Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Canterbury Tale . . .

If you have a moment to venture over to the Sagittarian's place in New Zealand, More Canterbury Tales, this past Friday, July 10th, she did a post about things you can find on a cold, wet Sunday around Christchurch, which included photos of a large statue of a soldier named Sergeant Henry James Nicholas, of the Canterbury Regiment that fought in France in World War One. Sergeant Nicholas had the sad misfortune to be killed less than a month before the Armistice at the age of 26. The Sagittarian, in her post about Sergeant Nicholas asked : "Has anyone ever seen his Other resting Place?"
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I'm not sure who she might have been addressing the question to, if not to the entire population of planet Earth. Surely some number of people have noticed his grave at the back of the Vertigneul churchyard in the past, but how many people who are actively reading her blog may have seen it ? It occurred to me that the second number might be much smaller. So being more than somewhat intrigued, I set out today on a mission : go find the grave of Sergeant Nicholas and report back to any curious people in New Zealand who may have been wondering what his final resting place resembles. The answer is in the following photos . . .
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It strikes me as more than a little bit curious that just a handful of soldiers were buried in the Vertigneul churchyard, which is in a tiny hamlet of the town of Romeries, when there are much larger military cemeteries nearby. And Sergeant Nicholas, according to the monument in Christchurch, New Zealand, was killed on a bridge in Beaudignies, a town several miles up the road from where he's buried, while there are two military cemeteries at Beaudignies, one which had more soldiers from New Zealand in it. I'm wondering if he was wounded in Beaudignies, and then carried away from the fighting, to expire later close to Vertigneul . . .
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The sign on the fence around the churchyard says, "Commonwealth War Graves". . .
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A detail on the facade of the church, depicting St. Michael, I suppose, or some other dragon slayer . . .
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And an angel with a broken elbow was also keeping an eye on anyone coming or going . . .
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This rather ornate cross was not far from the grave of Sergeant Nicholas . . .
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Just outside the church this patch of wildflowers (perhaps not so wild) was crying out colorfully for someone to take a picture of them, and as there was no one else around to comply, I accepted the task, in order to finish this post on a bright note. In some places, when a person is deceased, he or she may be said to be "pushing up daisies". Here it may have been more a case of "pushing up poppies". Sergeant Nicholas, may you rest peacefully, as you push up poppies forevermore . . .
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24 comments:

Margaret Pangert said...

It strikes me as sad that these boys lie so far from home, and--although the French have steadfastly maintained their resting places--fewer and fewer people are going to recognize what these graves represent, or even the street Neo-Zelandes. The incredibly groomed church with its flower beds and magnificent angels and complex crucifix speak to another time. I'm wondering if the Sagittarian will be able to find any relatives in her town to relay this to. Nice find, Owen.

louciao said...

That is so cool you were able to take the Saggitarian's clues and track down the Canterbury soldier's grave! Your photos are beautiful, particularly the statuary with the mossy details and wonderfully textured backgrounds. Is that a line of geese in the sky above the church? I find that picture looks like an old postcard that's been colour adjusted for modern tastes (I mean that in a good way!). The riot of colours in the flowerbed makes my eyes happy! Intersting and engaging post...as we have come to expect from Mr. Toad's travels.

TechnoBabe said...

That is a great story. Sergeant Nicholas has stirred much interest. I just can't get over a question in a post in More Cantebury Tales gets answered in your blog, with amazing photos too. You did a really nice thing here.

Steve said...

Monsieur Detective - I salute you!

The Sagittarian said...

You have been elevated to Darling Sod! What a find eh? I just love those flowers, so lively an dvibrant. Thanks so much for that. I shall try and track some of Sgt Nicholas' relatives and see if they have ever been to his actual resting place.

Maggie May said...

I find those statues so incredibly moving.

Buskitten said...

Amazing post , Owen - the French really do loook after the graves, don't they? I too think you are so cool, doing your dectective work and letting us know the results! Incredibly beautiful shots, and comentary - very moving x

Cynthia said...

Owen, I think, if given the choice, I would much rather push of poppies than daisies. Especially, if they were this colorful group...I'm glad you ended on a lighter note because history...is so real and important that sometimes I just need a break. Your research is remarkable!

If you want a laugh, do come over to my blog and check out the retro look! I think next week, I will post about Old San Juan in Puerto Rico...this is me trying to have a lighter feeling summer.

The color in that last photo is gorgeous. <3

the watercats said...

Those statues are amazing!... are they bronze?.... It's incredibly sad to think those young men travelled to the other side of the world to die.... how pointless does war seem.... Beautiful flowers to be buried beneath though.

Owen said...

Dearest Sagittarian... to be elevated to the rank of "Darling Sod" is perhaps the greatest honor imaginable... I'm blushing... well, once a sod, always a sod... I won't try to define what "Darling Sod" may mean... but you are very welcome in any case, it was with great interest yesterday that I set out to find Sergeant Nicholas's resting place, and there are few things I love more than getting out and poking around in off the beaten path corners of France, or wherever. I'll be very curious to learn whether there are any descendants or other relatives still in the Canterbury area...
Signed... a lucky, clever, whatever, darling sod...

