Journalism dies one paper at a time, and it’s the people who suffer in darkness

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It was a sad day for journalism in Vancouver yesterday and a particularly somber day for me.

24 hours Vancouver announced its ceasing publication. Its last paper was Monday, Nov. 26, 4,668 days since its first publication March 7, 2005.

The closure was yet another symptom of the disease that is proving fatal for journalism in this country.

As the founding editor-in-chief, I breathed life into the paper and it repaid me with some of the most gratifying moments of my career.

We had an amazing pool of journalists who were free – at least for the first few years – of corporate meddling.

We knew our audience and we connected with them from the outset with a lively mix of content ranging from celebrity gossip that proved popular with both men and women to hard-hitting journalism that peeled back the veneer on B.C. politics.

As a result, the paper shot to the top of free daily newspaper battles, eclipsing both Metro and Dose. As it grew, it challenged the big dailies for readership.

I felt blessed to have held that position and honoured to have shaped the daily news agenda, especially among working-class folks who didn’t have a voice in the media landscape.

They gravitated to 24 hours for news that was relevant to them and their struggles as well as offering an oasis to escape the daily grind.

Newspapers have lost their way over the last decade. As purse strings tightened, they cut back on covering the things that matter most to people – their community.

The first blow for 24 hours Vancouver came after the 2008 economic meltdown. I remember it vividly as I came off a 10-day silent meditation retreat to a phone call from my publisher informing me that head office was planning massive layoffs.

It was gut-wrenching to sever ties with people who had dedicated their time, energy and passion to make the paper what it had become. It was a family.

I let go nine staffers and 27 columnists and freelancers over two days.

The paper was a shadow of its former self.

I hung in for another 18 months but admit I lost heart.

So yesterday’s news came as no surprise. It was the final nail in the coffin. It’s unfortunate because 24 hours started as the people’s paper.

And it’s the people who will lose with its closure.

Looking to memory of my First World War hero grandfather to find peace with myself

Like my grandfather, I’ve spent time on Vimy Ridge and Hill 70 in France. However, my visit 100 years after him was not marked by the deafening barrage of artillery shells that rained death, but by the quiet steps of a grandson, seeking insight on a fight today: how to win an inner battle with myself.
I want to draw inspiration from the experiences of a man who survived severe shell shock and who was distinguished for his “utmost manly qualities,” according to his superiors, as I struggle with my own dreams and try to put meaning into a life shaken by moments of self doubt.
My grandfather, Burton Lawrence Broughton, was a gunner with the 36th Howitzer Battery, of the 9th Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery (3rd Division). His battery was part of the Canadians’ effort to hone the creeping barrage that provided effective cover for infantry during the successful assault on Vimy Ridge on April 9, 1917.
At Hill 70, four months later, they pioneered a new form of tactical fire in which several targeting calculations were made before firing a gun so that the target would be hit without first alerting the enemy.
According to 9th Brigade war diaries, at Hill 70 (Aug. 15 – Aug. 25, 1917) their guns halted a massive enemy counter-attack, accounting for “50 men in the first 20 rounds.”
“The slaughter and confusion was so great, the enemy broke and fled in all directions,” it was reported in the war diaries. “At a conservative estimate, we accounted for 100 to 200 men.”
The newly erected monument at Hill 70 looms over the pockmarked fields of Northern France in testament to the first time Canadians fought under Canadian command (Gen. Sir Arthur Currie). An unveiling and dedication of the new monument for Canada’s “forgotten victory” is planned for Aug. 22.
My grandfather’s military records paint a picture of a war hero who earned the praise of his superiors. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty” in June, 1918, when his position was hit by an enemy barrage. It was through his “coolness” that he maintained the morale of the gun crew, making it possible to “maintain the service of the gun at a critical period.”
“His courage and resourcefulness was of the highest order and enabled us to overcome very serious obstacles. I feel I am quite right when I say there was no more efficient NCO in France,” wrote his Commanding Officer, Maj. D.A. MacKinnon, in a letter to my great-grandmother.
During the battle of Passchendaele in late 1917, he suffered a severe concussion when an enemy round landed in an ammunition depot next to him. Apparently, the blast hit him with such force you could see the impression of his skeleton on his skin. He was sent back to England to convalesce.
“I thought he would never return to the front but his courage and determination brought him back again and he fought the war right out to the end,” wrote MacKinnon.
At the age of 27, my grandfather danced with death on a daily basis. His younger brother, William, saw the worst of the war with the 2nd Battalion Eastern Ontario Regiment, ultimately dying of wounds on Sept. 16, 1916, after being seriously hurt during the Battle of Courcelette. The brothers from Sydney, Nova Scotia, defended a way of life.
My challenges pale in comparison. There are no life-and-death struggles as I distract myself with a steady stream of Facebook messages and rolling Instagram posts. My stress is triggered by leaving a career in journalism after 28 years in an attempt to reinvent myself.
I counter-attack, telling myself the only thing worse than fear now is regret later. I owe it to myself to test my mettle, to battle for what I believe is a life of purpose. As I tackle my challenges, I am finding my own “courage and determination” to fight through the inner demons of doubt and cleanse myself of inhibitions.
In searching to better understand who my grandfather — who died a year before I was born — was at his core, I am searching for pieces of my own identity. At Hill 70, where 26 of his comrades were killed by gas attacks, my grandfather stood his ground. That resolve defined him as a man and gave him the courage months later to elevate himself in battle to earn the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
The Distinguished Conduct Medal awarded to Burton Lawrence Broughton for “conspicuous gallantry” in maintaining his Howitzer after it came under enemy fire during the First World War.
He wasn’t that man at the start of the war but he became that man by the end of the war.
Burton Lawrence Broughton’s military medals from the Second World War and First World War, including his distinguished conduct medal.
I need to define my own “coolness” in battle and discover who I am in the process. My battle is right here and right now and while failure doesn’t result in death, it may kill a dream.
My goal is to discover some of the “courage and determination” he found in himself and recognize it in myself.

