My uncle, Private James Tod, was killed in Sicily in 1944. It was such a painful loss that my family almost never spoke of Uncle Jim, who was a talented aspiring artist. I learned more about him only recently when I inherited photographs and letters he sent to the family during his time in the army. They gave me a fascinating glimpse into his life and character, and their discovery prompted my interest in both Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan and the individual soldiers who have died there.
For the past three years, I have been painting portraits of our fallen Canadians. Each is executed on a six-by-five-inch birch panel. The modular nature of the series is a significant aspect of the work; in addition to being practical, it subtly acknowledges the ubiquity of war: it can conform to any location. The notion of asymmetry complements the informality shown in some of the portraits, particularly those from early in the mission. Some of these images depict soldiers in the field, hatless and sunburned. This idiosyncratic informality might also be viewed as a kind of innocence, as if they had embarked without their official army photographs having been taken, since the conflict was not supposed to be such a protracted—or deadly—one. Presented here to mark the official end of the Afghanistan combat mission are portraits of the 157 Canadians who have died in the war.
After The Walrus’s July-August 2011 issue went to press, two more soldiers died in Afghanistan, bringing the total number of Canadians killed to 159. Bdr. Karl Manning of the 1er Bataillon, Royal 22e Régiment was found dead on May 27, 2011, in Zangabad. Master Cpl. Francis Roy of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment was found dead on June 25, 2011, in Kandahar. Both soldiers’ portraits have been appended to this gallery.
Correction: In the printed version of this visual essay, we misidentifed Spr. Matthieu Allard, Cpl. Glen Arnold, Cpl. Christian Bobbitt, Pte. David Byers, Pte. Sébeastien Courcy, Cpl. Jean-François Drouin, Cpl. Martin Joannette, Cpl. Shane Keating, and Cpl. Keith Morley. The Walrus deeply regrets these errors.
This special section honouring our fallen soldiers is sponsored by Bennett Jones.
This appeared in the July/August 2011 issue.
Joanne Tod is represented in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, and the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal.