Tom Bochsler – Remember to Remember

Article from the May 2016 edition of The Photographic Historical Society of Canada:

Tom Bochsler Remember to Remember

Our April speaker took us on a journey back in time to honour fallen Canadian soldiers of the two world wars in France and Belgium. Tom Bochsler is a noted photographer and journalist. His studio is celebrating 60 years while his book, The Art of Industry, covers 50 years of his photographic work in journalism and industry.

Tom toured and photographed the European cemeteries, monuments and some of the battlefields a couple of years ago. Tom recalls leaving his wife on her own at one site so he could get the right shots, almost missing the bus as it was leaving for the next location (even though he was at each location for almost 2 hours). As a tribute to old age, Tom commented on needing his wife to sometimes help him up after he got the right shot from low to the ground. The tour benefited from nice weather. Skies were a mixture of sun and clouds – just right for good photographs.

During his Remember to Remember talk, Tom interspersed archival pictures with those he took during the tour to give a before and after view of the area. He photographed many famous locations including Ypres, Vimy Ridge, Nouvelle St. Fast (German Cemetery with 40,000 casualties), Cabaret Rouge, Passchendaele, Dieppe, Juno Beach, Abby Ardennes and Beny-sur-Mer.

At Vimy Ridge, tunnels were made in the land two years before the Great War battles. The tunnels were vermin infested, very wet, and very mucky. A war technique initiated by the Canadian forces was sporadic charges out of the trenches, catching the enemy off guard. Around the Vimy memorial over 7,000 Canadians are buried in the 30 cemeteries. We saw a memorial to John McCrea. Our membership secretary, Wayne Gilbert, also a professional photographer, came up and read a heart warming rendition of McCrea’s famous poem, In Flanders Fields.

Tom photographed close-ups of some of the individual headstones depicting symbols and the soldier’s name (if known). Many of the stones are simply marked Soldier of The Great War. Tom acknowledged that his photographs do not show the suffering of the soldiers but attempt to pay tribute to the many Canadians who were involved. For example, every night at 8pm in the town of Ypres, a group on buglers play the Last Post. Tom had us stand in silence as we listened to the haunting sound. All traffic stops while this ceremony takes place. The daily rendering has taken place since the 1920s. During part of WW2, the ceremony moved to London, England.

At each site, it is always very serene and calm. The area is immaculately kept and there is always a monument with descriptions of the battle that took place. One of the most interesting pictures were the life size outlines of some 9,000 people scratched out on the sand of the beaches of Normandy, representing the people killed in the D-Day invasion. The outlines Tom photographed were made on September 2013 and washed away during the next high tide.

Back home, Tom has been taking photographs of the Remembrance Day services in his native Burlington and Hamilton. A local motorcycle club, whose members placed candles on the headstones of deceased veterans, performed a touching part of one service. The increasing number of younger people attending their local Remembrance services has heartened him. He reminded all that our soldiers are well known for peacekeeping over the years. Tom ended the evening with the famous 2014 cartoon showing soldiers at the war memorial in Ottawa aiding Corporal Nathan Cirillo. And slides of some of the tributes to Cirillo in his native Hamilton. Remember to Remember offered a moving and touching look at the cost of war.

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