Here is graven in stone the deathless record of a nation's martial achievement
W. W. MURRAY
Read How Free Men Throughout
This Land Kept Faith In The Hour
Of Trial And In The Day Of - Battle,
Remembering The Traditions ' They
Had Been Taught, Counting Life
Nothing Without Liberty.
THIS is the first inscription oneencounters upon entering the Memorial Chamber of the Peace Tower which dominates in stately grandeur the Parliament Buildings at Ottawa. It is Canada’s sanctuary, destined perhaps in future years to become a shrine toward which all will turn in grateful remembrance of the men and women who sowed the seeds of those great endeavors from which Canada and Canadians have grown. Dedicated in the presence of the Prince of Wales on August 3, 1927, and officially opened by the Rt. Hon. W. L. Mackenzie King, on November 11, 1928, the Memorial Chamber is the expression of many years of earnest thought and labor. How much thinking and what exquisite craftsmanship have brought it to completion are amply revealed in the amazing detail that speaks from every sculptured group. Canada’s story is graven in stone, not vauntingly, but with modesty and reverence. Situated directly over the main entrance to the Houses of Parliament, the chamber is not large. A somewhat deceptive impression of spaciousness, however, is lent by the tall, slender columns which rise up from their black marble base to converge in a lofty, vaulted ceiling. It is this height which seems to endow the place with much of its chapel-like dignity. The mullioned, stained-glass windows, the cusped arches, and the ornate tracery are all in harmony with the Gothic interior and stamp upon the chamber, a mark of unmistakable character. Discounting its newness, one cannot but feel that within the four walls it unites in itself all the imposing nobility of an old-world cathedral.
On a black marble base in the centre of the floor stands the Altar of Remembrance, into which is let a casket that will eventually contain the Golden Book—a hand-inscribed volume which is to bear the names of all those Canadian men and women who gave their lives in the Great War. At each of the four corners kneels an angel in attitude of supplication; while the Holy Bible rests upon its glass surface.
Around the walls are seventeen sculptured panels which tell Canada’s story in a manner both unique and arresting. Although designed primarily as a shrine to the memory of those who fell in the Great War, the Memorial Chamber goes considerably beyond that; and the result achieved is a sanctuary wherein are remembered all who strove for Canada, from the dawn of the country’s history to the present. The period of the French ascendancy has its place in this comprehensive scheme, the British regime is outlined; and as those two features form the background of Canada’s story, so does the architectural plan make of them the foundation upon which the general scheme is superimposed.
In its final expression the chamber is not the work of any one man: some of the keenest minds in the country have been occupied for years in giving form to all ideas relevant to its purpose. To John A. Pearson, architect of the Parliament Buildings, however, must be ascribed the credit for its conception. He had such a sanctuary in mind when, in 1921, a delegation from the Great War Veterans Association waited on the Rt. Hon. Arthur Meighen to urge upon the then Prime Minister that Canada should follow the example of Great Britain and France in honoring the Unknown Soldier. The reinterment of the unidentified warrior at Westminster and under the Arc de Triomphe had seized upon their imagination. They asked that homage of a like nature be paid to the great army of Canada’s missing, and that the body of some unknown Canadian soldier be returned from the battlefields to find an eternal resting-place in the Peace Tower.
Mr. Meighen received the suggestion favorably. The project was examined, and in the deliberations that followed, Mr. Pearson was naturally consulted. It developed that he had already drawn up tentative plans for a Memorial Chamber, and that such plans lent themselves admirably to the Unknown Soldier scheme, the Altar of Remembrance being the sarcophagus within which the body would lie. A canvass of public sentiment, however, disclosed that the country was divided; consequently, rather than press the matter to the point of embarrassing any considerable element in Canada, the veterans dropped the project and adopted that which had originally been conceived by Mr. Pearson.
