Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Dreaming of Home (Vimy Ridge rededication)

Yesterday, Easter Monday, 2007, was the 90th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Vimy Ridge… at least in Canadian terms. Canada’s most impressive war memorial is to be found there, towering over the lush plains of northern France.

I don’t work for the government — which is another way of saying I was in the office yesterday — and missed actually seeing the ceremony live. I would really have liked to. God knows, I would love to have been there. But I did set the DVD player to record it, so I got to review it when I got home.

To be honest, I wasn’t really paying close attention. The French prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, was there, as was our prime minister, Stephen Harper, and Her Majesty the Queen. The first half hour was pretty much just getting everyone in place, and then the speeches began. The prime ministers spoke first, and then the Queen. As you might expect, they said wonderful things about the heroism of the men who died there, the gratitude of France, and the solidarity of Canada, France, and Britain. The words were moving; it seemed heartfelt, none of it over-the-top in the way of previous generations… I think we’re too cynical these days to be truly effusive. I was working in Photoshop at the time on the photo you see here, one eye and one ear on the screen, the other on what I was doing. It was weird… it was as though I were standing on one of the balconies of the building, listening to the speeches being given in the forest below; that’s how it formed in my mind...

When the speeches were over, there came this moment when music began. The tune was familiar… I realized later I’d heard it in the movie Joyeux Noël, about the Christmas armistice of 1914. The song is called, I think, “The Fraternizers’ Hymn (I’m Dreaming of Home)” in English. At first, just the melody, as I recall. Then men of the Canadian Armed Forces gave the song voice…

I hear the mountain birds
The sound of rivers singing
A song I’ve often heard
It flows through me now
So clear and so loud
I stand where I am
And forever I’m dreaming of home
I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home

It was taken up by two or three dozen young girls in a choir from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. They were joined by Susan Aglukark. It pulled my attention utterly from what I’d been doing, and just overwhelmed me. I can’t explain it. The longing of the song, the idea that they were speaking for all those men so long ago; it made them very immediate. Big tears started to spill from my eyes as I watched and listened; it just came up out of nowhere so suddenly and easily it was frightening. I felt like I was standing on that balcony watching all this, feeling the yearning for home those young soldiers must have felt, the desire to be anywhere but where they were, aching for the love, familiarity, and security of a home many of them would never see again. I was reminded of my Dad, who served in the Navy for twenty years, and how proud I’ve always been of him, and how hard it’s going to be someday to lose him (if I live long enough… you never know)... that feeling really cut into me.

The song ended with a magnificent shot of a long line of army trumpeters, facing the monument soaring in alabaster into a featureless sky of perfect azure. At that moment came a thundering fly-past by four Mirage jets of the French Air Force. By this point, I was actually crying. I had to turn it off. It completely swept me away emotionally. The only other moment in my life I can remember being so spontaneously carried off was when I was 17, stepping out of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill just as the bells of the Carillon began to play high over my head, and the sense of Canada as something that existed before me and would endure long after me really struck home for the first time, and stood there in tears for a quarter of an hour. Like that, this was a strange, terrible, wonderful, singular moment that will be with me all my life.

I did finish the photograph. Suddenly it became the symbol of home that all those men, Allied and German alike, were fighting for, dying for, yearning for. In some small way, it’s for them. I hope they’re all home now.

I’m Dreaming of Home
by Gary Lewis / Lori Barth

I hear the mountain birds
The sound of rivers singing
A song I’ve often heard
It flows through me now
So clear and so loud
I stand where I am
And forever I’m dreaming of home
I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home

It’s carried in the air
The breeze of early morning
I see the land so fair
My heart opens wide
There’s sadness inside
I stand where I am
And forever I’m dreaming of home
I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home

This is no foreign sky
I see no foreign light
But far away am I
From some peaceful land
I’m longing to stand
A hand in my hand
… forever I’m dreaming of home
I feel so alone, I’m dreaming of home


Arthur said...

Very moviong. Like you I could not see the program as it happened - in my case I was in Florida and could not record it since Vimy is not a big thing down here. Is there any chance you could post your film of the ceremony so that it could be downloaded and enjoyed by others. I personally use torrent but any form of posting would do and I would work it out somehow.


loneprimate said...

Hi, Arthur... I'm sorry, I don't actually have the means to do anything like that. I would surprised if you couldn't find the ceremony, or at least its highlights, archived on the CBC's website, though.

