My piece of Remembrance

Seventy one years after that fateful day it is hard to imagine what happened here.

To my left, there is a large house-size concrete box, it is tipped almost on it’s side.
Behind it is a building with several Canadian flags, and the village of Courseulles-sur-Mer.
In the village, there is a small monument, and a World War 2 vintage Canadian Tank.

Years ago this beach was called called Juno Beach.

I walk across the beach towards the ocean.
The sand is soft, with patterns sculpted by the tides.
I walk quietly over the sand, the silence broken only by the
soft crunching of sea shells under by shoes.

Seventy one years ago, there were many, many more sounds on this beach.
Sounds of gunfire, sounds of explosions, sounds of pain and  the silent sound of death.

On that fateful day seventy one years ago,
Canadian Soldiers disembarked from small thinly armoured ships.

There was no shelter, no place to hide.
The Germans were well prepared and well defended, with large cannons inside the concrete boxes, machine guns, minefields and beach obstacles.

Many of these small ships were blown to pieces by the German guns
that were inside the large concrete boxes.
Other ships were blown to pieces after hitting explosives buried in the sand.
Some ships carried armoured tanks with canons to destroy the german guns.
Many of these tanks were destroyed by the German guns.

For the Canadian Soldiers that arrived on that beach on June 6th, 1944 –
It was Hell.

This is a piece of twisted and rusted metal that I found on the beach.
Was it a piece of one of those small thinly armoured ships that brought the Canadian Soldiers to the beach?, or was it a piece of a destroyed German cannon ?
Without specialized testing of its metallic properties – we will never know.

The jagged edges and bent shape of this small piece of metal are a silent witness of what happened on that fateful day seventy one years ago.

Hundreds of Canadian Soldiers died on this very beach, on fateful day, and hundreds more before the war was over.

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This small piece of rusty jagged metal is my piece of Remembrance of all those Canadian soldiers that came ashore on this very beach and also all the other soldiers, sailors and airmen from from Canada, United Kingdom, US, Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland that participated in D-day and liberated Europe.

November 1st, 1989

This isn’t a post about photography. It is a post about life and the loss of Life. My father passed away at midnight on November 1st, 1989 after a year-long battle with cancer. I wrote this poem on the sleepless evening before is funeral.

 

 

Yesterday-during the wake I felt a need to look at the casket.

But what is the use- as now all that remains is an empty shell.

Like some creatures which shed their skin- my father still lives in my memory.

I can picture his face, his smile, his clothes, how he would sit and how he would sleep.

I can also remember the favorite expressions, foods, idiosynchricies and most importantly our happiness and times together.

So as long as I can remember these details- my father is not dead.

Through the passage of time some details will be forgotten, but my father doesn’t die until the last detail is forgotten.

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Slow Down !!!

“It’s a blur”. It is unfortunate isn’t it that we always have something to do, somewhere to be, someone to meet, or something (else) to see. Life is a never ending list of …something. This photo taken on one of my favorite hikes in the Gatineau Park (Quebec) is a sad result of a mind filled with something else; the beauty of the park is simply a blur.
Slow down…appreciate the beauty before you. Even better – STOP and take it all in. Feel the wind on your face, rain in your hair, and the fresh air in your lungs…

 

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Wartime Childhood Experiences – Sharing Stories: Father to son to granddaughter

My father passed away in 1989. Today (June 23, 2015) would have been his 80th birthday. He died of cancer when I was 21.

My father was born in the Netherlands and moved to Dutch East Indies (now known as Indonesia) in 1937 at age 2. In 1938 his brother (my uncle) was born. By late 1941 the threat of invasion loomed, and the family moved from Batavia (now known as Jakarta) to a remote region. In early 1942 there were dogfights between Japanese and Dutch airplanes overhead, and a few weeks later Japanese soldiers arrived at their house to take them away. My father, his younger brother and mother were sent to a prisoner of war camp, while his father, an eye doctor in the Dutch Army, was sent to a military hospital to treat Japanese soldiers.

As a child I always wanted to learn more about life in the prisoner of war camps. To my young mind, the stories my father told gave me the impression he was like a superhero in a comic book, with thrilling an exciting tales of sneaking out of the camp to steal food, being chased by Japanese guards, endlessly outwitting the guards, and more. In reality, it was not a fun time. There were many horrors in the camp. Captives were tortured, starved, beaten, or raped. Although, not always directed at my father and his family, they had to watch. Sickness (malaria, dysentery), due to malnutrition also took its toll on the captives. The stories my father told me, were few and far between, and would always end abruptly. Only years later, did I learn how much sugar coating he actually added to the stories. He (thankfully) did not want to expose his children to the real details.

My father, his brother and his mother returned to the Netherlands in 1946. En route, his brother contracted pneumonia and was close to death. Thankfully, he survived. It was challenging adjusting to a new life in the Netherlands in the years following the war. Even though the language was the same, there were different customs and different views of hardship during the war. The newcomers were not accepted by those that had lived in the Netherlands during the war – believing that they had suffered greatly during the Nazi occupation. Although, this was certainly a difficult time in the Netherlands, living in a Japanese controlled prisoner of war camp was worse. During adulthood, my father hid the emotional pain by pushing it to the back of his brain, whereas his younger brother had a bout with depression and sought medical help.

This month I am in the Netherlands. I want to know how his years in prisoner of war camps affected him, how it changed his life, and how his experience was passed on to his children. Without a doubt, my father’s war-time experience, either intentional or by behavior or habits has been passed on to me, and my brother and sister. I know that some of these prisoner of war camp related habits affect me in my day-to-day life, and I know that some of these habits are unintentionally being passed on to my own children. Most likely, when my children are grown up and have their own families, some of the very same habits and behaviors will be passed on their children.

For myself, now at almost the same age that my father was when he died and my children are now the same age as my father was during those years in the prisoner of war camps – I desperately want to learn more about him, his experiences, and how his life was shaped by those horrible years in the camps.

A week ago, I went to visit my uncle, at his invitation to talk – to talk about things I had previously been told not to ask about. It was not easy for either of us – for him to dig deep in to his memories of those years in prisoner of war camps and to re-live and tell those stories, some of which he had never told anyone before. It was also hard for me to listen to someone who had been there and had lived those experiences – the very same experiences that my father carried silently for all those years.

Today, June 23 would have been his 80th birthday. After that long conversation with his brother, a few more pieces of the puzzle are now in place, and, if my father were alive today, I would truly know my own superhero.

The Canadian beach at Juno (Courseulles-sur-Mer)

The Canadian beach at Juno (Courseulles-sur-Mer)

 

It seems like any sandy beach; peaceful and calm. Even the sand dunes and the nearby village – it could be anywhere.

This beach and the beaches along 80km of coastline are the beaches of D-day – June 6th, 1944, the day when Allied Forces attacked Nazi controlled Fortress Europe and began the Liberation of France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Now, there isn’t much to see; all the guns have been removed, the barbed wire, land mines, and beach obstacles have been cleared, the villages re-built – it all seems to normal, so quiet, so peaceful.

On that day, June 6th, 1944 – there was no peace here. At dawn the barrage began, with navy ships firing at the beach, and airplanes dropping bombs on German positions.

Off shore from the beaches in Normandy, soldiers loaded into small landing craft to take them to the beaches. They were soaked, seasick and no doubt scared. Many drowned under the weight of their heavy gear after their boats were hit by German artillery, and machine gun bullets, or their boats impaled on the posts in the shallow water. Those that did make it to the beach had to run up the beach at low tide with no protection from the bullets to attack the German machine gun and artillery positions.

Some beaches were ‘relatively’ easy and re-captured (‘liberated’ with few casualties), where as other beaches were heavily defended or required climbing up a steep cliff and many casualties. The Canadians landed at Juno Beach. Within a few hours they had control of the beach and the inland towns. On those early hours of June 6th, 1944 – 359 Canadians lost their lives, and over 700 wounded.

A few weeks ago , I was here with my children (age 9 and 12). A
pilgrimage of sort, for those that were here on that historic day, for those that lost a family member that day, and for those like my family that have no direct connection to the battle – other than it was Canadian soldiers that arrived at this beach, and Canadian soldiers that liberated the Netherlands in May 1945 (and liberated my grandparents and their 10 year old daughter whom was later to be my mother). It is Possible – some of the very same soldiers that survived the attach on this beach on June 6th 1944 also liberated the Netherlands in May 1945 !.

It is impossible to image what was going through the minds of the young Canadian soldiers as they risked their lives on this beach 71 years ago. Today, those that are living, and those that are not, would certainly appreciate what they see – flags, monuments and streets named in their Honor. The Liberated people of France and the Netherlands have not forgotten the dedication and sacrifice of those Canadian soldiers, sailors, and airmen that fought and died so that others can live free.