The architect proceeded to work out his ideas; gradually the Memorial Chamber began to take shape. Stones for the floor were brought from the devastated areas of France and Belgium; the border of Belgian marble was the gift of the government of that country; the white stone which is such a striking feature of the place came from the Chateau Gaillard, and was presented to Canada by the French government. Great Britain furnished the huge block from which the altar was carved, and which was quarried in Yorkshire, Mr. Pearson’s native county. The seventeen elements, each representative of some phase of the Great War, were comprehended by the architect’s plans. Around the walls were to be that number of marble plaques, each circumscribed by an arch whose architectural designs were to contain the formal Gothic trefoils and quatrefoils.
In 1925, the work had advanced to a stage when it was possible to begin the decorative sculpture. In his desire for absolute faithfulness of detail, Mr. Pearson had referred various problems to the Historical Section of the Department of National Defense. Co-operation was readily forthcoming; and from that point or, the officers of this branch began to share more widely in the operations. Examining the project, Colonel A. Fortescue Duguid, D.S.O., director of the Historical Section, was struck by the fact that within the compass of Mr. Pearson’s scheme a symbolism could be developed that would actually constitute a record of Canada’s history from its origins. No alteration of the elements would be required. On the seventeen plaques could be inscribed the story of the war—for it must be borne in mind that the chamber was conceived as a memorial to those who died in that conflict. But, by the substitution of a definite and significant symbolism for the conventional Gothic ornamentation previously projected as decorations within and around the mural arches, there could be commemorated all who at any time had played a part in the upbuilding of this country.
This conception was positively arresting in its immensity. It gave an entirely new perspective to the Memorial Chamber, broadening its purpose from that of a sanctuary devoted only to a brief period of Canada’s history, to one wherein would be read the whole story of the country’s development. Confident that the design he had in mind was capable of being fitted into the work already accomplished, Colonel Duguid enlisted the aid of two officers of his staff—Captain J. I. P. Neal and Captain F. Cummins. This trio then developed the plan which is now the dominant motif of the Memorial Chamber. Their ideas were communicated to Mr. Pearson, who at once concurred in them. They also commended themselves to Ira Lake, the sculptor.
In brief, the scheme was designed to make every piece of ornamentation tell a story. How this was effected is a romance in itself.
The Badge of the Savoyards
rT'HE chamber commemorates soldiers and sailors, and also the women who ministered to them. This being the case, and since military activities predominated, the aim of the designers was directed toward securing some acknowledged symbol that would unmistakably represent soldier life. This was obtained by the expedient of adopting the badges and colors of regiments as principally characteristic of them.
To cut the badges of every French, British and Canadian battalion that had ever taken part in the history of British North America, and to do this in a manner which, from their setting in the chamber, would tell a connected story was the task now embarked upon.
It was seen by December, 1925, that the financial appropriation was inadequate to meet this departure from the original plan. The scheme was submitted to the government and was warmly approved. An order-in-council was passed authorizing the additional expenditure, and fortified in the knowledge that the Administration was solidly behind them, the officers of the Historical Section proceeded to assemble their data. It was by no means simple. An example of some of their difficulties is illustrated by the tremendous labor entailed in securing the exact badge of the period of the Regiment de Carignan-Salieres. This old French unit was the founder of Canada’s military traditions. It was raised in Savoy by the Prince de Carignan, passed into the service of Louis the Fourteenth, and commanded by the Sieur de Salieres, arrived at Quebec in 1664. Several years later the regiment was disbanded, and over 400 of all ranks accepted offers of land along the Richelieu River and the Upper St. Lawrence, thus establishing the first colonial policy of soldier-settlement. In order to obtain the badge of the Regiment de Carignan-Salieres, the aid of the Canadian CommissionerGeneral in Paris, Hon. Philippe Roy, was invoked. Mr. Roy consulted the French government, who ordered a search to be made of their archives. Eventually the officials of the republic were able to unearth exactly what the Canadians required. There were twelve French units which saw service in New France prior to the Conquest of 1759, and in each case the official archivists in Paris produced the needed badge. Artists were engaged to draw exact reproductions, andthese drawings were forwarded to Ottawa.
Even more involved was the task of procuring the badges of no fewer than 110 British regiments which, at one time or another, had seen service in North America. In dozens of cases the badges now worn by these units were different from those carried during the periods when the regiments served on this side of the Atlantic. It was also disclosed that some regiments which did duty here on more than one occasion had worn different badges each time. The aid of Hon. P. C. Larkin, Canadian High Commissioner to England, was solicited, and enquiries were made of the British authorities. It transpired that Major H. G. Parkin, O.B.E., F.S.A., librarian of the United Services Institute, London, was the possessor of what was acknowledged to be the most complete collection of military badges in the world. Letters were sent to him, and this gentleman whole-heartedly co-operated with the Canadian officers. A list of regiments, together with the dates between which they had served in North America, was provided for him and he was invited to furnish photographs or drawings of the badges worn during the periods indicated. Major Parkin met nearly every requirement.
With regard to the units which were raised in British North America, the Historical Section furnished the badges from its own records.
Further illustrating the magnitude of the task, however, these officers had to delve into the past in order to obtain the badges of the 178 regiments of pre-war militia. Many of these units were short-lived, others endured and are still in being; but all had to have their place in the Memorial Chamber.
On the diapers which are formed by the angular pediments that enclose the mural arches are carved the badges of the old regimes. Immediately over the grilled entrance one notes the beginning of the narrative—the Royal Arms of King Louis the Fourteenth of France. There follow then the records of the old French regiments—the battalions of Artois, Bourgoyne, La Marine, Artillery, Royal Roussillon, Bearn, Guienne, Languedoc, La Reine, Berry and La Sarre. Where the sculptured thread of this portion of the story breaks, the British regime begins. Tribute is paid to the troops raised in North America who battled in the days before the revolt of the Thirteen Colonies, and the badges of such historic regiments as Butler’s Rangers, the King’s Americans, and the King’s Royal Rifles of New York are carved on the walls. There follows then the record of the British regular army in its association with this continent.
A bordering label which encloses the whole theme bears the badges of the pre-war militia. To complete this portion of the record one must make a full circuit of the chamber before beginning the Great War period.
Not unnaturally the seventeen plaques dealing with the last conflict dominate the whole vista. Of these the three situated beneath the stainedglass windows touch upon “The Call to Arms,” “The Assembly of Remembrance,” and “The Dawn of Peace.”
Graven on the plaques is the story of Canada’s war effort. In well-ehosen words, forceful and vivid, yet admirably restrained, the record reflects by the studied cadence of its measured phrases the distressing trials, the brilliant achievements and the heroic sacrifices of Canada’s sons and daughters. Immediately over each plaque is a pictorial panel upon which is chiseled some conspicuous feature associated with the place of which the lettering speaks. Thus, for example, the second plaque chronicles the story of “Ypres, 1915.” On the sculptured panel is the well-known Cloth Hall, while the events of the battle are briefly related underneath. In recording the gas attack on April 22, and the subsequent operations on the following day, only fortynine words are used.
A Record Graven in Stone
BIT by bit the country’s war effort is seen developing. Each plaque tells its own complete story in word pictures that are panoramic. The Western Front, the Mediterranean, Persia, Palestine, North Russia and Siberia were all theatres of action in which Canadians were engaged. All are remembered. A general summary of the nation’s contribution is given in the sixteenth plaque where it is disclosed that out of 7,704,007 people in Canada in 1914, the Dominion mobilized, for all services, close to 650,000 men and women. Of those who did not return, 51,715 were killed in action or died of wounds; the total battle-casualties were 190,092. The deaths due to the war, however, have greatly increased with the passage of time, and the last inscription reads:
“Six Hundred And Twenty-Eight Thousand Four Hundred And Sixty-Two Bore The Badge Of Canada In The Great War. Sixty Thousand Six Hundred And Sixty-One Met Death And Passed On.”
Each individual unit that took part in the war—no matter in what capacity— is commemorated by a sculpture of its badge. Above the pictorial panels are shields upon which are carved the arms of the chief cities or provinces in France and Belgium near which were enacted the episodes engraved on the plaques beneath. Two cusps, one on either side, and the quatrefoil which surmounts the shield, carry each the badge of a Canadian “fighting” battalion. In all there are thirty-four cusps and seventeen quatrefoils, the total taking care of the fifty “fighting” battalions of the Canadian Corps with one element to spare. On this is borne the universal Maple Leaf. The spandrels within the arch contain representatives of the honors and awards issued by the British and Allied nations.
