The Diary and the Mannequin: Going Home

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Video Description:

In this video you will learn how Byron Cooper Sisler’s wartime experience ended.

Duration: 5:27
Codec: h.264
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  • A screen shot of Joe walking towards a sign for the ‘Trench Exhibit.’
    00:00:00 - 00:00:31

    Scene opens with mournful piano music.

    Lottie is sitting at her computer in the storage room.

    Lottie texts: you should head back now – ok?

    Joe is at the front of the building, still leaning against the wall, looking very sombre. He receives the text and then slowly makes his way towards the Trench Exhibit.

    Once he disappears into the trench, we hear Young Sisler reading from his diary. There are a series of battle images with the mannequin-soldier, he is in the trenches and there are sounds of battle all around him. In the final image he is sitting in the trench writing a letter.

  • A screen shot of the mannequin-soldier sitting in the trench and writing a letter.
    00:00:32 - 00:01:51

    September 30
    Went up with rations this morning. There are some awful sights up there. Went right across the ground that we captured on September 15th. This is truly one great battlefield. Desolation is awful.

    October 2nd
    We went up with breakfast again this morning and Fritz nearly got us. I said good-bye to myself once, twice, going along the road in full view of Fritz. He snipes with whiz bangers. The battalion took about 500 yards of trenches. One of our crews of 3 completely wiped out; Brown among them - buried along the road this morning.

    October 5th
    Wrote Pulfer’s people. I hope the letter is alright, because it is no easy job writing a letter like that - sent the $2 which his mother sent in the last letter.

    Lottie texts: Joe – are you coming?

    Joe makes his way towards the storage room but stops to text.

    Joe: almost there - poor Sisler - he’s losing all his friends.

  • A screen shot of the mannequin-soldier in a frozen landscape.
    00:01:52 - 00:03:20

    Joe enters the storage room looking depressed.

    Lottie texts: Sisler still has lots of battles to go…
    Joe: yeah? where next?

    Lottie picks up the diary. A voice-over by Old Sisler begins along with a sequence of images of the trenches and mannequin-soldier trudging through the snow and mud.

    Voice-over: After Brown died, the cold rains turned to snow and we were battling frostbite by coating our feet with whale-oil. By January, we were heading for Calonne, part of getting ready for the big spring offensive at Vimy. Everything was top secret, couldn’t even write in our diaries. The plan was to get into the enemy trenches, take prisoners, check out the weapon stores, get the lay of the land. We sent raiding parties into No Man’s Land to scout out the wire, making sure we’d have clear lanes to get to Fritz’s frontlines. And we mined under the enemy trenches too, the ground was chalky and it was a struggle to shovel the slimy earth into sandbags to haul it out. But at Calonne, we Canadians cemented our reputation as trench raiders, more than earning our nickname of ‘storm troopers.’ 

    Lottie closes the diary.

    Joe: that’s it?
    Lottie: too bad it ends so suddenly…
    Joe: yeah - but we should go - our exhibit is done.
    Lottie:  don’t you want to know how the story ends? 

  • A screen shot of Lottie putting a small photograph in the breast pocket of the mannequin’s uniform
    00:03:21 - 00:05:27

    Lottie indicates with a gesture that they should continue to search for information in the exhibit space. They check a few items and then Lottie discovers a photo album. She opens it and we hear a voice-over by Old Sisler. There is a sequence of images of Sisler from different times during the war until he went home.

    VO: Look at me there, still just a kid – it was 1918, and the war was still dragging on. I’d made Lieutenant and thought it might be time to give the Air Force a try. I’d spent enough time getting hammered in the trenches by enemy planes, thought I’d have a go at hammering back. And by then, I’d seen my share of the trenches.

    I can remember that morning at Vimy, thousands of us under the grey sky, the bitter west wind starting to blow snow. Every fella counting the minutes, nervous, cold. What a battle. We hit the Germans so hard that they were pouring out of their dugouts to surrender. And after Vimy, it was on to Hill 70, and then the bad news, we were heading for Passchendaele. No one was too keen on that, but I came out of it all right.

    I went over to the air force soon after and did training at Camp Bexhill. Then the war ended. I finally got home late in the spring of 1919. Lots of guys were fed up waiting so long, but me, I was just thankful, thankful to get home, and to see Mildred there waiting for me.

    When the sequence ends, Lottie is holding a small photo of Mildred. Joe and Lottie head towards the door and as Lottie passes the mannequin, she puts the picture of Mildred into the pocket of Sisler’s uniform.

    He turns out the light. They leave the room, and in the dark, the mannequin is briefly animated and salutes.

    Screen freezes.