After the success at Canal du Nord, the Canadians faced their main objective, the city of Cambrai. Cambrai was a key railway centre for the German army, and the site of a bloody battle the year before that saw the first major use of tanks. Now tanks were once again rolling towards the town.
By September 30, the 3rdand 4thDivisions had reached the outskirts of Cambrai, though efforts to capture the city stalled as the Corps circled it and Currie tried to work out a plan to take the city. Urban warfare was not something in which the Canadians, or most of the Allied armies, had experience, and fighting the German Army house-to-house was going to be not only extremely difficult, but also likely to result in very high casualties.
Cambrai itself was very lightly defended as German troops were pulled out to reinforce other areas, but the Canadians still had to contend with land mines and booby traps left behind. The city was liberated by the Allies on October 9, 1918. The Canadian Corps incurred over 10,000 Canadian casualties in the advance on and liberation of Cambrai.
Late at night on October 8th, 1918, Coulson Mitchell of Winnipeg saved a bridge from demolition during the Battle of Cambrai. The bridges across the Escaut Canal were key crossing points for Canadian soldiers and artillery, but the Germans had been blowing them up to slow the Allied advance. In a midnight patrol, Mitchell cut demolition wires and fended off an enemy attack, saving a key bridge. For his heroic actions, he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Read his full service file here: http://central.bac-lac.gc.ca/.item/?op=pdf&app=CEF&id=B6248-S044.
The Battle of the Canal du Nord 27 September to 11 October 1918
After retreating from the Drocourt-Quéant Line, the German Army withdrew to their final defensive lines in the Hindenburg system. The sector along the Canadian front included the city of Cambrai, an important logistical centre for the Germans, the Canal du Nord, and Bourlon Wood, a fortified defense position. For nearly a month after their victory at the Drocourt-Quéant Line, the Canadians waited, while Currie planned how to get the Corps across the canal, through the wood and onward to Cambrai.
The canal itself was dry, but still presented a significant obstacle; the banks were several metres high and it was unclear what awaited the Canadians on the other side. The area around the canal had been deliberately flooded by the German Army, leaving a small area roughly 2km wide that was still dry. To cross the canal, the Corps would be squeezed into a small front, and then would have to fan out to secure the rest of their section. Additionally, while tanks and infantry could cross quite easily, the artillery could not; Currie’s plan required the Canadian Engineers to install several portable bridges, likely under heavy fire, to allow the artillery across.
Currie’s plan was ambitious, and he was warned by many, including Byng, that it might not work. However, Haig and Foche wanted to push the German Army as much as possible, to see if they would crack, and an incursion near Cambrai would drain men from the rest of the German lines. At 5:20 am on September 27, the creeping barrage opened up and the initial advance of only four Canadian battalions went forward across the canal. They reached the other side successfully, and more battalions began to leap frog over their positions, slowly moving forward and fanning out to objectives along an over 9000m front.
With the opposite bank secured, the engineers could begin installing bridges, the first guns attempted a crossing at 8:40 am before being pushed back; however, by the middle of the afternoon several were in place and artillery was crossing regularly. By the end of the day, the Corps had secured the canal, Bourlon Wood and the village of Bourlon, before digging in for the night. Massed German attacks were expected for the morning and the Canadian battalions were spread thin trying to control over 10 000m of frontage.
The second day was slower and harder, as the Canadians tried to cross the Marcoing Line, which they did not manage until September 29. By September 30, the 3rdand 4thDivisions had reached the outskirts of Cambrai, though efforts to capture the city stalled as the Corps circled it and Currie tried to work out a plan to take the city. Urban warfare was not something in which the Canadians, or most of the Allied armies, had experience, and fighting the German Army house-to-house was going to be not only extremely difficult, but also likely to result in very high casualties.
During the Canadian preparations, the German Army pulled out of Cambrai on October 8, leaving behind a burning city, riddled with booby traps and trip wires. The Corps occupied Cambrai and continued to advance carefully, following the Germans as they made a fighting retreat further and further east. Though another stunning victory for the Canadian Corps, the Canal du Nord further depleted their strength; over 10,000 Canadians were killed, wounded, or missing, bringing the total number of casualties for the Hundred Days Campaign to that point to over 42,000.