Canada recruited 260 battalions of infantry during the Great War, of which 210 were dispersed in England to reinforce the units in France. These reinforcing battalions are commemorated by their badges sculptured on the crockets that decorate the pediments, while into the bases upon which these pediments rest are cut “arms and services”—the medical, signal, veterinary and other corps.
For the most part the foregoing takes account only of the infantry. The other branches are, however, by no means neglected. Beneath the label is a line of rosettes devoted to individual units “which served in a theatre of war.” Here one notes several cavalry regiments, two tank battalions, the Air Force, artillery, the navy—even the Y.M.C.A. The final figures which crown the seventeen elements are dedicated to trades and industries.
As one enters the chamber through the arched doorway from which hangs a Memorial Cross, an enlargement of the emblem presented to the mothers of deceased soldiers, one’s vision is focussed directly on the altar. On one end are carved the arms of Great Britain, on the other Canada; in front and rear are those of the nine provinces of the Dominion, with one space to spare for a future tenth. Wreathed in a label round the altar are the words of Mr. Valiant-For-Truth, from Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress:”
“ ‘My marks and scars I carry with me to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles who now will be my Rewarder.’ So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.”
The Bible which rests on the altar was presented by the Prince of Wales when, with Rt. Hon. Stanley Baldwin, Prime Minister of Great Britain, he visited Canada two years ago.
Lettered in brass on the floor stones are eight of the principal battles in which the Canadian Corps took part—Ypres, Somme, Vimy, Passchendaele, Amiens, Arras, Cambrai and Mons. In the niche above the doorway is a symbolical group of three angels, while the finial above is dedicated to a wife, about whom are grouped two children. Round the entrance are the words:
“All’s well, for over there among his peers a happy warrior sleeps.”
TRA LAKE, the sculptor, who for L fourteen months spent himself and poured out all his genius in giving expression to his inspiration, was one of the outstanding creators of the Memorial Chamber. Mr. Lake, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., had studied in Italy, and from his early youth had trained himself to go up to a block of stone and strip from it all that concealed the shape that his mind had subjectively known it to contain.
His chief characteristic was his ability to incorporate modern designs into Gothic forms in a manner reminiscent of the cathedral of Burgos in Spain, with which he was familiar and which inspired many of his works. One of his other notable Canadian works is the Memorial Arch of the Royal Military College at Kingston, Ontario. The fan-vaulted ceiling of the Memorial Chamber is wholly his, as indeed are also the decorations throughout with the exception of the doorway and the finials. In the chamber, one notes markedly the difference in technique in the carving of these elements which disclose a reversion to the conventional Gothic. Mr. Lake had an astonishing faculty for absorbing the atmosphere and spirit of the Canadian Expeditionary Force.
The research work entailed by the inclusion of the ancient French and British regiments in the scheme was undertaken by Captain Cummins. The hobby of this officer is history. He served in the British Army in South Africa and India, and was also in the pre-war militia of Canada. Captain Cummins attended various Imperial Conferences with the Canadian delegations. He is editor of The Canadian Defence Quarterly.
Captain Neal is the draughtsman who traced the hundreds of badges and planned the pictorial panels. His work was of the most arduous and exacting character. While it cannot be said that he learned his art in the Canadian Corps, it can truthfully be affirmed that Captain Neal developed many phases of it while serving in France. An original noncommissioned officer of the 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish), Captain Neal served through the Second Battle of Ypres and other engagements in 1915. He was picked up, however, by his superiors and transported to headquarters, there to draw the maps for the Corps. This indispensable and delicate work he continued for three years, and many of the trench-maps with which the troops were familiar were the product of his genius.
Thus there was a liaison of mind and spirit in the growth of the Memorial Chamber. Throughout the years the ideas of all have been poured into the grand scheme, until it now stands as an exquisite monument and one that will endure for all time as a creation well worthy of the nation.