Thursday, October 22, 2009

Haunted, or haunting?

Last Sunday's outing included a stop at City Hall in Burlington, Ontario and, specifically, the war memorial that stands beside it. Apparently the statue is haunted - people say it blinks, changes the position of its hands, smokes a cigarette, etc. - and some of my party were interested to see it.

Well, if I were the ghost of a local boy who'd fought in the war and was buried in France, I would haunt the thing too. The site is lovely and old-fashioned, with large trees and a well-kept flagstone path around the base, an old brick house to the rear of the park and a vintage commemorative fountain at the entrance.

But the more I looked at this statue, representing a WWI soldier in full winter uniform, the more I was moved by its beauty. Days later I'm still thinking about it, about the artist who made it, and about all the local boys who wore these clothes and that gear.

The legs are wrapped, the greatcoat's folds heavy and pushed up against the back of the right leg as if by a strong wind. The gloved hands, cast so realistically that you can imagine hands inside them, rest one on a rifle and the other on the wrist of the first. The breast pockets are full, as are the belt's pockets - ammunition, I assume - and a knife and another weapon I couldn't identify are slipped through the belt at one side.

There are many more burdens, too. The figure wears two small satchels slung across the shoulder on one side, and a third on the other. Plus a backpack, and a small roll on top of that. Underneath the metal helmet is a woolen one, the kind mothers and sisters and sweethearts knit for loved ones and strangers alike. It fits snugly so that only the face shows: and what a face! Handsome, noble, resolute, brave - and above all, young.

I've thought often about the ordeal soldiers endured in that terrible war, but this statue brought me a new level of understanding of the sheer physicality of the effort - of the need for warmth, and the cost in weight of having it.

The statue is, I would guess, about 7 feet tall, and it stands on an similarly tall base memorializing the names of local boys who died in WWI, then WWII, and finally the Korean War. One name, Warrie, struck me especially, and I was pleased to find a reference to him on this page, which includes the best image of the statue I could find online - click on the picture for a larger view.

I was less pleased to learn that Warrie fought in the field for eight months before dying in an especially horrific battle. What torture those eight months must have been.

Not being able to find a more detailed photograph saddens me, though I doubt I could have taken one myself, the statue being so far above the ground. Not being able to find the name of the artist - it must be recorded somewhere, surely? - saddens me more. But what saddens me most is knowing that this memorial, with so much to say about sacrifice and tragedy and loss, is visited by hordes of people, myself included, for its entertainment value alone.

Maybe there is a bright side: maybe in staring intently at its unseeing eyes and its hands for some sign of movement, they too catch a glimpse of what those men went through.

No comments: