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Joan Sullivan: History and haunted ground

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I Remain, Your Loving Son: Intimate Stories of Beaumont-Hamel Edited by Frances Ennis and Bob Wakeham Flanker Press $17.95  138 pages

There have been a number of books published to mark the centenary of July 1, 1916, but this unusual four-part composition includes transcripts of TV documentaries, 15 short poems, and lots of visuals, including a gallery of hooked rugs (in full colour on glossy pages).

The first, the titular “I Remain, Your Loving Son” (2000) “used letters, diaries, memoirs, and other material written by soldiers, and their loved ones, to bring a first-hand account of Beaumont-Hamel to national audiences.”

“‘Remembering with Rugs’ (part of a fundraising effort by the Holy Heart of Mary Alumnae Choir to help finance a trip to Europe) used the traditional craft of rug hooking to bring a women’s perspective to Beaumont-Hamel and war in general.” Frances Ennis wrote the 15 short poems in “Reflections at Beaumont-Hamel.” And “Descendants – The Past is Cast” (2016) interviewed direct descendants of the Newfoundland Regiment, 100 years after the fighting at Beaumont-Hamel during the Battle of the Somme.

The elements combine to give a deeply personal perspective on the human costs of war. “I don’t mind much about my leg,” Allan Young is quoted in the first piece, “as long as my arms and eyes are all right so I can get a shot at the turrs again out in Twillingate Bight.”

The rugs are both homey craft and vivid representations. Two, the first by Noreen Grace, the second by Jo-Ann Clarke, Madonna Cole, and Donna Evans, feature The Danger Tree. Others show trenches, poppies, or knitted grey socks, or more abstract views of the hope for peace or memory of the fallen, including a forget-me-not brooch from Anita Hynes Boland.

And the closing “Reflections” holds contributions from family members, like Matt McLeod, who talks about his father, Ernest: “He was twenty years old when he signed up, and he did service for the four years, from what I gather. His two brothers also served in the war. Norman McLeod was a Blue Puttee, and his other brother, Neil Charles, he signed up later on, and he was killed in the war. We’re not sure where his body is or his headstone is or where he is buried. Dad always thought he had walked over his brother’s body in Beaumont-Hamel.”

This is history relayed through calibrated voices, present and animated.

 

Haunted Ground: Ghost Stories From the Rock
by Dale Jarvis
Flanker Press
$17.95  226 pages

 

More than a collection of stories, “Haunted Ground” has gathered, researched, and categorized a waft of tales, contextualizing them by type, geography, and folkloric weight and meaning. It’s not harrowing “Paranormal Activity”-type stuff, but culturally significant (and sometimes unsettling) lore treated with respect and without skepticism. 

Token stories, for example, are “one of the most common types of stories I hear ... A token is where someone has some sort of supernatural warning or premonition that someone close to them is about to die or has just died. In many cases, these stories are quite touching and show the strong emotional ties between relatives. For the most part, these are not evil or angry ghosts, just people who want a chance to say farewell.”

Other sections include “Shades of Yesteryear,” “Historical and Contemporary Legends,” “Locations of Mystery,” and “Darkness and the Light,” a kind of “everything else” file ranging from “Reading the Cards” to “Bedtime with the Old Hag.” Jarvis includes variations on themes, and sometimes, different versions of the same tale: to a folklorist slightly shifting accounts are a welcome sign the story is still alive.

As with “The Haunted Trestle Revisited.” This is based in Clarke’s Beach, although “almost every town has a story which is partly true and partly not.” Working with students at Ascension Collegiate, Jarvis heard “The trestle in North River was known to be haunted ... In the night you should stay away because there was a girl killed on it. She haunts the trestle and she will try and kill you,” as well as, “Years ago a lady was knelt down by the pond washing her old clothes, because back then there was no washing machines ... She lost her balance and fell into the pond. It is said if you go on the bridge where she was drowned, you can see her ghost with red eyes.” Jarvis is intrigued by the breaks and through-lines between such stories, and the reader becomes so as well.

The book contains illustrations and archival and family photos, as well as a references of works and an index.

 

Joan Sullivan is editor of Newfoundland Quarterly magazine. She reviews both fiction and non-fiction books for The Telegram.

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