The Royal Canadian Chaplain Services Concludes the 75th Year of the Anniversary of D-Day

June 8, 2020 – Defence Stories
Author:
Maj (Padre) Tom Hamilton, Ph.D., RCChS Historian

Caption

No reproduction or sharing of this photo is allowed. The painting, made by Roger Chabot, brings together the Padres George Alexander Harris, Walter Leslie Brown and William Alfred Seaman, who lost their lives during the Normandy Campaign.

Caption

Padre Brown’s suitcase that was discovered by Chris McCreery in a thrift shop in Windsor, Ontario. Each year, on Remembrance Day, it is used to celebrate the Eucharist.

In anticipation of the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the Royal Canadian Chaplain Service wished to commemorate the sacrifice of the Padres George Alexander Harris, Walter Leslie Brown, and William Alfred Seaman and thus make known to all a part of its rich heritage. Acclaimed military artist Roger Chabot was approached, and agreed to create a portrait.

During the Second World War, Canadian chaplains were mandated to serve “the spiritual and moral welfare of the men” even if it required the ultimate sacrifice. Padre Harris served by speaking words of reassurance with his last breath. Padre Brown served as a consistent spiritual presence even though it resulted in his death by a soldier’s bayonet. Padre  eaman served by putting himself in the line of fire to rescue the wounded even though it meant receiving a mortal wound. Over the decades, their memory has become obscured and seemingly forgotten like countless others who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Learn more about their story by reading “Feed My Sheep”: A Portrait - Commemorating the Sacrifice of Canadian Padres in Normandy.

On June 6, 2020, the painting was revealed during a virtual ceremony (external link, not accessible on the Defence network) at Beechwood Cemetery.

The Artist

Roger Chabot’s talent as an artist began in high school, and has been interwoven through the canvas of his life. He served for thirty-two years in the Canadian Armed Forces in Canada and overseas with the Royal 22e Régiment, the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, the Canadian Airborne Regiment, and in the Public Affairs Branch as an imagery technician. In 1998, he suffered a serious back injury. Lying in a hospital bed and unable to move was a pivotal time in his life. Drawing upon his faith, he felt a renewed calling as an artist. Later that year, his first portrait, “Airborne Sunrise”, was unveiled. Other works followed including “Night Drop” and “No Greater Love”. His portraits have been presented to the Governor General and members of the Royal Family. Chabot marvels at the way military members and circumstances have intersected at vital moments in his life. Looking back, Chabot is grateful for his military colleagues and career, and believes a Divine Presence has guided his life.

The Inspiration

To prepare for the portrait of the Padres, Chabot travelled to France—for inspiration, and to ensure historical accuracy. Chabot walked on Juno beach, visited the church that had served as a landmark for Canadian soldiers on D-Day, and the D-Day museums. When he stood in Beny-Sur-Mer Cemetery, he met the gardener and learned that the Frenchman had tended the graves of Canadian soldiers for more than 25 years, calling himself the “gardener of memories.” Following this, Chabot, as a former-military artist, now considers his mission to be a guardian of memory.

Chabot’s portrait “Feed My Sheep” is visually spellbinding. In commemorating the ultimate sacrifice of three Padres in Normandy, the portrait evokes the traits of a good shepherd who takes care of his sheep, who is present and ready to risk everything to protect his flock in the face of threat. For all contemporary military members, “Feed My Sheep” is a poignant reminder that when we speak the words “service before self” we stand on the shoulders of countless heroes who have gone before us including: Padre George Alexander Harris, Padre Walter Leslie Brown, and Padre William Alfred Seaman.

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