Just like any other site we visit Vimy Ridge is sacred ground. Originally we were meant to go to Tyne Cot to take part in the Passchendaele 100th anniversary as we had been given tickets due to my Great Great Uncle being there. After a lot of thought we decided to give the tickets back and let someone else take part. Old Soldier Media works in a very specific way - there are only two of us and that is how we like it; shoots normally involve a lot of rolling around in the wet and mud in order to get the right camera angle and you can`t do that in a suit with thousands of other people around you. Every shoot we do we give 100% and it works because its just Dan and myself. If we are to represent these people and tell their story then for us there is no other way to do it - we call it "doing what we do."
After consulting Dan we both concluded that we would not be able to do much as Ypres would be full to the brim and it would be better to go and do what we do somewhere else. We had always talked about going over and spending the night with " The Lads" and capturing the night and sunrise and to see what it would feel like to just be there. Dan has an incredible amount of knowledge on the Great War. When you walk a battlefield with a 6`4 Rock2Recovery RSM from the RMLI you get a full on living history tour, absolutely fascinating; he knows so much its uncanny. It's almost like he`s been there in another time...
I had always wanted to capture the memorial at Vimy Ridge, so with that in mind we decided to spend the night with the lads at Vimy. Our ferry crossing was late and we arrived there at 03:00. The approach is through woodland and the only things we could see in the headlights were bats flying about and the odd pair of eyes reflecting. We arrived at the memorial to a stunning night sky, the Milky Way was out and there was a slight breeze and the flags of France and Canada were flapping; that was the only noise you could hear.....for now....
Before we started the shoot we walked down a side track to the remains of an old machine gun post and stopped to pay our respects and hold a little service. We explained to the lads why we were there and that they were not forgotten and we held a minutes silence and had a tot of whisky each and poured one into the ground for the lads.
When you are on a battlefield site in the middle of the night you have to get a grip of your inner soundtrack telling you what you are surrounded by; it doesn`t help when a fox starts screaming its lungs out close by to you or when torchlight reflects the eyes of hundreds of sheep staring at you from the backdrop of the dark shadows of the woodland.......we both had a word with each other..
Every time we visit a site its like we are being tested to see if we are worthy to represent them. We had just got some shots of the memorial with the stars and Milky Way when the clouds came over and it started to pour with rain. We started to cover the camera and said, "we ought to get under cover" - but they never had the choice to get out of the rain; they just had to keep pushing on to take the ridge regardless. They didn`t give up so we were not going to get all cosy and wait it out; we would carry on. The second we said that it was like someone had turned the shower off; I wiped the water from my wide angle lens and set up some shots that Dan wanted to do with his shadow and got on with the shoot. To have Vimy Memorial to yourself for the night is incredibly special. It is a majestic place to be. It is very tactile and like other Great War memorials it also has the feel that it comes from the future, from a time where society is a peaceful place, where everybody looks back on the days of war and human beings killing each other and they can't comprehend the old ways..
One of my favourite things to do in life is watch the sunrise and to watch the new day begin as the sun rises above the Douai Plain is absolutely stunning . Canada Bereft looking down on you as the towers and mourners are bathed in the light of golden hour is an incredible experience to be part of and share with your best mate. If you would like to know more about Vimy please see the Canadian War Museum link on our Links page
Throughout the night I could hear things and felt like I was under the microscope; I didn`t mention it to Dan as I thought he may panic and there would be a very large Dan shaped hole left in the memorial followed by an Al shaped hole due to the fact that we would no longer be able to keep the jitters at bay. Dan and I were having our usual post shoot debrief when I looked at him and said "you do know that we were not alone don`t you?" to which he replied, "Yeah I know - what about the whistle blasts?" I then had a shiver come over me.................I didn`t think he had heard them.