The successful crossing of the Canal du Nord and advance towards Cambrai relied on a strong creeping barrage and the ability of the artillery to continue their barrage as the infantry moved deeper and deeper into German territory. The coordination between the infantry, now moving quite quickly over large distances, and the artillery was a problem that plagued Currie and the Corps throughout the Hundred Days. In the days after the initial successes, the pace of battle slowed or even stopped due to spotty bombardments.
To deal with the problem posed by the canal itself, the Canadian Engineers spent the weeks leading up to the battle building portable bridges behind the lines, which were laid in place once the far bank was secured and allowed the passage of artillery pieces, and the crews that manned them. Placing the bridges was extremely dangerous work, and throughout the day on 27 September, the bridges were frequently shelled. Like at Vimy the year before, the Engineers played a very important role in ensuring the success of the battle; without their bridges, the Corps would have quickly outpaced their artillery and bogged down, costing many more lives that they could not afford to lose.
Currie also employed a creeping barrage that moved in two directions, both forward and back. As the Corps reached their objectives, the barrage could jump forward like it usually did; however a backward moving barrage would give German gunners the impression that they were firing on their own positions. As usual, Currie also employed counter battery work to pick off German guns in advance; in total 785 guns were used on the first day of the Canal du Nord battle, most of which would follow the infantry on to Cambrai.
Like the previous Hundred Days battles the fighting at the Canal du Nord was hard and required a considerable amount of personal bravery. Canadians were awarded eight Victoria crosses during the fighting; the recipients are:
The Battle of the Drocourt-Quéant Line, 2 September 1918
Known by the German Army as the Wotung Stellung, the Drocourt-Quéant defensive system posed a significant obstacle to the Allies as they attempted to push their offensive further eastward. The rush of the Arras battles had pushed the Corps to the D-Q Line, but they had little time to prepare and Haig was not able to provide extra artillery or tanks. In fact, there was doubt amongst the Corps commanders that the attempt would succeed at all; the survivors of August were worn out, and the new reserve troops, many of whom were conscripted, had little combat experience. Nonetheless, for the French Army to move forward in the south, the D-Q Line had to be broken.
The original plan called for the Canadians to break through the D-Q Line, then a swift advance to the Canal du Nord using Raymond Brutinel’s group of armoured cars, all within a single battle. As Currie and the 1st and 4th Division found out, this was not possible. The two divisions did take the D-Q Line, after a day of tough fighting; however, the armoured cars were unable to advance as quickly as needed and artillery support was very thin. The Corps dug in for the night, expecting a counter attack, which in the end never came. As at Amiens, the troops advanced behind a concentrated artillery barrage and was faced with lines of machine gun nests, fortified bunks and barbed wire, much of which had to be taken out in hand to hand fighting.
The victory at the D-Q Line, though unexpected, was another mark for the Corps very successful Hundred Days. Currie believed the fighting during the Arras battles to be the most difficult that the Corps had ever faced; however, the pace would not be slowed. Canadian losses for the D-Q Line fighting were 5 622 killed or wounded on 2 September alone, German losses are not known.
Currie’s original battle plan called for the use of the Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade, organised and commanded by Raymond Brutinel. The CMMGB had been raised in 1914 but had rarely been used in a battlefield setting until the Hundred Days, since the conditions of the fighting area in the early years had not been suited to vehicles. The cars of the CMMGB went into battle at 8AM on the morning of 2 September, through a 900m gap in the creeping barrage and failed to break through. Their cars were not able to negotiate the rough terrain, and many fell under the hail of machine gun and artillery fire from the enemy lines.
Seven Victoria Crosses were awarded to Canadian soldiers for their bravery on 2 September 1918: Bellenden Hutcheson, Arthur George Knight, William Henry Metcalf, Claude Nunney, Cyrus Wesley Peck, Walter Leigh Rayfield and John Frances Young. Read more about them from Veterans Affairs Canada.
Brig. General Raymond Brutinel was a French business man and journalist who settled in Western Canada before the war. Brutinel believed that armed motorised vehicles were the future of modern warfare and when the war broke out raised one of the foundation motor machine gun groups that eventually formed the Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade. Brutinel commanded the brigade and was involved in their actions during the German push in March 1918, as well as the Hundred Days.
Part of the Battle of the Scarpe, the battle for the village of Chérisy was an example of the bloody fighting that the Canadian Corps faced in the days leading up to the battle for the Drocourt-Quéant Line. The 5thBrigade was part of an advance meant to break through the Frenses-Rouvroy Line, another fortified defence leading up to the larger D-Q Line. The 22ndBattalion (the Van Doos) were assigned to capture Chérisy, along with the 26thand 24th Battalions. Rain and poor conditions delayed their jumping off time, and the battle did not start until 10 am.
They were fiercely resisted by the German 132rd Infantry Regiment, whose machine guns mowed down the advancing Canadians, but the village was captured by midday. The Van Doos lost many of their officers in the initial attack on Chérisy and defense of their position was organised by the highest-ranking officer left, Major Georges Vanier, in cooperation with the 24th Battalion. That night, divisional command informed the officers of the 5th Brigade, that they would not be relieved and would be expected to fight on the next morning to keep driving the Canadian sector further towards the D-Q Line.
In the attack on 28 August, Vanier was wounded and command of both battalions passed to the commanding officer of the 24th Battalion, Lt-Col. William Clark-Kennedy, who continued to hold a position in front of Chérisy until they could be relieved the next day. At roll call on 29 August, only 39 members of the 22nd Battalion answered; casualties were 634 killed, wounded, or missing, including all the officers.
Chérisy was one of a series of smaller set-piece battles, smaller engagements to move across large distances, that bridged the gap between Amiens on August 8 and the Drocourt-Quéant Line on September 3. Currie and the Allies in general made use of set-piece engagements to avoid the problems that came with distant objectives; they were increasingly employed after the Somme in 1916 and employed the idea of ‘biting and holding’ to chip off small pieces of enemy territory.
The battle at Chérisy illustrated however, one of the challenges facing the Corps in the days after Amiens. The pace of battle since August 8 made it increasingly difficult to co-ordinate support, and in combination with the poor weather on August 26 meant that the battalions participating in the battle for Chérisy did not have sufficient counter-barrage support.
The German artillery was able to continue to fire on them, and embedded machine gun nests in the village created havoc for the advancing troops as they were delayed by uncut barbed wire and uneven ground. If Currie’s Corps was to succeed in the battles to come, which moved even more quickly, the question of providing timely support was a crucial one.
Chérisy was a desperate battle and there were many acts of bravery that have gone unrecorded during the two days of conflict; however, two Canadians stand out.
Major Georges-Philéas Vanier, the highest-ranking officer left at the end of the August 27 advance. Vanier organised the attack for the next day, knowing that it was not likely that he would survive, and led his soldiers over the top at 12:30 on August 28. He was shot in the stomach and his leg shattered by a shell, but was evacuated and survived the battle. Vanier recovered from his wounds and went on to serve as Governor General of Canada. Click the image below to access his service file from Library and Archives Canada.
Lt-Colonel William Clark-Kennedy, the remaining senior officer of the 24th Battalion, gathered the remains of the 22ndBattalion and held their position outside of Chérisy until they could be relieved. Though seriously wounded, Clark-Kennedy refused to leave his men and continued to command the battle until both units were removed. He was awarded the Victoria Cross and lived out the rest of his life in Montreal. Click the image below to access his service file from Library and Archives Canada.
The Canadian Corps had just finished their victorious battle at Amiens on 14 August when they were charged with participating in the actions to break the German trench systems around Arras. With an estimated 12,000 casualties that needed replacing with fresh troops, the Corps was still feeling the effects of their initial entry into the Allies’ August push, but they had little choice. Currie had to prepare his men for another assault.
Unlike Amiens, the Corps did not have the element of surprise and with less than a week to plan it was going to be a tough fight that relied on heavy artillery, infantry mastery, and personal courage. Once again, counter battery work was extremely important to the success of the battle, and Canadian gunners worked to ensure that German artillery had been disabled as much as possible on the day of the battle.
Currie compensated for the lack of surprise by planning a night battle, which began under darkness on 26 August at 3 AM, in the pouring rain. The Corps advanced against German machine gun crews, each of which needed to be taken out to ensure forward movement. By the end of the day, the Corps had advanced 5 kilometres and retaken Monchy-le-Preux, however, it was not the end for them. The smaller attacks leading them towards the fearsome Drocourt-Quéant Line cost the Corps at least 6,000 casualties and drained precious man power; experienced soldiers that Currie could not afford to lose. German casualties are thought to be at least 3,000 prisoners, with an unknown number of dead and wounded.