RubyGrail said...

I was there! And trust me - it was as moving as it was on TV, if not more so. My school went, and I was one of the over 3000 students attending, who processed in at the beginning. I don't think I have ever felt as ridiculously proud of being Canadian as I was at that one single moment, when the Queen rededicated the memorial, and the crowd took up the national anthem. Nothing felt better than screaming it at the top of my lungs, and hearing over 3000 other voices joining with mine, drowning it out. I cried, my friends cried, my teachers cried - everywhere I looked, people's eyes were shining with pride and love for our men and our country.

Rob said...

What a wonderful post Arthur - I was there and the same feeling hit me as well. I thought the speeches were fine and I thought the last post and the violin were special - BUT then we heard voices. Who was singing and what was this song.

It was the band. As the song built with the children and then the soloist, we were all gripped. A French woman next to me began to sob and tears were just pouring every where. Then as the last notes faded - the jets boomed over at about 500 feet. The timing was impeccable.

It was so understated - so wonderfully Canadian. It was the single most moving group experience of my nearly 60 years.

Thank you again for such a wonderful way of telling your story - you have a real gift

m_o_o_nspells said...

Okay, so I get a post from you telling me to get off my duff and post...and then when I do (three times in a week, no less!), you go AWOL for two weeks!
I even updated my linkies etc., which you might be interested in... ;o)
Come out, come out whereveryou are!

alexis said...

I'm looking for the version of I'm Dreaming of Home, sung by men's chorus. Have only been able to find version by girl's chorus. Can you help with a www site or source of the music I may be able to download? Thanks. Alexis

herblueknight said...

I'm glad to see I wasn't the only one deeply touched by that song. I too was moved, almost to tears as were most of my colleagues standing alongside me. However, I blinked my eyes a bit and sniffled them back, as I didn't want to be crying while on parade.

I was in Column three, one of several soldiers who came to Vimy from all over Canada and was representing 4 Division, which sustained heavy loss of life in the fight to liberate the land I was standing on that day. I too, felt a deep swelling of Canadian pride as those Mirage jets flew over us.

Thank you for your kind words, I'm glad a few of the folks at home were deeply touched by that moment, as I and my colleagues were.

Thank you for remembering. It really does matter-and it always will.

Lest We Forget.



Master Corporal Steven Boyd
Canadian Forces Military Police
Vimy Ridge Memorial Anniversary
Canadian Contingent 2007

*currently deployed overseas, and yes, I'm dreaming of home.

loneprimate said...

Thank you for taking the time to post here, Master Corporal Boyd (gee, I can remember when my Dad was a Master Corporal...). :) And thank you for serving the country. I hope you and all our men and women in uniform will be home soon instead of dreaming about it.

Janice Hutt said...


I hope you can open this. It is beautiful.


Lone Primate said...

Thank you, Janice, it really is lovely. I remember seeing that movie, and you're right, it is very moving to watch again. Europe finally has its act together (knock on wood), and hopefully there'll never been another war there.

Now we need to iron out things in the rest of the world...

Janice Hutt said...

It must have been wonderful to have been at the ceremony in France. To hear all these thousands of voices singing together, and to have been part of it. Anyone who was there must have been bursting with pride both in your armed forces and in your country.

Rowan said...

I piped Remembrance Day for CENTCOM at MacDill Air Force Base (Tampa, FL) this year with my Legion color guard. It was totally unlike any I've ever attended.
A German CPO with a trumpet opened the service with "Ich hatt' einen Kameraden"; their Lament; there were German officers in attendance wearing red poppies, (as hopeful a sign as I can imagine that humanity might actually have evolved, at least somewhat, from the time we first crawled out of a cave and discovered the utility of beating one another over the head with rocks and sticks). There were soldiers of Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Poland, Turkey, Kuwait, Egypt, Norway, Korea, and many others, all there for the same reason. After piping "Flowers of the Forest" in a light misty rain, a woman from the RCAF Band sang "I'm Dreaming of Home" as the ranking officers of Canada, Great Britain, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and France silently laid wreaths before the empty boots and helmet. You couldn't possibly hear those lyrics, with that voice, and see those wreaths before the empty boots without thinking and really remembering all of those, cold, hungry, frightened kids hunkered down in a wet muddy hole in the night somewhere, sometime, and knowing on a deep primal level that in the mud and darkness and blood, all of the uniforms look the same.