Friday, 4 September 2015

It's the detail that draws you in, another Belleville picture from 1945

I keep coming back to this picture and like all good pictures it raises questions which as yet I do not have answers.

On the surface it is easy enough to see what is going on.

We are at Belleville railway station, Ontario in the autumn of 1945 and the Prince Edward Hastings Regiment have returned from the European war.

Of the two central figures, one is an officer who appears in many of the pictures while the other can be seen in a few of the photographs.  I would love to know what has made them laugh but that sadly is lost.

Beyond them there are other soldiers getting ready to disembark the train.  Some stare directly at the camera, while others seem more intent on getting on to the platform.

But what draws you in is the central figure of the railway employee.  He is one of two and the way they stand is out of kilter with the upbeat mood all around them.

Their heads are bowed and they stand apart from all that is going on.

Now I shall be careful and avoid any sweeping generalizations.

My knowledge of this period of Canadian history is almost nonexistent, which is an awful admission and one I want to address.

But I do have to ask why have they struck that pose?

There are of course many possible explanations, ranging from the shyness of the employees, to company policy about how to behave when passengers are disembarking from a company train, particularly when the press are present.  Or just maybe it is something less pleasant.

Either way my attention is drawn to this tiny little scene and I wonder at the social conventions of the period.

In much the same way as in the film of Doctor Zhivago where there is a scene where the young Zhivago is called to assist on a case of attempted suicide.  It is snowing hard and Zhivago and his professor go inside the house leaving the coachman to sit outside and wait.

Nothing you might think as odd.  But this is pre Revolutionary Russia, and Zhivago has just witnessed a brutal attack by the army on a peaceful street protest.  Added to that, the house call takes place against a backdrop of a social gathering of the wealthy.

The contrasts are all too obvious but I doubt that many pick up on the plight of the coachman who will sit for hours in the snow waiting for his employers.

There will be those I suppose who mutter “he’s going over the top and elevating a sixty second shot into something more than it is” which may be so.

And yet it is the tiny detail that often reveals a host of stories and puts the image into the bigger picture.  Well with this one we shall see.

In the meantime it is another of those unique records of the Prince Edward Hastings Regiment retuning home.

And there is no way that you can escape that sense of excietement on the faces of men who left for Europe in late 1939, saw action in France, Italy and Holland and were now back in Canada.

The collection is in the possession of Mike Dufresne who bought them in an auction and tells me they will be left to the regimental museum.

I can think of no fitting place for them to to end up and is a good reminder that all such images are part of oor collective history.

And it is worth mentioning also that Mike has already begun releasing them to the social network site,  Vintage Belleville, Trenton & Quinte Region.*

Now this I like not least because it means that people who live close by can see them, but total strangers from the other side of the world can also share this little bit of history.

All of which is fascinating, after all it is the stories of the "little people caught up in a big century" which bring the events of that period to life.

Picture; from the collection of Mike Dufresne

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