• Dean Broughton is a former editor with Postmedia News

 

More tales from the trunk #Canada150

My grandfather’s commitment to Canada meant he put his life on the line. My commitment is to preserve those memories so the stories are not forgotten.

As we march toward Canada’s 150th birthday, I have been delving deeper into my family history to explore the Broughton contribution to the country.

The trunk my father lugged around for the better part of 50 years is revealing some intimate family moments. It’s not only packed with his mementos but also those of his father. I am starting to understand the weight of what that trunk meant to my dad. I am honoured to be able to explore and reveal some of the stories behind these long-forgotten family heirlooms.

One of the most cherished objects is my grandfather’s bar of First and Second World War medals, the most prized of those is his Distinguished Conduct Medal. It is second only to the Victoria Cross awarded to non-commissioned officers.

A deep dive into Google produced an article in the London Gazette from Oct. 18, 1918, detailing my grandfather’s “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty”. It explains how his gun was hit by “heavy enemy barrage” and “put out of action”. Through my grandfather’s “fine example of coolness he maintained the morale of the gun crew and made it possible to maintain the service of the gun at a critical period.”

I couldn’t be prouder and only hope those genes have been passed down to me and, further, to my son.

The medal itself is heavy like an old Canadian silver dollar. Imprinted on the side is my grandfather’s name, rank and serial number as well as battalion number and date of battle. On the front is an image of King George V uncrowned and in a Field Marshal’s uniform. The legend has his name and “REX ET IND: IMP”, which means “by the grace of God” in Latin.

There are two other medals from the First World War: The British War Medal 1914-1920 and the Victory Medal 1914-1919. The legend on the back of the Victory Medal declares: The Great War for Civilization. In retrospect, I find that a curious declaration. The battlegrounds for civilization look dramatically different today as we face climate change and the rise of nationalism on a global scale.

Sleuthing through my family history, which include Following In My Grandfather’s Footsteps, is more than just an exercise in historical preservation. I hope to get a better understanding of myself and who I am. I will never be tested in the life-or-death situations my grandfather faced, nor would he want me to be. However, I aspire to the mettle and moxie he exhibited in his life, if not through battle then through compassion for my fellow Canadians.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from those who committed to the nation of Canada through its first 150 years. My aim is to continue that commitment by preserving those stories as we embark on the next 150 years.

 

More than junk in the trunk

Following In My Grandfather’s Footsteps has led me to a veritable treasure trove in the trunk my father has lugged around for more almost 50 years.

There is nothing more alluring to a teen than something taboo. For me, it was my father’s trunk. As far as I was concerned, it held all the family secrets. And one, in particular, fascinated me: my grandfather’s 9mm police handgun.

