Photos then and now

Recently, Mom gave me her parents’ photo album from their 1936 trip to France for the Vimy memorial dedication. Their pictures are a poignant reminder of a war that affected so many, and I, in my own small way, commemorated in Unravelled through a similar trip taken by Edward Jamieson and his wife Ann.

When my husband and I travelled to northern France, we attempted to visit some of the places where my grandfather had served during WWI. I knew he and my grandmother had done the same thing in 1936 but seeing their pictures made me realize we had photographed some of the very same places which brought a smile to my face.

Ypres Cloth Hall – only rubble was left of the Cloth Hall (Lakenhalle) after WWI ended. Reconstruction began in 1928 and by 1934 the western wing and bell tower had been completed.  Judging by the background of the 1936 photo, it looks as though  my grandparents were standing in front of some remaining rubble. My grandfather was stationed was in the trenches near Ypres for many months of the war (he’s in this picture, my grandmother is the stylish-looking woman on the left).

Ypres Cloth Hall


Ypres Cloth Hall 1936









Vimy Memorial – if you have ever seen this amazing memorial you will have struggled to keep your tears in check. Vimy Memorial 1936

It’s a Canadian memorial, dedicated to all who served in WWI and built at Vimy to commemorate a battle won decisively by the Canadians.

Vimy MemorialOver 5,000 people attended the dedication ceremony – my grandparents were there.


Trench preserved at Vimy – I can’t be sure that these photos are taken at the same location, however they look very similar. Unlike these pristeen looking specimens, the trenches were a living hell. Imagine being one of the men visiting in 1936, remembering what it was like to eat, sleep, stand guard, and fight from the trenches.

Vimy Trench

Vimy trench 1936


Vimy Salute – During the dedication ceremony, planes flew past to pay tribute to those attending and those who died in battle. I wrote of this moment in Unravelled.

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 9.55.07 AM“To begin the dedication, a lone bugler played Last Post, its haunting sound echoing across the ridge. Tears ran freely: tears for fallen comrades, tears for lost youth, tears for what was and what might have been. When the last note faded, a formation of Amiot 143s, French twin-engine bombers, roared across the horizon. For Edward, time slid backwards …”

Cambrai was another stop on their tour. Grandpa served there as well. He was in the Signal Corps, involved in transmitting messages during the heat of battle by whatever means were necessary. 180,000 soldiers from Britain, Canada and New Zealand were involved in Cambrai – part of the Hundred Days War and the last big effort by the Germans. The time was early October 1918.

My grandparents took two pictures – ours are very similar.

Cambrai Town HallCambrai Town Hall 1936Cambrai Porte Cambrain Porte 1936



After such an emotional time my grandparents went to Paris and then to England visiting Oxford where my grandfather was born and Magdalen College where his father worked before emigrating to Canada. Mom recalls that they were gone all summer leaving her at a girls camp and my uncle with relatives. Grandma and Grandpa returned to Toronto to learn of the death of my great-grandfather.

When I began writing, my objective was to investigate the lives and times of my grandparents. The research was inspirational; the result is Unravelled.

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction and blogs about all aspects of the genre at A Writer of History. Her latest novel, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE is set in WWI France and is available in paperback from Amazon and in e-book formats from AmazonNookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. Mary can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads. UNRAVELLED is also available at the same retailers.










Share this post

About the Author

Meet M.K.Tod

Meet M.K.Tod

The historical fiction author behind A Writer of History...

All Categories

Subscribe to the Blog

Receive the latest posts on writing and reading historical fiction via email.

Join 2,170 other subscribers

5 Responses

  1. “Place” is an important factor in your books, Mary. You’ve done a wonderful job of capturing the emotions in UNRAVELLED. No doubt traveling to the locations where your grandfather served had a huge impact on you. Love these pictures. What a treasure.

  2. A picture is worth a thousand words. We have been away this week on the Welsh borders staying in Bishops Castle. Last night we went to see a play EACH SLOW DUSK by Rory Mullarkey presented by PENTABUS a rural touring theatre company. The first act of 45 minutes was a harrowing scene of three soldiers in the trenches describing the horrors of going out on patrol into no man’s land at night into the German trenches. One missing his farm, another missing his painting and the third relishing the fight. None returned. At the interval I had no idea what would come next.

    The lights dimmed and an actress in her fifties appeared talking for 40 minutes about her trip to the battlefields seeking to understand. As she spoke photo slides lit up behind her of her visit to Vimy Ridge, the Canadian Memorial and elsewhere. She mentioned the Mother Canada statue … but alas, no picture.

    She was appalled at the way the battlefields had to her become a theme park with the local economies being boosted by visitors. She only found some peace at the end when amongst the graves of 72,191 unknown soldiers at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. . She had run across the battlefields fallen into mud and found herself unable to remove it from her face and clothing.

    All powerful with word perfect acting showing the horror of WW1 interacting with today’s commemoration.. … may be coming to a village near you.

    1. Many thanks for your comment, Alexander. Each Slow Dusk sounds like a wonderful production. Amazing how many commemorative events are taking place all around the world. In their own small way I think of my novels as commemorative events as well. Mother Canada is such a compelling figure. I’ll have to post her again, just for you! Have you been to Thiepval? A stunning memorial. I’ve included it in my next novel 🙂 Warm wishes.

      1. My older brothers have been to France. I will have to do the same as the woman in the play and mark a date on my 2015 calendar. I am not sure what my feelings will be like if I go, given how strange I felt looking at my father’s war record in the National Archives in Kew London. The new UK memorial to commemorate service people lost since 1945 is to me a strange place. The main memorial listing the names of those who have lost their lives in my lifetime is not huge.The lists of names for many years when I cannot recall any action and several empty walls for those to be added in future are chilling. I am not sure about all the other individual regimental and campaign memorials surrounding the main memorial. Perhaps the vast quantity of detailed written and visual data whether non fiction or fiction is a better record.

Leave a Reply