Arras was another opportunity for the Corps to use the techniques that they had been perfecting for the past year. Currie used the Royal Air Force and his counter battery units to devasting effect, knocking out enemy guns before the day of the battle, and the infantry divisions advance quickly and freely behind a creeping barrage. The first day of Arras also made use of a night attack, a tactic that Currie had used before when the element of surprise was missing and would use again in the coming weeks.
Like Amiens, the Canadian portion of the Second Battle of Arras was planned quickly; organisation for Vimy the year before took over a month, for a typical Hundred Days battle, Currie usually had less than a week, and as the Corps advanced further and further intro German-held territory, that time shortened.
Lt. Charles Smith Rutherford, of the 5th Canadian Mounted Rifles received a Victoria Cross on 26 August 1918, after attacking two pill-boxes and taking almost 100 prisoners. Rutherford survived the war and was later the Sergeant at Arms of the Ontario Legislature. Click the image below to access his full service file from Library and Archives Canada.
Pte Howard Douglas Graham,was only 20 when he fought with the 21st Battalion at Arras as part of their intelligence section. He survived the war and 21 years later was a Lieutenant General in the Canadian army that returned to Europe to fight the Second World War. Click the image below to access his full service file from Library and Archives Canada.
After two informative and incredible weeks, our BVP 2018 students said their goodbyes and departed for home early this morning. For the last blog entry of this program, we asked our new Beaverbrook Vimy Prize alumni to describe their experience in one sentence. (Please note: students will blog in their language of preference).
Alejandra: The BVP program is a perfectly orchestrated journey that allows for deeper and more personal thinking about the First and Second World Wars, for which I am thankful.
Cassandre: Une fabuleuse experience, de formidable rencontres, d’inouables souvenirs- mon plus grand merci pour m’avoir donné la chance d’enrichir ma personne.
Kelsey: This program was life-changing- it gave me an understanding of the World Wars on a level I could previously only dream of.
Cassidy: BVP 2018 was a breathtaking, emotional and adventurous experience that I will never forget.
Alix: Un enrichissement à vie, de mémoires d’amitié forgées et des images saisissantes gravées pour toujours, c’est ce que le BVP est pour moi.
Hannah: This program has enlightened me in both mind and spirit- I couldn’t forget about this program if I tried.
Rachel: The BVP has inspired and empowered me to share this unforgettable experience with my community, and my perspective on Canada’s involvement in both World Wars has been changed forever.
John: This program has introduced to me a new way of studying history, and to teachers and peers who will continue to inspire me in the future.
Isabella: BVP is not a program that has forced mundane dates into the minds of the participants, but has rather challenged one to think critically about past historical events and present-day occurrences.
Anna: The BVP has completely changed the way I view history, it has inspired me to learn and teach, and I can’t wait to spread it as far as I can!
Gordon: This program has been truly incredible, from speaking to some of the last remaining Second World War veterans, to retracing the footsteps of the soldiers of the First World War and D-day- I am so grateful that I could be part of such an amazing experience.
Laetitia : Durant ce programme, j’ai appris énormément dinformations sur les deux guerres mondiales entourée de personnes incroyables: cette expérience restera à jamais graver dans ma mémoire: merci beaucoup !
Caroline: BVP has allowed me to experience history as I never imagined it before, among like-minded peers in an environment where it comes alive.
Brooke: Our classrooms ranged from lecture halls at Oxford, to the fields of Belgium, to the white caves at Vimy, to the rocky beaches at Normandy, and often where we learn, teaches us more than our tour guide.
Ghalia: Today I leave feeling more empowered than ever before and with a network of colleagues that have become lifelong friends.
Stanford: BVP has allowed me to share exceptional experiences with unforgettable people.
On the last day of the program, the BVP 2018 recipients spent the day at Université Paris Nanterre. In the morning, they participated in a library and archive workshop and discussed war poetry. In the afternoon, they attended lectures by PhD candidates Gwendal Piegas and Mathieu Panoryia. (Please note: students will blog in their language of preference).
Today we went to the Université Paris Nanterre to attend lectures and do some activities around the University. My favourite activity was a poetry analysis that we did in groups. Our group had a poem called “My Boy Jack” by Rudyard Kipling, and we had to analyze it from an emotional point of view. I thought this activity was really interesting because the other part of our group had to analyze it from a historian’s standpoint, and we very different points. I think poetry is very subjective, especially when you aren’t given any information about the poem beforehand. Our groups analysis of the poem was quite different from the actual meaning of the poem. The lines we thought were metaphors were literal, and vise-versa. Although, the way I think of it, the way that one individual person can never be wrong in their own opinion. Poems are different from other literature because it often doesn’t impose a meaning on you, it’s all about interpretation and relating it to your own experiences. This is similar to learning about the World Wars, as a person born in the 21st century, I can never truly understand what experiences people went though. All I can do is try to use empathy to connect it using an experience to help me understand.
