Wednesday, December 3, 2014

World War Wednesdays: Fighting in Flanders- Gas. Mud. Memory.

World War Wednesdays: Fighting in Flanders- Gas. Mud. Memory.
     I know, I know, I do so much advertising for the museums in Ottawa that it's a shame they don't pay me for it. But, there truly are so many amazing things being done by these institutions that I can't say enough good things about them! One of the greatest perks of being a University of Ottawa Student is that we get free admission to any museum in the city on Thursday evenings, so I like to spend as much time as possible at one of my favorite places on earth, the Canadian War Museum. I've spent a large amount of time there already this year, which has been the highlight of my semester, and I still feel like I haven't yet experienced the entire thing. This past week, I had the opportunity to go on a VIP guided tour with the History Students' Association of the University of Ottawa. The tour that I went on focused on the Second World War and some of the key items in the museum related to it. It was so cool to get some background stories on objects that I normally just pass by!
      What I wanted to write about is something that is brand new to the museum. In recent times the temporary exhibit at the Museum has been Witness, which showcases the works of First World War artists A.Y. Jackson (a Canadian, of the Group of Seven), and Otto Dix (a German). I loved this display so much, it was a fascinating representation of the war's influence on these two artists, and I was sad to hear that it was closing. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that its replacement is just as amazing!
     The exhibit is called Fighting in Flanders- Gas. Mud. Memory. Here is the Museum's synopsis of it:
An exhibition developed by the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, in partnership with the Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917, Belgium, and with the generous support of the E.W. Bickle Foundation.
From the opening movements of the First World War, most of Belgium was occupied by German forces. Fighting in Flanders – Gas. Mud. Memory. explores how Canadians in Belgium had to adapt to the significant challenges – from the first use of poison gas in the Second Battle of Ypres to the hellish mud of Passchendaele. The exhibition highlights the famous poem In Flanders Fields by John McCrae and examines how Canadian and Belgian collective memories have evolved over the last 100 years.
     As mentioned, the exhibit highlights all events that took place in Flanders, Belgium during the First World War. It takes you right through the muddy hell and back again, ending with an emotional re-creation of the actual memorial and simulation of how the area honors the events that took place there.
     The highlight of the exhibit for me was the simulator that allows people to safely smell what the poison gases used during the battles actually smelled like. For some reason, this really affected me. Smelling all the different types of gases really made me feel that horror, as though I was waiting to feel the effects and have the awful reactions just as the soldiers did. It has been said that the sense of smell is the most powerful for creating sensations, and I definitely experienced that. In case you wondered, I did not choke, go blind, or lose any other senses, though I did get a good gag from the phosgene.
     The exhibit features soundtracks of battle sounds and harsh fighting, as well as the soldiers' cries in reaction to encountering the gas. This adds a truly horrifying element to the experience. Of course, sight is the most important sense of the exhibit, and my sense of sight was definitely on overload. Here are some of the highlights:

Examples of how the Remembrance Day poppy has evolved in Canada
An original copy of In Flanders Fields, handwritten by John McCrae
John McCrae's medals
A "Roll of Honour" from the final memorial segment of the exhibit
     There are just so many amazing aspects of this exhibit, which was two years in the making. I highly recommend that you make sure to visit it if you find yourself in Ottawa-- it will be here until late April 2015!
     I regret that I will be taking a tentative break from posting due to exam season and holidays. Thank you so much for reading my posts, I genuinely appreciate your taking the time to read my ramblings. I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful holiday season.
            As Always,

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