Today in France, the BVP 2017 students visited important sites from the battle of the Somme, including Beaumont Hamel, Thiepval, and the Historial de la Grande Guerre museum. At Neuve Chapelle British Cemetery, Yaman delivered a powerful presentation about the contributions of Sikh soldiers in the First World War.
Please note: the students will blog in their preferred official language.
Today was our first day in France. After all we did today, our visit to Beaumont-Hamel left an impression so deep and significant that I will truly never forget it. Being a Newfoundlander myself, Beaumont-Hamel and the tragic story of the “Blue Puttees” is forever seared into our cultural memory. We lost a whole generation of young men from which our Dominion, (and now province), has never fully healed. Seeing the Caribou Monument, the shell craters, and trenches triggered something inside me to the point where I was overcome with emotion. The fact that I was there in remembrance of my great-grandfather and that I was commemorating my soldier there added to this emotional connection. I had never been to Beaumont-Hamel, having only seen the monument through photographs and video at home, but for some reason it felt like I had seen it before. The overwhelming response of love and support I received from my fellow Beaverbrook Vimy Prize participants after doing my soldier presentation was inspiring and heart warming. The connection I have developed not only to the fallen comrades, but also to my fellow BVP recipients is overwhelming, and I have never been filled with so much emotion. I hope that my great-grandfather, Fred, and my soldier, Cecil, would be proud and touched by my actions here today.
-Abigail Garret, Conception Bay, Newfoundland & Labrador
Aujourd’hui, je me suis senti très fier de présenter au groupe – lorsque nous étions en train de visiter le monument commémoratif de Neuve Chapelle – le soldat canadien sikh Buckam Singh, dont l’histoire a été oubliée pendant plusieurs décennies. Cet homme a souffert beaucoup et il est mort seul, sans avoir droit à un rituel religieux. Dû à l’absence de Sikhs au Canada à son époque, personne n’est venu visité sa tombe… jusqu’à ce qu’un historien ait retrouvé sa médaille de victoire dans une boutique anglaise.
Ensuite, nous avons visité Beaumont Hamel. J’ai adoré observer les réseaux de tranchées qui zigzaguaient dans l’herbe. Un caribou symbolique dominant le paysage se tenait majestueusement par-dessus un support. Abbey, l’une des participantes, nous a distribué à chacun deux drapeaux de Terre-Neuve et Labrador que nous avons planté devant les tombes de nos choix.
Finalement, lorsque j’ai aperçu le monument à Thiepval, c’était immense ! Les drapeaux français et britannique donnaient l’impression que ces deux pays se serraient la main. Il y avait un cimetière derrière la structure, séparé en deux sections : une section pour les soldats français où se tenaient des rangées de croix portant la mention « Inconnu » ; et une section pour les soldats anglais un peu différente, où les tombes étaient conçues d’après les standards de la CWGC, malgré que la plupart étaient également des tombes de soldats inconnus.
-Yaman Awad, Anjou, Quebec
Immense archways, thousands of inscribed names, a cemetery placed against the background of a picturesque countryside; today we visited the Thiépval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, dedicated to the missing British and South African soldiers who fought at the Battle of the Somme. As I walked through the memorial, my heart dropped at the sight of all the names of the soldiers who lost their lives in one of the bloodiest battles of the First World War, and whose bodies have not yet been found. Continuing down the stairs of the memorial to the cemetery, I saw the graves of the French and British soldiers; the French on one side and the British soldiers on the other. The difference between the two nationalities could be easily spotted as there were stone crosses erected at the graves of the French soldiers, while for the English soldiers, there were the rounded Commonwealth tombstones that we had seen previously at other cemeteries. As I approached the French crosses, I realized that they all bore the same inscription, “Inconnu,” or “Unknown.” Row after row, there were crosses without the names of those who were buried there. When I saw this, my heart shattered. All these fallen soldiers once had names and identities, which have been buried under the horrors of the war. I now have an understanding of the contributions made by those who served their countries and felt a greater need to commemorate the fallen soldiers. I will continue to remember these soldiers and to search for and share their stories with others so that we will never forget those who gave up their lives so that we may live ours in peace.
-Cecilia Kim, Surrey, British Columbia