Saturday, February 7, 2009
a requiem for the twentieth century
On April 1st, 1918, the Toronto Evening Telegram informed its readers that Private H. Edward Lodge had been killed in action in Europe the previous month. April fools. In fact, Pte. Lodge had been executed by his own army for desertion.
This is pretty much all in know about Harold Edward James Lodge:
He joined the army from Toronto age 18. He fought in the trenches. He was wounded in 1915. He didn't want to die in the mud at Passchendaele. He asked for leave but was refused. November 3, 1917 he broke ranks regardless and went to ground. He was caught. He escaped a second time. He was caught again. He escaped a third time. He was caught again, tried, sentenced to death and shot at dawn on March 13 1918, age 21. My kind of war hero.
The following paragraph is taken from page 239 of Shot at Dawn, by Julian Putkowski and Julian Sykes:
"Private Lodge was serving with 19 Battalion CEF, when on 3 November 1917 he asked permission to 'fall out'. At the time his unit were on their way towards Passchendaele. The request was refused, but nevertheless he fell out and made off. Over a month later Lodge was arrested in Boulogne whilst masquerading as a corporal in the Red Cross. After eight days in custody the resourceful Canadian escaped, only to be arrested in the new year whilst stowed away in the forward part of a ship that was about to sail. Indicating his desperate plight, four days later Lodge jumped from a train to escape his escort. Predictably he was arrested once again in Boulogne. On the day that Private Lodge suffered the extreme penalty, on hand to witness the event was the assistant provost-marshall and the deputy assistant adjutant-general of 2 Canadian Division. Perhaps they were once again concerned that the nimble soldier might try to escape."
From the killing fields of the First World War rose the Second. From the deportations and massacres of 1914-1918 came the concentration camps and genocide of 1939-1945. In many ways, the Great War and its hell disaster of male leadership sealed the fate of the twentieth century – shot at dawn.
The Great War conjures up images of wholesale slaughter and the insanity of trench warfare. On some of its bloodiest days, tens of thousands of men would kill and wound each other in the space of an afternoon. Yet some of those men would survive only to be killed by their own armies. Shot at dawn -- for desertion, cowardice and other high crimes -- crimes judged capital by the same authorities that had presided over the slaughter on the battlefield, a slaughter that these men had decided, for whatever reason, to reject.
I got to the top of Vimy Ridge on my own last legs. This was autumn 2007. I had left on foot from Passchendaele five days earlier with too new shoes and a too heavy backpack. I got to Vimy Ridge on my own last legs as the biggest fall storm in a generation bore down on Northern Europe. Shredded feet on a shell-shocked landscape ninety years after the end of the mad violence that made it. Horrible, terrible, beautiful.
The paintings and sketches displayed here are the first studies for what will hopefully form a larger show to be exhibited leading up to and during the four years marking the centenary of the conflict. My ambition is to pack myself and this art work into a van and travel around Canada, showing the work and speaking about it in schools, union halls, legion halls and church basements until November 2018. Should be fun.
This web log will document the work of researching the story, painting the images and setting up the project that will hopefully take this material to a wider public. I have begun my research with trips to the library of the Canadian War Museum and the National Archives. I have begun the image making with a series of sketches and paintings done on visit to the killing fields in the fall of 2007 and another series of sketches and paintings based on the information I have about Harold Lodge.
My intention is to launch the project publicly with a show in Toronto in the fall of 2010. In the meantime, I will be trying to track down surviving family members, military service records, and courtmartial files.
links and sources:
Shot at Dawn by Julian Putkowski and Julian Sykes, 2003