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Arthur Currie: The court battle that put the First World War on trial

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  • OTTAWA — It was known at the time as the Third Battle of Mons, a battle that played out not on the bloody fields of Europe but in a courtroom in the quaint Ontario town of Cobourg nearly a decade after the First World War had officially ended.

    On the surface, the battle was a libel trial after Canada’s top general from the war sued the local newspaper for an editorial that had accused Sir Arthur Currie of sending Canadian soldiers to their deaths at the end of the war for his own glory.

    But the showdown raised bigger questions: What is the right cost for victory? How many lives are too many? And how does hindsight affect how a country comes to terms with the terrible price of war?

    Now, in the very same place the trial was held more than 90 years ago, those questions have resurfaced. The drama that held Canadians in thrall ago has been revived in a moving play entitled “Last Day, Last Hour” — staged in the original courtroom.

    “This trial essentially ended up riveting the country,” says Toronto author and playwright Hugh Brewster, who wrote the play. “It put the war on trial. It was headline news every day for the full two and a half weeks in May 1928.

    “In Canada, this trial became a sort of lightning rod for resistance to the war and what was it about and was it worth the sacrifice.”

    The story began in 1927 when the Port Hope Evening Guide published an editorial accusing Currie of ordering an attack on the Belgian city of Mons despite knowing an armistice had been signed and was about to come into effect on Nov. 11, 1918.

    Mons was the site of the British military’s first defeat of the war in 1914, and had been occupied by the Germans throughout the conflict.

    The editorial put on paper the unsubstantiated grumblings that had swirled in some corners about Currie being a butcher who threw his men’s lives away.

    A former real estate agent who commanded the Canadian Corps at the end of the war, Currie later retired into obscurity as head of McGill University in Montreal.

    He was clearly troubled by the rumours — and that his country had largely ignored his contributions to the war, unlike his contemporaries in the U.S., Australia and Europe.

    Currie decided to sue for $50,000 to clear his name and, in the process, was forced to explain his decisions during those final days of the war while he and the rest of the country relived the terrible experience with the gift — or curse — of hindsight.

    “This was not an enemy that was giving up,” Currie explains at one point during Last Day, Last Hour, which Brewster wrote after he read a book about the general by Canadian War Museum historian Tim Cook.

    Indeed, one of the key questions in the trial was whether Currie should have had his troops — who had already suffered 45,000 casualties in the previous 100 days leading up to the end of the war — stop advancing earlier than he did.

    But it is repeatedly noted that rumours of an armistice had circulated numerous times before Nov. 11, 1918, and that Currie had no choice but to follow orders when his British commander ordered Mons taken.

    Brewster says the idea of turning the trial into a play emerged when he read about a climactic scene between Currie and the Evening Guide’s lawyer Frank Regan. The retired general accuses Regan of wanting the Canadians to have quit before the war was over.

    “You would have them disobey an order,” Currie thunders at Regan, his exact words once again reverberating through the classical courtroom on the first floor of Cobourg’s magnificent Victoria Hall.

    “You would have them be guilty of treason, disregard the instructions of the commander in chief, disregard the instruction of Marshal Foch, and act in an unsoldierly way, right at the very last. Those were not the men who did that sort of thing.”

    Yet even as it charts Currie’s fight to clear his name, the play brings home the cost to the average soldiers in a powerful scene where a disabled veteran talks about how his wounds ruined his life and he wants answers to why it all happened.

    “Our only purpose,” explains Regan in his closing arguments, “was to give justice to these dead soldiers.”

    “Of course too many men were killed,” agrees Currie’s lawyer in his own closing arguments, “but what would he have done?”

    The jury, which heard that only one Canadian actually died taking Mons on Nov. 11, 1918, ended up ruling against the newspaper. But it awarded Currie only $500, while the trial took a toll on his health and he died five years later.

    It nonetheless restored Currie’s reputation, and his funeral was one of the largest in Canadian history.

    “He was acknowledged as a great general,” says Cook, who is among those who believes Currie was one of Canada’s best generals.

    “But still there lingered the worry about the cost. The cost of victory. And indeed, how do we measure such things? How do you talk about if the casualties are too high when there are 12,000 at Amiens for a victory?”

    Last Day, Last Hour runs Thursday through Sunday in Cobourg until Nov. 11.

    Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


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    Arts

    David Hockney painting fetches record $90M at NYC auction

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  • NEW YORK — A painting by the British artist David Hockney fetched .3 million at Christie’s on Thursday night, easily breaking the record for a work by a living artist sold at auction.

    Among his famous “pool paintings,” ”Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” is considered one of his premier works. The previous record by a living artist was set by Jeff Koons’ “Balloon Dog,” which sold for $58.4 million in 2013.