I fished it out on a regular basis to impress my high school mates. It was an old Smith and Wesson and the slide was broken so it would come off when you racked it – which wasn’t so impressive. But it was still a prized possession that elevated my social ranking among friends.

It was the coolest thing in the trunk as far as I was concerned. That was until a few weeks ago when I moved my folks out their home and the trunk landed in my living room. Through all those years of rummaging, I didn’t pay much heed to the rest of the trunk’s treasures. Until now.

The handgun is long gone as my father turned it into the Langley RCMP during one of those gun amnesties in the 90s. However, I am discovering the trunk is a veritable time capsule of family history.

Before he had children, my father lived an interesting life. (After children, he’s just dad). My grandfather was an army man, so it was a proud moment when his son joined the Royal Canadian Air Force after high school in 1958. His uniform is one of the treasures I discovered in the trunk. It’s complete with his cuff links, wedge hat flashes and embroidered crests. It smells musty but the tunic and trousers are one pressing away from being parade ready. I am sure I was as proud to discover it as his father was to see him in it.

Following his time in the air force, my father landed a job in the Canadian arctic, working on the Distant Early Warning Line. The DEW Line, as he referred to it, was the most northerly radar lines in Canada and was meant to detect Soviet bomber during the cold war. He has some great tales of polar bear sighting and enduring frigid conditions. He also came back with a few pieces of arctic history, including an Inuit soapstone carving, fur parka, gloves and soft-soled mukluks. That is truly Canadian.

IMG_7410TrunkTrunkThese are little treasure with no great monetary value, but they are pieces of Canada and speak to my father’s role in it. We all make minute impressions on this country and it’s interesting to discover how my father factored into 150 years of this nation.

 

 

 

Lost stories of grandfathers come to life in shadow of Hill 70 monument

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A breath-taking monument commemorates the Canadian force’s effort at Hill 70 was dedicated Saturday, April 8, 2017. The official opening will be in August 2017.

I am woefully aware I likely won’t find any concrete details about my grandfather’s march through Northern France 100 years ago. But I know my sleuthing will uncover details of other descendants in similar pursuits.

And I hit pay dirt at Hill 70, where a breathtaking new monument will be dedicated today, April 8, 2017, by Canadian Gov. Gen. David Johnston to honour the Canadian troops who fought there.

Four months after Vimy, Hill 70 was the first time Canada’s troops actually did battle under Canadian command. It’s currently being regaled in a Globe series.

Six Victoria Crosses were awarded at Hill 70 (compared to four at Vimy). One of the greatest tales is that of Philip Konowal, formerly of Vancouver. Kent Spencer does a great job detailing Konowal’s story here. The abridged version is that instead of being shot by his commanding officer for desertion, Konowal was decorated for valour after recording 16 German kills.

My grandfather’s 9th Brigade of the 36th Battery fought at Hill 70. The brigade’s war diaries reveal how my grandfather was part of a pioneering new form of tactical fire. It was the first time the Canadian gunners used predicted fire, a technique used to repel German counter attacks and deliver mass casualties.

The war diaries tell a gruesome tale told in a matter-of-fact tone about the effectiveness of this tactic on first day of the offensive Aug. 15, 1917.

After a strong push, the Germans were mounting a significant counter attack. As Forward Observation Officer Lieut. J.R.. Jamieson reports, “a great mass of enemy” numbering about 1,000 were launching a counter offensive.

“The plain around this point was black with men,” he noted in his operation report. “They appeared to mass about H.27.a.8.5. (battlefield coordinates) and as this was a point we had registered with two guns (for sniping during the last ten days) we opened up with gun fire.

“I am sure we accounted for 50 men in the first 20 rounds.”

Despite the barrage, the enemy didn’t stop and Jamieson reported the enemy kept “coming on from the rear,” so the battery opened up with another 125 rounds.

“The slaughter and confusion was so great, the enemy broke and fled in all directions,” Jamieson wrote. “At a conservative estimate, we accounted for 100 to 200 men.”

The battle lasted 10 more than days with the Canadians achieving only partial objectives. Regardless, it’s being heralded as another moment of Canadian unification during the war.

Enter Kay Langmuir, the granddaughter of Major C.M.P. Fisher who commanded one of the Canadian batteries.

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Kay Langmuir’s grandfather, Major C.M.P. Fisher, fought at Hill 70.