Anna Hoimyr, Gladmar SK
The last true day of this amazing program was highlighted by the introduction to other viewpoints to the war, that were not thoroughly discussed during the program. We visited Université Paris Nanterre and participated in a poetry analysis workshop. Two French scholars discussed the Franco-Prussian War and the Battle of Verdun, and the Eastern Front’s main interesting differences to the more studied Western Front. While analyzing different poems I came across a French poem called “Chanson de Craonne” with no known author. Reading poetry in my second language was a new experience for me, but it allowed me to understand an entirely different culture during the First World War on the Western Front; similar to how the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize has allowed to experience different narratives of the World Wars as oppose to the narrative usually taught in class. It was also interesting to see how there were many interpretations of the poem, whether that was because the poet wished to remain anonymous for fear that some of his sentiments may not have been appreciated by his commanding officers, or that the poem was a song that was constantly being altered by the soldiers on the front. Overall, I learned through today’s experiences, that the culture that was present during the First World War, the Interwar Period, and the Second World War are just as important for historians to look at critically as the actual military history of the war.
Isabella MacKay, Ottawa ON
I woke up on the last day of the BVP program feeling conflicted. Though I am disappointed to be finishing the most incredible experience of my life, I am thrilled to be heading home to share my new-found knowledge and perspectives. This morning we travelled to the Université Paris Nanterre where we were reunited with Julia. She led us in a workshop where I analyzed the emotional aspects and feelings conveyed by a poem written in 1915 during the battle of Ypres. Reading and listening to the various poems helped me to visualize a different side of war; soldiers wrote about their fears, their loved ones, or just how exhausted they were. This program has shown me the effects the Great War still has one hundred years later. I have visited countless cemeteries over the past two weeks, and yet I still find it difficult to comprehend that each and every headstone I saw represents a once living and loving person. When I sat in the cemeteries, I spoke to the headstones as I would a veteran, asking about their families and thanking them for their service. But whenever I stopped speaking, the leaves of the nearby maples began to rustle vigorously, almost as though the soldiers’ spirits were attempting to respond. Being part of the BVP has impacted my life in a way I never anticipated, and if knowledge is power, then I have gained the strength of every soldier who found in the First World War.
Today, our BVP 2018 recipients participated in a lively discussion on Juno Beach about war diaries during the D-Day landings. Later, they visited Beny-sur-mer cemetery where the students were able to research and locate the graves of some of the executed Canadian soldiers at Abbaye d’Ardenne. In the afternoon, they visited the German battery at Longues-sur-mer. (Please note: students will blog in their language of preference).
As our journey nears its end, we woke up today in Bérnière-sur-Mer, to the sound of seagulls and church bells that surround the grounds where the group is staying. After a morning well spent at the beach analyzing war diaries and what they represent, the group headed to the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, a place important for all of us and that, in an ideal situation, should be for all Canadians. In Beny-sur-Mer rest the bodies of seven of the Canadians killed in the Abbaye d’Ardenne Massacre and hundreds of other brave Canadian men. Their names are a reminder of the human capacity of committing evil acts but also a reminder of hope and peace. Flowers and commemorative ribbons adorn every corner of the cemetery and one can’t help but to wonder how many people have come here to salute the heroes that lie on these grounds. We hope many. In this cemetery, I was also able to find the headstone of a man I was very kindly requested to commemorate and that is Trooper Harry Osborne from the 1st Hussars of my native London, Ontario. Finding his headstone felt like meeting with an old friend, a friend I never met but whose contributions and sacrifice are felt today.
Alejandra Alvarez, London ON
This morning Juno beach was our classroom, and we had the privileged opportunity of reading the war diaries of the attack at Juno while we sat on the sand of the exact place it happened. It was amazing to be able to ask: “Where were the soldiers at this point in the attack?” and then have a colleague point to a house and say: “Right there.” This leaves no room for misinterpretation of landscape through limiting history text books. We all took turns reading the detailed events of each day leading up to the attack and got to learn what the offense was like from the perspective of lower ranked military personnel and what they were and weren’t aware of. The remarkable thing about the Beaverbrook Vimy program is that our place of learning often does more teaching than the tour guides themselves, and our classrooms range from lecture halls and Oxford, to the battle fields of Belgium, to the sandy Juno Beach.
Brooke Reid, Saint Andrews NB
This morning, we had a discussion on war diaries at Juno beach. We read multiple diaries from the perspectives of three different soldiers from three different battalions, landing at the three towns on Juno Beach: Courseulles-sur-Mer, Bernières-sur-Mer and St-Aubin-sur-Mer. The diary I looked at was the one from St-Aubin-sur-Mer. War diaries are interesting because they provide insight on an event in ways we would have never thought about. For example, the soldier wrote in the diary how happy he was that the journey to the beaches only got him wet to the knees. We sometimes forget that soldiers that get wet often stay uncomfortably wet for the rest of the day. He also wrote something peculiar that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. He explained that after 4 years of preparing for this moment, he was disappointed that his beach met little resistance. I think war diaries give us insight on events from many perspectives. Just like how every soldier’s opinion and perspective of war, our analysis of history needs to be flexible and open to different viewpoints.
Today, our 2018 BVP recipients visited the Juno Beach Centre where they received an excellent tour of Juno Park from Vincent. Later, they visited Arromanches, the Mulberry Harbour, and the Canadian Garden at the Caen Memorial. To finish the day, the group spent the evening at the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada (Canada House). (Please note: students will blog in their language of preference).
Aujourd’hui, nous avons visité plusieurs endroits historiques liés à la Bataille de Normandie. J’ai particulièrement apprécié le tour des bunkers, en plus de notre visite au Centre Juno Beach. Durant le tour des Bunkers, j’ai eu l’opportunité de voir ceux-ci en personne, c’était impressionnant de se trouver où les soldats allemands commandaient et observaient l’ennemi, car je pouvais voir des sites historiques ayant bravés le temps. J’ai également été surprise d’apprendre qu’un des bunkers avait été découvert récemment, il y a environ 8 ans. Apprendre cela m’a fait réfléchir: si les humains découvrent encore, de nos jours, des objets et lieux historiques, allons-nous continuer à en retrouver ? Par la suite, au musée canadien, Centre Juno Beach, le film intitulé Dans leurs pas m’a le plus marqué de l’ensemble des visites présentés dans l’endroit: il affichait des images des Canadiens lors du Jour J et durant la Bataille de Normandie. Pour moi, voir des représentations visuelles des évènements historiques de cet endroit était plus touchant que lire de l’information sur le sujet, puisque je pouvais me mettre momentanément dans la peau des soldats durant la Bataille de Normandie et ainsi imaginer ce qu’il aurait pu vivre à l’époque. Cette journée a donc été remplie de découvertes historiques intrigantes pour moi !
Laetitia Champenois Pison, Montreal QC
Today we had a tour at the Juno Beach Centre and our tour guide, Vincent, was amazing. He explained things in ways that were very easy to understand and you could tell he was very passionate about what he was talking about. One thing I learned from him was that the Atlantic Wall is portrayed a lot differently than how it really was. It is usually explained as a long wall going across the coast that absolutely no one could get through. Vincent explained it as a rope with knots in it. The knots were the bunkers on the coast. I think that is a very good way of putting it because the coast was heavily armed and defended but it was not a solid unbreakable wall. It was also an amazing experience to be on the beach and see the geography of it all. It made it much clearer in my mind. I’ve seen pictures hundreds of times but nothing can compare to seeing it in real life.
Cassidy Choquette, Steinbach MB
Today we visited Juno beach and its educational centre, which was very interesting. The first thing we did was a tour of two German bunkers, the first of which was from 1940 and had many weak points and flaws as at the time of building the threat of an allied invasion was minimal and wasn’t taken too seriously whereas the second was built in 1943 and was far superior due to the growing possibility of the British Invasion. It was interesting to see how the bunkers differed and I learnt a lot about other tactical defences at Juno beach. After the bunkers we went to the centre which was very informative and it was amazing to learn about Canada’s role on D-Day since, being from Scotland we aren’t taught much about other countries’ role in the Wars, so it was eye-opening, not only today, but throughout the whole program, to learn how much they contributed to both World Wars.
Today, our BVP 2018 recipients participated in a series of commemorative ceremonies for the 76th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid. The first ceremony took place at Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery where Rachel and Gordon laid a wreath and Alejandra and John read the Commitment to Remember. The second ceremony took place at Square du Canada where Stanford and Hannah laid a wreath. In the afternoon, the students travelled to Normandy, visited Pegasus Bridge, and participated in a private ceremony at Abbaye d’Ardenne, the site where 20 Canadian soldiers were executed by members of the 12th SS Panzer Division in June 1944. Read the students’ posts by following the link in our bio. (Please note: students will blog in their language of preference).
Today was another amazing day in Dieppe. This morning, we walked to the Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery, where we attended a ceremony marking the 76th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid. It made me so proud to head the Canadian anthem sung at the ceremony, honouring the Canadians who fought and died during the raid 76 years ago today. Another activity that particularly resonated with me occurred immediately after the ceremony. The BVP participants were each given the name and story of a soldier buried in the cemetery, and we were asked to find our soldiers’ respective graves. My soldier was Bertram Howard Renfrew Capnerhurst, who—like me—lived in Toronto. After finding his grave, I read the short sheet of information I was given. Bertram, serving in the Essex Scottish Regiment during the Dieppe Raid, was only eighteen years old (one year older than I am) at the time of his death. He came from a military family, his father having served in the First World War, and a newspaper article also indicated that Bertram was hoping to win a Victoria Cross. Upon being informed that his son was missing in action, Bertram’s father, Major Capnerhurst, stated, “If my son is among the dead, those Jerries will pay dearly for his life. I am going back over there as soon as I can.” As I read about Bertram and his family I imagined the grief of receiving the news of Bertram’s death, as well as the circumstances that would inspire his father to go to war not once, but twice. Although I never knew Bertram, I can’t help but feel a kinship towards him. Like me, he was a Toronto teenager. Unlike me, however, he had extraordinary circumstances thrust upon him. He made the ultimate sacrifice, and for that I am truly grateful.
Caroline Tolton, Toronto ON
The courtyard of the Ardenne Abbey is deceptively beautiful, deceptively peaceful. Broad, old trees stand strong, shading the small space from the scorching sun. Bushes of vibrant green leaves coat the ground save for a small path leading up to a larger clearing of grass. It’s a place that I would love to relax in with a good book, had I not known the dark truth of the places past. During the Second World War in June of 1944, this quaint little garden became the site of a terrible atrocity. Twenty men, boys really, taken as Prisoners of War were murdered for no reason at all.
Seeing this picturesque garden and learning about its dark history was heartbreaking. They were so very young, only a few years older than me, and they were braver that I could ever hope to be. When they realized that they were going to die, they did not cower, cry or confess all they knew. They shook each other’s hands and faced death head on. That kind of courage is unimaginable to me. I have never been thrust into a situation dire enough to require it. To die rather than reveal what I knew, I can’t say I would make the same choice. I certainly wouldn’t have faced my death in silence. These men were heros, they possessed a courage that I can’t even fathom. Perhaps it is because of their courage and the courage of men like them, that I am here today.
So, as I stood in that peaceful little garden and a soft wind rustled the leaves, I did what many French and Canadian citizens have done and will do in the future. I remembered them. I bowed my head and whispered a prayer for the fallen.
Kelsey Ross, Burin NL
We began today with a ceremony at Dieppe commemorating the raid by the Canadians on 19 August 1942. For me, this was one of the most powerful experiences so far in the program, for several reasons. For one, it is eye-opening to see that local French people still commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of the Canadians who fought at Dieppe 76 years ago. Another striking aspect of the ceremony was the number of nations and organizations involved, all the national anthems being sung, and all the wreaths being placed by their respective representatives. I was honoured by the opportunity to read the Commitment to Remember at the ceremony. Additionally, the veterans present at the ceremony made it more special to me because I soon realized that we will soon lose the opportunity to learn from them and their experiences. Following the ceremony, we travelled to Abbaye D’Ardenne, the site where 20 Canadians were unjustly executed by the Nazis in June 1944, after refusing to turn over strategic information. This was the program’s second key visit today, and it was an intensely emotional one. The biographies and photographs of the 20 Canadian soldiers were prominently displayed, and we held a private ceremony at the small memorial where we each placed a poppy on a wreath. I was in awe, particularly of the immense bravery of the Canadians who stood strong, despite knowing their fate.