Ottawa

Remembrance, The Response & The National War Memorial

(From Christine Montague Canvas and Camera Blog,  November 2014 )

In October 2014,  the sudden, violent, and unprovoked attack on two young army reservist soldiers standing ceremonial guard by The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of  The National War Memorial in Ottawa shocked Canadians.  That one of these soldiers, Corporal Nathan Cirillo of The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada (Princess Louise's), was mortally wounded at the foot of this monument, was heartbreakingly poignant.

The National War Memorial  orThe Response was commissioned in response to Canadians' demand  for a national monument that would pay tribute to the tens of thousands killed in World War I.It was to honour the spirit of heroism, self-sacrifice, and all that was noble and great exemplified by the Canadians who served overseas.

©Christine Montague Fine Art Portrait oil painting of young boy by National War memorial, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

©Christine Montague Fine Art Portrait oil painting of young boy by National War memorial, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

In 1926, Vernon March (United Kingdom) won the competition to create this memorial with his vision of a granite and bronze cenotaph The Response. The Response commemorates the enormous response of the citizens of the young and struggling Canada to the call of a war in which sacrifice was on a scale previously unknown.

Armed conflict is deliberately not glorified inThe Response.  Instead, the monument's twenty-two bronze figures, clad in historically accurate uniforms representative of all the services involved,  push forth unto duty. They pass under a giant granite Arch with allegories of peace and freedom atop it.

Ironically, The Response was not unveiled until May 1939, less than 4 months before the start of World War 2.  It has since been rededicated to include those killed in World War 2 and the Korean War.  The dates of Canada's participation in the War in Afghanistan (2003 - 2013)  will also be added.

The Response is now the nation's preeminent war memorial. The attack on the soldiers that stood respectfully and unarmed before it on that recent October day, has tragically strengthened this symbolism. A Canadian soldier went forth and died in his call to duty as an army reservist. The response of Canadians to the events at our nation's heart included examples of  bravery, honour, and duty. But compassion was there, too.

The Remembrance Day ceremony at The National War Memorial is broadcast nationally. Like the granite and bronze the monument is made of, memories of the events that unfolded are hard, heavy and long-lasting.

At the November 11, 2014 Remembrance Day Ceremony on Parliament Hill in Ottawa , the National War Memorial was rededicated to all those who died  and who will die in service to Canada. A constant reminder that peace and freedom come with great sacrifice. The very least those of us who don't serve can do is to remeber those who fought for us in the past,  support our present day veterans and pray for those of the future. 

Remembrance Day: It's Not Black & White. Red Poppies, Art & Stories

          The 24th Ottawa War Memorial 
 
On November 11, 2010, shortly before 11 a.m., I stood alone at the cenotaph near my countryside artist studio. Thousands of miles away, my first-born son  was stationed  in a FOB, i.e. a forward operating base in Afghanistan. He had been gone for months, and still had a couple of months yet to serve in his extended tour.

I have always observed Remembrance Day,  but never gave it deep thought. In school, I liked to draw poppies and was often the one chosen to recite "In Flanders Field" at assembly. I appreciated that my children's elementary schools put great effort into their Remembrance Day ceremonies, and sometimes I helped. But other than that?

Well, my age is showing. When I was born, in the dawn before internet and satellite tv, heck, colour tv would have been good, anecdotes about any war were ancient history to me.  You might as well have been talking about ancient Egyptians (except they were cooler).

When I was an older teenager, my mom  revealed to me, like a guilty secret, instead of the sad story it was, that she had been married before. Her husband, who she had adored, had been killed in WW2 and was buried somewhere in France.  Even though this was obviously a pivotal event in my mother's life, my teenage brain saw this as a tragic, romantic tale of love, not a story about war.  Still, my mom was old , and  this was all before my time, so even that  story got filed right along those of my WW1 & WW2 veteran family members.

But oh, what a difference  30 years and a truckload of hindsight makes.

My children are now at the age that my grandparents, parents, and their siblings were when they had their wartime experiences.   I can better imagine my predecessors as young people, now that I have a houseful of them myself. Much easier now to imagine them enlisting for idealistic adventure.  Much sadder to imagine the danger,  loneliness, sorrow, exhaustion, terror, and trauma they faced thousands of miles from home.

Now the stories make more sense. Stories of  obedience, endurance and perseverance, and of camaraderie, compassion, and bravery. And if they were lucky to come home, and not all my family members were, they brought secrets, war wounds and, sometimes, a war bride.

Oh, WW1, WW2, Afghanistan.

That is what I thought of as I stood, now joined by a few others, at that cenotaph that day. I snapped a photo of the cenotaph with my phone,  e-mailed the pic to my son telling him I loved him with all my heart, and that the good folk at the cenotaph wished him well.

To my amazement, he answered me right back.

War is the blackest foolishness, but iPhones, black or white, are mighty handy in wartime.

If you would like to send a Christmas wish to those military still serving overseas, click http://www.sears.ca/custom-content/operation-wish?extid=050211_ca_Vanity_EN_Unknown_Operationwish

The 24th: Art & Legacy.

In a short while the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will pay a visit to The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the National War Memorial "The Response" in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The Great War is a part of our shared history and with many of us still connected to a family history of relatives who fought, this striking memorial is a testament to all we have here in Canada now. When I painted this work of my son climbing on this striking memorial as a surprise gift for  his 18th birthday, little did I realize at the same time he had enlisted as a reservist. There are 23 larger than life figures on this dramatic statue and he is the 24th. His freedom symbolizes what these young soldiers fought and sacrificed for. The grandfather of a visitor to my Williams mill studio had been one of the models for this work. I wish I  had thought to ask her more questions, like his name, so it too, could live on.

Forgetting & Remembering: Remembrance Day Art

 

 

Somehow, I forgot I did this oil painting. A gift to my son on his 18th birthday, it hangs in our house in the dining room - a room we rarely use (isn't a dining room table for folding laundry?). It shows him climbing, carefree,  at about the age of four, on the War Memorial, located near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,  in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He is painted realistically, and static, while the figures on the statue are more "ghostly" and moving.

On the eve of Remembrance Day, I though I would share it with you. With all the gut wrenching news in the Toronto Star recently about Canadian War soldiers injured in Afghanistan, and some pretty heart-rending reporting on CBC radio as well, an image of youth,  hope and peace can never hurt.

 

Note: One day, when I was working in this oil painting, a visitor to my studio mentioned her (great?) uncle had been one of the models for one the figures in this monument to peace.