I met her in tears as she looked off into the distance in the shadow of the Hill 70 monument on Friday, April 7. We shared a somber moment before she gave me some insight into her grandfather.

At the behest of his family, Fisher chronicled his contributions to the war effort in a six-page document. At Hill 70, he explained how the Canadian artillery bombarded Hill 70 for three solid days and nights.

“It never let up,” she recalled. “He [her grandfather] referred to [Hill 70] as a hard scrap and, certainly, that is an understatement.”

Pride beam within her as she relayed the story.

“He would be most proud and delighted to see this commemorated,” said Langmuir, who, unlike myself, had the good fortune to know her grandfather. “He was a very stern man who kept his emotions in check, the way men did of that age.”

That fragment of insight means a lot in my quest to learn more about my grandfather. I share Kay’s pride and I get a tingling sensation up my spine as I read the war diaries, survey the landscapes and ponder what it all meant for my grandfather, his comrades-in-arms at, ultimately, the country.

By all accounts, he was a stern man who didn’t often talk about the war. When Kay speaks of how her grandfather kept his emotions in check, I can’t help but wonder about Burton Broughton. What kind of torment and loneliness built within him? There must have been many gruesome sights and scenes he endured – and not shared. And, maybe, it was balanced by the fraternal camaraderie of friends during the war that allowed him to compartmentalize it.

It makes me grateful I have grown up in the peaceful era and feel I have an obligation to share my grandfather’s experiences here in France. I think it not only helps me understand who I am, but also offers a glimpse into the human condition when conditions aren’t very human.

Walking through Vimy in my grandfather’s footsteps

I never knew my grandfather, Burton Broughton. He died a year before I was born, but I have never felt closer to him than today as I follow in his footsteps, literally, 100 years after he marched through Northern France during the First World War.

What I know of him are fragmented memories from my folks, perceptions from photos, and details through his war records.

I know he was a member of the 9th Brigade in the 36th Battery of Canadian Field Artillery. He shipped out with that battery from Sydney, Nova Scotia as a 26-year-old on Sept. 11, 1915. He returned a changed man more than three years later after battles at the Ypres Salient, Vimy Ridge, Hill 70, Passchendaele, Amiens and Mons.

He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty” on March 6, 1918 when his gun position was hit by an enemy barrage and through his “coolness” the gun was “placed in action again.”

DCM explanation - Broughton

I get a sense of his character from a letter his Commanding Officer, Major D.A. MacKinnon, wrote to his mother, noting he had witnessed her son’s “utmost manly qualities.”

“His courage and resourcefulness was of the highest order and enabled us to overcome very serious obstacles,” MacKinnon wrote. “I feel I am quite right when I say there was no more efficient N.C.O. in France.”

During the battle of Passchendaele he was severely shell shocked when a round landed in a depot next to him. Apparently, the concussion hit him with such force you could see an impression of his bones on his skin. He was sent back to England to convalesce.

“I thought he would never return to the front but his courage and determination brought him back again and he fought the War right out to the end,” wrote MacKinnon.

War Records - Letter from C-O

I know at Vimy Ridge – where I will be Sunday, April 9, 2017 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle – his battery was charged with the “creeping barrage” that protected infantry as they advanced into enemy territory.

I marvel at the tattered paper displaying the actual gun coordinates he used that day. Each gun crew fired two rounds every minute, adjusting precisely every two minutes to keep the Germans pinned in their trenches.

Sifting through the war diaries of the 9th Brigade, I know that when the barrage promptly started at 5:30 a.m. His efforts were part of an assault that is heralded as one of Canada’s defining military moments. War Records - Vimy Gun Coordinates

According to Forward Observation Officer Lieut. J.R.  Jamieson “our barrage was reported to being very good” and the infantry remarked the efforts were “very satisfactory.”

This is what I know. There is a lot a don’t know about my grandfather and, this week as I trace his movements, I hope to get a better understanding of the essence of the man.

I will go to Mt St. Eloi where the Canadian guns were positioned April 9, 1917 in support of the Vimy offensive. I will take part in the ceremony marking the 100-year anniversary of the battle.

The narrative of Vimy is a moment that defined a nation. What I hope to glean is how it defined the men who fought for the nation. It’s the determination of thousands of men like my grandfather who sacrificed their youth and shaped the next generation of Canadians. I am part of that tapestry and, this week, I discover what that means to me personally. 

I will publish various posts over the next few days as I discover more. Thanks for reading.