout Britain. It’s hard to imagine them in any other colour but there was widespread opposition to the bright scheme. The 1959 version introduced an even brighter red and it went on to be the standard colour. The classic British booth has even been exported for use in Malta and Cyprus. In Washington, DC, a red booth sits outside the British Embassy. Today, stop by virtually any booth in London and you’ll see it festooned with business cards for escort services. How long will the iconic booths last? Well, when was the last time you actually used a phone booth to make a call?
Shot handheld with a Nikon D70s, AF-S Nikkor 18-55mm lens at 48mm, f9, 1/320 sec. Photo by John Ecker | pantheon photography
FLOWER FIELD, NORTHERN FRANCE: Poppies dot the landscape of northern France. Their bright red colour and symbolism as the flower of remembrance can make them a compelling feature in photographs. As I composed this shot, I recalled something one of my photography professors shared years ago when I was in college. He believed that any photo that included a person became a photo of a person. His point was that the mere presence of a person in a photo established both its context and focal point. Applying my old prof’s maxim to this shot, the scarecrow is a person in effigy, thereby strongly drawing the viewer’s attention to it. What do you think– does the inclusion of a person in a photo establish a strong focal point? Shot handheld with a Nikon, D300, Nikkor 70 – 300 mm at 127 mm, 1/400 sec, f29, ISO 200.
Photo by John Ecker | pantheon photography
MERRY CHRISTMAS! It’s Christmas time, a time to celebrate faith and family. It’s also time to reflect back on the past year and to look forward in joyous anticipation to the new year. This photo was taken in Whitby, Ontario, at Cullen Central Park. A good friend tells me that he loves this shot because it reminds him of “The Waltons,” an 80s (or was it 70s?) family friendly television program. I like the shot because it shows my two children walking through a park that has been such a big part of our lives.
Photo by John Ecker | pantheon photography