They still say “Merci” or “Dankjewel”, and I do too.

National Geographic Daily Dozen for April 24, 2015

One of my favorite photos, chosen by National Geographic editors.

Enjoying the sunrise a thousand feet up.

During a hot air balloon ride in Cappadoccia (Turkey) with my family, the kids were on the sunny side of the balloon. With my camera strap wrapped around my wrist, I leaned over the side of the basket and composed this photo.
Enjoying the sunrise a thousand feet up.

Enjoying the sunrise a thousand feet up.

Street Photography – the fleeting moments real life.

Street Photography in Konya, Turkey. The photos are nothing special – not a sunrise or sunset, not a glorious landscape, and not a slow-motion photo of waves on a beach. To some people, these photos are boring, where as to others, those that take the time to slow down, and appreciate the world around us – these photos are the fleeting moments real life.

 

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Call Me ‘Old School’

It is 2015 – and I bought a film camera. Most readers won’t even know what a film camera is. let me put it this way – it is ‘Old School’, just like the rotary telephone, VHS tapes, the ‘walkman’ and LP records.

Yes – I am ‘Old school’. I used all those things as a kid, and now in my adulthood, there is a certain pleasure in using them again.

The camera I bought is as old as I am; there is no autofocus, no flash, no light meter and no batteries. It is a simple, though incredibly heavy – all metal and glass rangefinder camera. There isn’t even any plastic, and not even a place to attach a neck strap – it weights as much as a brick !.

It was made in the USSR, again, most readers won’t even know where that is, unless that happen to have heard the Beatles song…’Back in the USSR…’ (Dad – Who are the Beatles?). The USSR no longer exists, a legacy of the Cold War, and the camera (Revue-3) is based on the German Leica cameras from designed and built before World War 2.

Although I do not expect to get professional quality results from this camera

I do expect to have fun, to play, and feel youthful even a bit nostalgic…

The Importance of having FUN !

FUN. It is a simple word, one of the shortest words in the English alphabet.

FUN. Say it again

FUN.

Isn’t is bizarre, such an easy word to spell, such an easy word to say.

How many times a day to you say ‘FUN’, and how many times a day to you say ‘FUN’ ?

Most importantly, how many times a day to you actually have FUN ????.

 

These photos are from a couple of weeks ago. We were traveling by boat from Rottnest Island back to Freemantle (Western Australia). I usually get seasick in big waves – and, sure enough, on the return trip there were plenty of big waves. Even before the boat was untied from the dock, my stomach was starting to churn. My wife also gets seasick, and immediately headed for the lower deck, and sat beside the window to stare at the horizon.

I went to the uppermost deck at the very back of the boat – thinking if I have to puke, better to do it over the side of the boat…on the downwind side. Standing beside me was a young woman. She was enthusiastic. For her, the bigger the waves, the better. As the boat left the shelter of the harbor,  into the big waves, her simile get bigger and bigger. A few moments later, she was hanging on with both hands, and a huge smile from ear to ear.

So sensed my lack of enthusiasm and said ‘ If you are having fun – then you wont get seasick‘. Easy for you to say.

My stomach was starting to churn. I could taste that pre-puke in my mouth.

The spray from the big waves hitting the side of the boat was whipped to the back of the boat, curling back into an eddy to soak those of standing along the back rail. If I puked now, it would surely blow back in the eddy and cover everyone standing near me.

Beside me, she was hooting and hollering, having so much fun. She was getting soaked from the warm ocean spray. There was no doubt she was  having fun. I needed to get out of this sick frame of mind. In desperation, I pulled out my waterproof camera from my pocket and asked her if I could take a few photos. ‘Sure’ – she said, ‘as long as you are having Fun’. Click, click, click. The camera helped. Then she asked to switch places so that I could get the full force of the spray – that would certainly distract me. Sure enough, by the time the boat entered Freemantle harbor, I was thoroughly soaked – and had completely avoided getting seasick.

Who ever she is – Thank you. You managed to take me from a potentially miserable situation, to now, actually wanting to get on a boat on a day with big waves.

 

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Being away…what happens when I come back ?

I am almost three months into a 10 month journey.

Long flights, bus rides and train trips have given me time to think

Sometimes to think about nothing, let my mind decide

Sometimes conscious effort and thought.

I’ve thought about home, friends, where we have been  and where we are going

Also, in a selfish way, I’ve been thinking about me.

What do I want to remember about this trip, how will it change me, and will I simply slide back into my past life  after leaving for 10 months ?