Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – 16 August 2017

Notre Dame de Lorette, Ablain St.-Nazaire French Military Cemetery.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Today the BVP2017 students visited the Lens 14-18 Museum, and numerous cemeteries including Cabaret Rouge, Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, and Givenchy-en-Gohelle. After spending some time at the incredible Ring of Remembrance, they departed the Arras region and travelled to Bernières-sur-Mer to begin the Second World War portion of the program.

(Please note: the students blog in their language of preference)

Notre Dame de Lorette, Ablain St.-Nazaire French Military Cemetery.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Today the BVP2017 participants were privileged to visit the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette French Cemetery and the Ring of Remembrance. The early hours of the day were very foggy, and the ground was consequently covered with a thick coat of mist. As we entered the cemetery, the thousands of crosses peering out from the layer of fog was a sight I will never forget. It gave the place a feeling of true eternal rest for the more than 40,000 French soldiers buried there. Besides the fog, the sheer number of crosses was shocking. There were thousands upon thousands of crosses in front of me. And then I looked behind me, and there was an equally gigantic number. Behind the central church, I saw even more including the numerous mass graves in the forms of burial pits often holding over 1,000 soldiers. The cemetery was certainly beautiful and it definitely honoured the soldiers well, but I also found that the huge number of graves in front of my very own eyes was nothing but shocking and saddening. Beside the cemetery was the Ring of Remembrance. Its purpose was to list every soldier who fell during the First World War in Northern France alphabetically. There was no order by rank, nationality or allegiance. Only the names of every single man. With nearly 600,000 names listed, the monument actually gave me a feeling of hope and unity, and I ultimately departed feeling very positively moved by it.

Cole Oien, Calgary, Alberta

Private Frederick Joseph Belliveau lived a quiet life; Born and raised in Joggins Mines, Nova Scotia, he became a bookkeeper. His life was peaceful and quiet until the First World War broke out in August 1914. Frederick enlisted with the 42nd battalion in River Herbert, Nova Scotia, on May 29th, 1916 and he was killed in action on April 9th, 1917 during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

I couldn’t comprehend how I could properly commemorate a fallen soldier. What could I say to someone who gave everything for their country? All I can say to Private Frederick Joseph Belliveau is thank you. Thank you for being brave, thank you for fighting for your country, thank you for the risk you took and in the end, thank you for offering the ultimate sacrifice. You gave your today for our tomorrow. That sacrifice, your remembrance and your legacy is ours to hold high and never let die.

Before we parted I left two gifts: The first, a Canadian penny, because a penny is symbolic that I visited the soldiers’ grave. Le deuxième cadeau, un drapeau de l’Acadie; le drapeau de notre patrie. Never did I believe that I would be able to meet Frederick Joseph Belliveau, but I’m so thankful that I was able to. I now know that no matter what happens to us, we’re strong and can get through anything.
Nous sommes toujours Acadie fort.

-Claire Belliveau, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia

At the Noyelle-sur-Mer Chinese cemetery, row upon row of CWGC headstones are inscribed with the date of death: 1917. The graves are not for typical soldiers on the Western Front, they are for the Chinese labourers who worked behind the scenes clearing battlefields, digging trenches, and building roads and railways. They struggled with language and were separated from family and home yet they got barely any recognition for their service. From a Western perspective, they died unglamorously, mostly from the Spanish Flu. It’s possible their families never received the news of their deaths. Even if they did, the words would have been incomprehensible, much like how the epitaph is meaningless to the average person visiting these graves. The translations are nowhere near perfect. One of the four different types of inscriptions reads “a noble duty bravely done” when in fact, I would translate 勇往直前 (yong wang zhi qian) as “continued courage and perseverance even in the face of great adversity”. Proper recognition of the contributions and bravery of these men is lacking. They travelled long distances from the ports of Qingdao to the Western battlefields, and it may be an even longer road to reconciliation, recognition, and understanding of a truly global picture of the World Wars.

-Alisia Pan, North York, Ontario

Ring of Remembrance.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Noyelles-sur-Mer Chinese Cemetery.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Noyelles-sur-Mer Chinese Cemetery.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Juno Beach, Normandy, France.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.