SUCH IS THE PATHWAY
Two years before Malcolm Alexander MacLeod, Mackie to his friends, was born in Hawkesbury, Ontario, in 1915, Friedrich Bergius would develop the synthetic oil process and thus seal Mackie’s fate.
29 years after his birth, on January 14th, 1945, Mackie would die at the controls of the Lancaster bomber he piloted. He would die in the night sky over Merseburg, Germany, on his 20th mission to destroy the Leuna Synthetic oil refinery developed by Bergius himself. Mackie, Malcolm, would have his name added to the list of over 57,000 Bomber Command deaths in the war, 10,000 Canadian.
This work explores the inter-generational traumas which linger on to affect those in the present long after the war’s end. Particularly Ross, Mackie’s son, who symbolises all those other children who grew up without parents lost to war. Those children who would only know their parents through photographs and letters home from the front. Children without closure and resolution who, as they age, grow desperate to fill the absences and the unknowns of the past.
But this work also explores notions of memorialisation and commemoration across Canada and Europe, found within trauma tourism and the many pilgrimages to battlefields and other sites of war, which still linger to shape Canada’s notion of itself in the world, as much as Ross’ journey would be one to find his father.
Ultimately, this work is a journey through these many landscapes of memory, longing and war towards closure and resolution, found for Ross in the last place Mackie stepped foot on earth - former RAF Croft in North Yorkshire.
Three-quarters of the way down page 46 of the 1945 edition of Bomber Command losses for the night of January 14 / 15 is a few lines describing the loss of a Lancaster X of 431 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force. Just a few lines describe the loss of KB806 SE-X on an operation to Leuna synthetic oil refinery.
Like Malcolm, hundreds would be killed on that solitary night of January 14th / 15th, 1945, in other theatres of war. One night out of two thousand, one hundred and ninety-four other nights of war.
All of them would be guinea pigs in the Second World War experiment of high-altitude mass aerial bombing, something the world had never seen before, at that point, or will see ever again, in a world of guided missiles and drones.
Long after the war’s end, when the brass bands have played their last tunes of victory. In that time, after the parades have dispersed with the return of civility, the bitter and brutal past still shapes those children of the lost and fallen. Still shaped by history and thoughts of war but, of course, also by what was and what could have been if their loved one, just like Malcolm, had come home.
This is currently a work in progress. It concludes in Summer 2024 with a final European trip.
Such is the Pathway features in Vol 4 HAPAX Magazine, which out summer of 2023
Archival images licensed from Alamy.