Poignant pil­grim­age

Car­bon­ear Le­gion­naire re­calls emo­tional Euro­pean trip

The Compass - - FRONT PAGE - BY NI­CHOLAS MERCER

Royal Cana­dian Le­gion Branch 23 mem­ber Charles Piercey stood in a for­eign coun­try read­ing from a piece of pa­per.

In be­tween rows of white grave­stones at the Serre Road Cemetary No. 2 in Somme, France, Piercey’s hands trem­bled and tears rolled down his cheeks as he read about the life of Pte. Arthur Driscoll.

As a trav­eller with the Royal Cana­dian Le­gion Pil­grim­age of Re­mem­brance, Piercey had been tasked with mak­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion about a fallen soldier. Piercey spent weeks re­search­ing Pte. Driscoll’s mil­i­tary record.

In front of his gravesite, Piercey told the story of a boy who en­listed with the New­found­land Reg­i­ment against his mother’s wishes. Driscoll left his life as a fish­er­man from the Outer Bat­tery in St. John’s to travel over­seas to fight the Ger­mans.

He saw ac­tion in Gal­lipoli be­fore re­turn­ing to France with the reg­i­ment. Driscoll was killed July 1, 1916 at Beau­mont Hamel. He was 20 years old.

“It was pretty awe­some,” said Piercey, wip­ing tears away from his eyes. “I still get choked up think­ing about. I felt we were rep­re­sent­ing the fam­ily of this solider and were per­haps the first peo­ple from his home prov­ince to visit his grave.”

Later, he and his wife laid a wreath at the site and also vis­ited the plaque that con­tains Driscoll’s name at the Cari­bou Me­mo­rial in Beau­mont Hamel.

Piercey, a long­time mem­ber of the Le­gion, was one of 12 Le­gion rep­re­sen­ta­tives from across Canada who took part in the jour­ney last sum­mer. Start­ing on July 13, the group toured bat­tle­fields from the First and Sec­ond World Wars. The pil­grim­age took them from north­ern France through to Bel­gium and Hol­land.

They vis­ited over 100 sites in the 15 days they were trav­el­ling, in­clud­ing ceme­ter­ies, mu­se­ums, mon­u­ments and other sites of his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance. They took part in nine for­mal cer­e­monies and two in­for­mal ones. “I was hon­oured to go,” said Piercey. The Le­gion in this prov­ince undertakes a sim­i­lar jour­ney each sum­mer, but tends to fo­cus on sites mainly con­nected to New­found­land and Labrador. Spe­cial cer­e­monies It was one of the in­for­mal cer­e­monies that may have had the big­gest im­pact on Piercey dur­ing the trip.

The group just com­pleted a walk along the Dieppe Beach when com­rade John Go­heen, the group’s guide, in­formed them he would be walk­ing the beach again in the early morn­ing and they could join him if they wished.

Piercey and his wife Daphne agreed to join him. So, at 5:32 a.m., the group held an in­for­mal cer­e­mony on Dieppe Beach. Piercey per­formed the Act of Re­mem­brance.

“The toast to ab­sent com­rades will never be the same again,” said Piercey. “Tears were shed.”

He also re­mem­bered march­ing through the Menin Gate Me­mo­rial of the Miss­ing in Ypres, Bel­gium. Save for a brief re­prieve dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, it is a cer­e­mony that has been per­formed ev­ery evening since 1928. The gate holds the names of 54,000 Com­mon­wealth sol­diers with no known gravesites. Off the beaten path Piercey mar­veled at some of the sites Go­heen took them to. They were away from the usual spots.

Places like the Ab­baye d’Ar­denne, where 18 Cana­dian sol­diers were ex­e­cuted or the Chateau d’Au­drieu, where an­other set of ex­e­cu­tions took place.

“Ev­ery time we were taken to a spot like this, we would do a cer­e­mony and have a mo­ment of si­lence,” said Piercey. “We found ex­actly where they were ex­e­cuted (at the Chateau). The Le­gion pil­grim­age was there five years ago and we found the same wreath they laid there.”

The trip touched Piercey. When he marches with his fel­low Le­gion­naires on Re­mem­brance Day this Wed­nes­day, he’ll have a dif­fer­ent out­look and a dif­fer­ent ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the event.

“Re­mem­brance Day will never be the same,” said Piercey. “It was some­thing I’ll never for­get. It changed my out­look on re­mem­brance.”

Charles Piercey reads about Pte. Arthur Driscoll at his gravesite at Serre Road Cemetary No. 2 in Somme, France.

SUB­MIT­TED PHO­TOS

The Menin Gate Me­mo­rial of the Miss­ing in Ypres, Bel­gium.

Charles Piercey and his wife Daphne pose for a photo at the gravesite of Pte. Arthur Driscoll.

A shot of a cot­tage at Juno Beach.

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