Thursday, November 12, 2009


Arts community comes together to remember
By David Lea, Oakville Beaver Staff
Arts & Entertainment
Nov 04, 2009

Old bunkers covered in graffiti, crumbling fortifications atop chalk-white cliffs, moss covered anti-tank barriers silently guarding an empty beach.

The photos, currently on display at the Oakville Galleries, are of the beaches of Dieppe as they appear today.

The tranquil and hauntingly beautiful images, taken by Bertrand Carrière, belie the violence and destruction of the setting’s Second World War past.

In 1942, Dieppe was the scene of one of Canada’s greatest military catastrophes when a raid by nearly 5,000 Canadian soldiers was met with murderous resistance from the occupying German forces.

At the conclusion of the battle, more than 900 Canadians had been killed with more than 1,800 taken prisoner.

“The artist Bertrand Carrière went to these beaches and photographed the way they look today, which is basically how they were left after this raid,” said Elizabeth Underhill, interim curatorial assistant and registrar.

“These images are quite beautiful, but they are also quite haunting in the way this moment in history has been frozen in time.”
For Second World War pilot Wess McIntosh, the exhibit serves as a reminder of just how poorly planned the Dieppe Raid really was.

A photo of an abandoned concrete bunker embedded within the nearby cliffs illustrates just how protected the Germans were and how exposed the Canadians would have been as they charged up the beaches.

“They didn’t have a chance,” said McIntosh, gesturing to the bunker photo.

“They weren’t killed, they were murdered. Some of our guys tried to climb up the cliffs and the Germans were just shooting them. How can you shoot a gun when you’re climbing up a hill.”

For local writer Tom Douglas, who has written extensively about Canada at war, the photos stirred memories of his own journey to Dieppe and of those who fought there.

“I had a Sunday school teacher, when I was a young boy, who fought at Dieppe. One Sunday it happened to be the anniversary of Dieppe and he tried to explain to us what it was like to give your life for a fellow man. This didn’t mean anything to us at the time and we giggled and laughed and threw bread crusts at each other and he broke down and cried and left,” said Douglas. “To this day I feel so bad about that and I wish I could go back to him and say, ‘Now I understand.’”

Besides the photos, the exhibit also features a documentary of Carrière’s visit to Dieppe.

During this visit Carrière took the photos of more than 900 current members of the Canadian Forces and placed them on the beach in an effort to show what 900 casualties really looks like. The Dieppe photos, which will be on display until Nov. 22, is not the only war-related art exhibit in town, with the Oakville arts community unveiling many others in honour of Remembrance Day.

Another such exhibit, displayed at the Oakville Museum, located at 8 Navy St., is entitled Words to End All Wars and features letters, postcards, diaries and poems written during the First World War.

With many of the letters written by Oakville soldiers within the trenches of France and Belgium the exhibit goes a long way to allowing readers to understand not only what the war was like, but who the soldiers writing the letters really were.

“The Germans are pretty lively this morning and shells have been coming at regular intervals and while I write (Fritz) is shelling one of our flying machines, but they never seem to hit one yet and they just torment the life out of them by turning and flying back over our lines,” reads one letter.

“We had some great fun the other afternoon. A bunch of us fellows got some pails and went drowning rats out from under our huts. We finished three huts and it kept the two dogs busy killing them. The first hut we killed 47, the second 85, and the hut we sleep in over 30 so you can see for yourself just the amount of rats we have around.”

Other artifacts at this exhibit included German First World War helmets, Canadian First World War uniforms, a German belt with the words ‘Gott Mit Uns’ (God is with Us) inscribed on it and a piece of a German airplane, which was dissected by souvenir-hungry Allied soldiers after it was shot down.

Curator of Collections Carolyn Cross noted that seeing these artifacts, which were generously loaned to the museum by numerous Oakville residents, allows observers to see the shadows of war in a way history textbooks simply cannot match.

“There are two letters from George Brock Chisholm, one that was written to his father, so military man to military man as well as a letter written to his friends back home. It’s neat to see the different tones of these letters coming from the same man and how he grows over the years and his experiences in the First World War,” said Cross.

“He’s not just a name and a soldier, he’s a real person with hopes and dreams and a personality.”

Words to End All Wars will be on display until June 6, 2010.
Information on additional artistic tributes to Oakville’s veterans can be seen online by visiting .

Original Link: Oakville Beaver

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