Cycling to Find My Grandfather’s Battlefields 

Event Details

Sun, May 28, 2023
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Cantigny Park Visitors Center

1S151 Winfield Road
Wheaton, IL 60189
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Cycling to Find My Grandfather’s Battlefields

Part of the Battle of Cantigny 105th Anniversary
Sunday, May 28, 4pm
Visitors Center Theater
Free with paid admission

Enjoy a fascinating presentation by Brett Hawkes, grandson of a Battle of Cantigny veteran, as he retraces his grandfather’s footsteps through France.

MEET THE SPEAKER: Brett C. Hawkes, age 71 and from Rockport, Mass., spent four decades as an executive in the high-tech industry. With a passion for cycling and a love for France and its language, he has embarked on numerous French cycling journeys over the last 40 years.

In Hawkes’s words:

Now retired and a grandfather myself, I pored over more than a hundred photographs that resurrected a story never told. I realized this photo album in front of me had awakened and revitalized an old soldier, my grandfather, and it was my responsibility not to let him go.

Grampy left behind a treasure trove of documented history of not only blood-soaked battlefields, unrecognizable rubble of French towns, and poor dead horses that were on the wrong side of an artillery shell but also the touching and sweet interaction with French civilians in the chaos of war. Now the best part: he labeled every photo with location and date, and I thought, “what do these places look like now?” I had to find out! It then became very evident…follow his exact footsteps and retake the very same photograph from the very same place my grandfather stood 105 years ago. The results are simultaneously thought-provoking, heart-wrenching, and uplifting.

To reach audiences who may not be inclined to the academic side of history, I apply a personal side to WWI, mixing solid factual war history with humor, emotion, pitfalls, and the French interaction of a personal 600-mile cycling journey. You’ll see the transition of chaotic war-torn northern France and compare it to the bucolic present day. What are the lessons learned?  In the house where Grampy planned the Battle of Cantigny are now families with children outside blowing soap bubbles. It’s how one generation survives to the next. We manage to persist. We will always persist. The proof is in the storytelling, and this is one of those stories.