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ALL : I will be back here and on below posts as fast as I'm able to answer all your heartwarming comments... I'm running behind again today; though it's a holiday here in France, I'm off to work... a fine Bastille Day to everyone who may happen to read this...
:-D

Janie said...

How ambitious of you to go find the grave. The old church is quite interesting, too. Love that final photo and the image of the young soldier pushing up those bright flowers.

robert said...

Good morning Owen,
what a great entry of yours. What I do enjoy most, reading what you write, is that one is always able to learn something - truly a magic latern making bright ones mind.

Owen said...

Margaret, you are quite right, there are very fastidious gardeners and groudskeepers out there; I visited several military cemeteries yesterday, and they were all impeccably groomed, as though the grass had been cut with scissors, not a weed anywhere. In one such place, a German cemetery just outside Cambrai, there was a British section inside it, and a clear separation very carefully cut in the grass between the two sections to delineate them... And yes, perhaps inevitable that succeeding generations will forget what happened not so long ago ?

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Dear Lynne, I shall try to remain engaging... I'm realizing it is not easy to be interesting day in and day out... am certainly trying to stay out of any ruts... but there is just such a wealth of fascinating things going on when one starts looking a little... Umm, no, that was not a formation geese, just an electric or telephone wire going to the church that I was too lazy to photoshop out of existence... :-)

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Technobabe, it just seemed like the right thing to do, in view of the question that was so innocently posed; I knew it was one of those little things that was going to bother me until I did something about it... the result of which is now known... thanks for dropping in here... I just hope the word doesn't get out that I'm a sucker for photo missions like this... it could turn into a full time job...

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Steve, Monsieur Detective stands saluted... :-D (rare to be called Monsieur, usually it's much worse things people call me... :-)

Owen said...

Hi Maggie, the whole day was incredibly moving for me, if even a fraction of that shows up in the photos, then it was worthwhile...

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Hi Liz ! The Commonwealth and German graveyards in France are incredibly well taken care of... immaculate, which is commendable given that all that was over 90 years ago. Hope all is well with you, please give my very best top of the morning to Tiddles, if he's about today... :-D

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Cynthia, I will stop by, and thanks so much for these kind words, I think I'll go for a mix of daisies, poppies, and sunflowers, if I could choose...

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Dear Watercats... very pointless indeed. I'm not sure what the statues were made of, carved or cast metal, hard for me to tell... an old song comes to mind, now that I think of you and your guitars and all :

Where have all the flowers gone,
Gone to graveyards, everyone
When will they ever learn...
When will they ever learn...

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Hi Janie, many thanks, very touching places linked to these stories of WWI, it is difficult to grasp the scale of what took place there. Driving from near Paris to Cambrai in the space of an hour or so up the A1 highway takes one right along a major portion of what was the north-south running part of the Western Front. Very hard to comprehend that thousands and thousands of people shed their blood in the fields one drives by. A sobering business, history...

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Good morning Robert, I see you are up late like me again... thank you so much, I will try to keep the light burning...

Marguerite said...

You have such an interesting way of telling stories. You really capture the essence of the subject. And your pics are outstanding! Great job,Owen!
Happy Bastille Day!!

Sharon said...

I've just feasted on your delightful blog for, well, I don't even know how long, feel like a glutton, but will surely come back for more. Interesting, thoughtful, fun. Thank you.

Nathalie said...

I can imagine what a moving quest it was that you embarked on. Thank you for doing this Owen, and doing it so beautifully.

I wouldn't mind pushing up a crop of wildflowers such as this one. I find this much nicer than stone or marble.
The flowers won't last as long though...

jeff said...

J'arrive après la bataille !
Tu parles de Saint Michel...! Ne serait-ce pas plutôt saint Georges ? Il y a une chanson que je connais qui parle de Saint George et le dragon...!
Mais tu traines encore dans les sanctuaires...!... Halala !
Tes fleurs sont magnifiques...! Heureusement qu'elles sont là pour égayer l'ensemble ! Il n'y a pas par hasard une kleine petite fleur dans tout celà ?....
Désolé si je ne viens pas très souvent ces temps-ci....! Bientôt les congés et je vais pouvoir souffler et viendre plu souvent ! !
Et toi, mon cher Owen ?
Tchin, bye, ciao !...;)

Rain said...

Hi Owen! I've been m.i.a. for a while, lol! Sorry I've missed your posts! The graveyards are so amazing with their statues...that one of St-Michael is amazing...you don't see that around here. Such amazing history!

Side note: Whenever I load your blog, I get a pop up for a Travian Browser Game...is that on purpose?

Owen said...

Hi Rain, glad to see you are out of MIA status and back to FIA (Found in Action), it's ok, am happy to see you whenever... I know it's not easy to visit every blog in the blogosphere every day ! And still sleep, eat, do laundry, wash dishes, walk dogs or feed cats etc etc... Glad you enjoyed the history... there's no shortage of it here in France. Ummm, concerning the pop up, no that is certainly not intentional, and does not happen on any of the PCs I open my page on at home or at work... maybe you could try deleting all your browsing history and cookies and temporary internet files if on a PC (are you on PC or Mac ?) If on a Mac I wouldn't begin to know where to start, but no one else has mentioned anything like that. Occasionally I stumble on a blog that seems to cause pop ups to open, but that's pretty rare in my blog browsing experience. For a while there some blogs, when I shut the window, caused an unstoppable series of windows to open back up, but that seems to have stopped now. If the problem continues, maybe Blogger Help could assist you ???

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Salut Jeff !
Avant, après, ou pendant la bataille, peu importe, je suis content quand tu passes... oui, St Michel, St Georges, j'avais un doute, c'est pour ça que j'ai mis "or other dragon slayer", en tout cas, l'image de tuer des dragons pendant la guerre était sans doute parlant... je n'ai pas encore vu une quelconque klein fleur dans les champs de fleurs par ici... je n'ai pas su pour l'instant apprivoiser de telles fleurs ?? ... mais bon, il y a toujours l'espoir ? L'espoir et des tonneaux de tisane, nouvellement livrés... mais bon, j'aime pas trop boire tout seule, bref, si jamais tu es libre, passe pour un verre... mais laver bien les mains du sang des rois et présidents d'abord, d'accord... 8-D

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Hi Nathalie... you have a remarkable sense of empathy, for yes, it was quite a quest, had no idea when I set out what I might find, or if it would be a wild goose chase, but it turned into a beautiful day, one that I didn't want to end finally... well, pushing flowers, hmmm they might not last as long as stones, but then, if they're perennials, at least they will come back year after year, right ? Ah, we are all just flowers that bloom for a day or two, in the larger scheme of things... all my best wishes to you !

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Sharon, Tell me more ! That's music to my ears !!! Gluttons are perfectly welcome here ! Oh yes, Mr Toad is a glutton himself. :-D

That is super kind of you, that is what we do it for, right, so anyone can come to the feast anytime of day or night... You are very welcome !

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Marguerite, Many thanks ! Now, after all that hard work, I'm hungry... hmm, think I'll drop by your place to see what's on the table tonight !!! :-D Those seafood places look absolutely heavenly...

Roxana said...

such a story, Owen... you could make a documentary like this, or an entire book about such traces. and i like so much the fact that you react to other's blogs, you pick up their stories and let creativity flow like this. it is one of the main joys of the blogworld, isn't it?

Owen said...

An absolute joy Roxana... the question posed by a lady (well, I think she's a lady, although with her tales of tequila drinking, one may wonder ! :-) on a blog in New Zealand was one of those dancing lessons that Kurt Vonnegut is quoted for..."Invitations to travel are dancing lessons from God"... it was sort of like a white elbow length glove dropped; I could do naught else but pick it up and return it to its owner... and it gave me an excuse to get out and ramble around all day, which is one thing I really love to do when I can, there are more pictures to come from that afternoon... and yes, there is probably easily a book's worth of material in such stories I think; I suspect lots of folks would be interest to know where their grand-fathers or great uncles or whoever are resting. Perhaps an editor will see this someday... (sigh)... :-D

In the meanwhile I guess I'll keep blogging away... these are the pages of my book...

Julie said...

I just thought you might like to know that Henry Nicholas was originally buried in Beaudignies where he was killed, but was disinterred and reburied, with full military honours, in the churchyard in Vertigneul.
There are 19 New Zealanders and one Irishman in that churchyard, some were killed by Germans who initially surrendered to them, but when the Germans discovered they were only a small patrol, they opened fire on the New Zealanders with a machine gun. My Great Uncle, Jock Hicks, lies in that cemetery, close to Henry Nicholas.
Nicholas was a VC, he received his medal for a valour in Belgium in December 1917. He took out a whole machine gun nest of Germans and saved many of his comrades' lives and then retrieved ammunition under gunfire.
If you ever go back, please say 'hello' to my Great-Uncle Jock Hicks. He enlisted in 1914 and survived Gallipoli, the Somme and then died 18 days before the end of the war, at the hands of 7 Germans who had held their hands up to surrender.

Owen said...

Hi Julie,
Don't know if you'll see this or not, but I'm amazed you found this post from last July, and thank you for leaving your message. As I'd gone specifically looking for Sgt. Nicholas, I didn't look too closely at the surrounding graves... I may just have to go back. In any case, I really appreciate your interest, and the additional information. I tried to click through your name here to go visit your blog, if there is one, but the profile was not public. If you do have a blog, please let me know the address, if it's ok that I visit, of course.
Very best wishes,