    The 1972 painting by Hockney, now 81, is “the holy grail of his paintings, from both the historical and the market perspectives,” Alex Rotter, co-chairman of post-war and contemporary art at Christie’s, said in September. He noted that it reflects both the European and the American perspectives of an artist who came to live in sunny California in the ’60s, and saw himself as living on both continents.

    “It has all the elements that you would want in a Hockney painting,” Rotter said in an interview. He noted that writers have referred to the swimming pool as being sort of a self-portrait of Hockney, though he never confirmed that, just saying he was fascinated to paint moving water.

    The painting, whose buyer was not immediately revealed, had been long held by a private collector.

    A depiction of two men — one swimming the breaststroke underwater, the other standing by the pool looking down — the painting was originally inspired, according to background provided by Christie’s, by two photographs Hockney found juxtaposed on his studio floor, one of a swimmer in Hollywood in 1966, and another of a boy staring at something on the ground.

    The rocky landscape is in southern France, and the standing figure is said to represent Peter Schlesinger, whom the artist met in 1966, when the younger man was a student in one of Hockney’s art classes at UCLA. For the next five years, according to Christie’s, he was both “the great love of Hockney’s life” and one of his favourite models.

    The relationship ended in 1971. Hockney had already begun the painting and he abandoned it, starting again the following year.

    The Associated Press




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    Alberta

    Get your arts fix with ‘I Don’t Get It’

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  • What do you do when something you value isn’t getting much media coverage? For the team behind I Don’t Get It, you make a podcast to fill the gap.

    Fawnda Mithrush and Paul Blinov met at Vue Weekly, an alt-weekly arts publication in Edmonton. Dance was getting short shrift in the local media, so in 2013 they started a podcast in which Mithrush, a dance critic, would introduce Blinov, a dance newbie, to the art. With production help from Andrew Paul, I Don’t Get It was born.

    In 2017, the podcast expanded to cover theatre and news on the arts community in general. They mostly cover Edmonton, but will take the occasional road trip, such as their excursion to the Badlands Amphitheatre to catch a production of Carmen, or their trip to the Banff Centre to see Orphée+.

    Let’s learn a little more about the team behind I Don’t Get It:

     

    Q. Why should people listen to your show?

    A. Listeners will learn about what’s happening on Edmonton stages, and also get a taste of theatre and dance history. Through light and fun conversation, we hope to lift the “I don’t get it” veil from contemporary performance for both new and experienced audiences.  

    Q. What’s the most interesting comment you’ve received from a listener?

    A. We often receive comments from the arts community that say, “Thanks for saying that, I thought the same thing,” when we point out problematic aspects of a performance. One such example was a listener who sent that same message after our review of Shakespeare’s R&J, when we discussed whether or not an all-male production of Romeo & Juliet was tone deaf in the post-#MeToo era.

    Q. What podcasts do you listen to?

    A. We’re media people, so mostly media and storytelling podcasts: On the Media, Longform, New Yorker Radio Hour, Canadaland, Invisibilia.

    Q. Do you have any unusual hobbies or talents that may surprise your listeners?

    A. All three of us love to cook. Paul is particularly good at bread-making, Andrew is an apprentice butcher, and Fawnda has memorized all seasons of Julia Child’s The French Chef.

    Q. Write your own epitaph — what would it say and why?

    A. “Wherever there’s magic and make-believe and an audience, there’s Theatre.” It’s a quote from ‘All About Eve’, in a longer speech about democratizing theatre for all audiences (it’s not only for the elite). It’s one of the greatest films to discuss theatre and the challenges of being an artist within it – and also features one of the best critic characters of all time, Addison DeWitt.

    Q. What has been your favourite episode so far and why?

    A. Season 1 Episode 1 still stands out as a classic example of what we were trying to do with the show, and also why it was important for the growth of arts media in Edmonton. We reviewed one of the city’s most storied dancers and his company, and were terrified. And we nailed it on the first take (for real). Click the link below to listen.

     

    Be sure to connect with I Don’t Get It on Twitter and Facebook.

    Over the next several weeks, Todayville will introduce you to members of the Alberta Podcast Network, so you can invite even more Alberta-made podcasts into your ears! You can find I Don’t Get It and dozens of other shows at albertapodcastnetwork.com.

    About Alberta Podcast Network

    The Alberta Podcast Network, powered by ATB, is on a mission to:

    -Help Alberta-based podcasters create podcasts of high quality and reach larger audiences;

    -Foster connections among Alberta-based podcasters.

    -Provide a powerful marketing opportunity for local businesses and organizations.

    Alberta Podcast Network Ltd. is pursuing this mission with funding from ATB Financial and support from other sponsors.


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