KENTVILLE, NS - She has put a strong interest in military history to work by creating a book that offers a unique examination of European battlefields.
Travel photographer and blogger Justine MacDonald of Kentville said the book project wasn’t actually her idea. Just over a year ago, MacDonald had her work displayed as part of an exhibit at the Kings County Museum called “Remembrance Road: Photographs from the Battlefields of Europe.”
Kate MacInnes Adams, office manager at the museum, showed MacDonald’s scrapbook to a visiting representative from SSP Publications in Halifax. The publisher approached MacDonald and asked her if she’d like to write a book, an offer she happily accepted.
“I wanted to share this experience with my community, so writing a book means that I’m able to extend that reach and share the experiences and the photographs with even more people,” MacDonald said.
The book, Remembrance Road: A Canadian photographer’s journey through European battlefields, was officially launched at an event at the museum on Nov. 26. It contains a compilation of MacDonald’s battlefield photos and essays, organized chronologically in terms of when the battles occurred. She wrote a brief history of each area featured in the book, including her own experiences visiting the various sites.
Although it took her about eight months to write and compile the book, it represents 20 years of work travelling to and photographing First and Second World War battlefields.
MacDonald said she is pleased with how the book turned out and she has received a lot of positive feedback. Her hope is that people who aren’t normally interested in the subject will at least be intrigued enough to pick it up, appreciate what the photos represent and perhaps learn something new.
“Most of the people who live in Europe, they have to remember, they don’t have a choice,” MacDonald said.
There are monuments and cemeteries all over the place, countless acres of land that are still uninhabitable, equipment still sitting in fields and farmers are still digging up remnants of the battles.
In North America, for many people, the First and Second World Wars are just chapters in a history book. However, as written all over Auschwitz, it’s happened before so it can happen again.
“I just want people to realize what we’ve gone through as a country and what people have sacrificed for us and continue to sacrifice for us in the military,” MacDonald said.
There were many sources of inspiration for Remembrance Road, which incapsulates many of MacDonald’s greatest interests. She comes from a military family and has a deep affinity for history, travel and photography. MacDonald learned a lot about the area’s past when she used to live in Germany.
She said the first battle site of major historical significance that her family visited was Vimy Ridge in 1998. The towering monuments, shell craters and areas that can’t be visited because they remain unsafe really resonated with her. That’s when she decided that she would return to Vimy in 2017 for the centenary.
The trenches at Sanctuary Wood also made a huge impact on MacDonald. Both times she visited the site, the trenches were muddy and filled with water. She got a sense of how horrific the conditions would have been for the soldiers who occupied them.
MacDonald has held a number of signing events for the book, which is available from Chapters, Indigo and Coles or from the Kings County Museum in Kentville.
To view MacDonald’s photography, visit www.justinemacdonald.photography.