Our BVP2017 group has officially returned home as of late last night. In the hustle and bustle of the program, we had to skip a few regular social media posts that have been favourites of our followers, especially #MascotMondays.Consequently, in honour of our #BVP2017 group returning home and the 75th Anniversary of the Dieppe Raid last Saturday, we are sharing the brief story of an animal that returned home as well, and received a medal for it.
In the early hours of 19 August 1942, from the beaches of Dieppe, Canadian forces released the carrier pigeon “Beachcomber“, who was entrusted with the delivery of an important message to England. Taking flight with blazing speed through hazardous conditions, including one of the largest aerial dogfights of the war, Beachcomber safely reached England, informing higher command that the Canadians had landed at Dieppe.In March 1944, the English People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals awarded Beachcomber the Dickin Medal, (awarded to animals who displayed conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in military service).
Beachcomber remains the only Canadian pigeon, and one of only three Canadian service animals, to be awarded the Dickin Medal.
The official citation reads:
Pigeon – NPS.41.NS.4230 Date of Award: 6 March 1944
“For bringing the first news to this country of the landing at Dieppe, under hazardous conditions in September, 1942, while serving with the Canadian Army.”
Today in Paris, the BVP2017 students toured the Musée the l’Armée at l’Hotel des Invalides and got to see Napoleon’s tomb and spectacular works by art masters on the theme of war. Next, they travelled to Versailles and spent the rest of the day exploring the magnificent palace and gardens and visited the very spot where the Paris Peace Conference was held and the Treaty of Versailles was signed.
(Please note: the students blog in their language of preference)
I sit here on the sidewalk of a busy street, watching the passage of strangers before me. Each one of them have a story, a life worth living. But they are not all strangers, because sitting beside me are the friends and people who are sharing the same experience, the same life-changing opportunity as me. And yet, though we have traveled together, have seen the same memorials and have shared in mourning, we have all been differently impacted by this experience. I myself will never be able to see life in quite the same lens again. My colours of perception have shifted and my horizon has broadened.
I realize now how little I have thought of these soldiers, those men who sacrificed freedom and safe homes so that our future might be a better place. But I fear I am not the only one; sometimes it seems like the whole world is forgetting the importance of remembrance, the importance of standing before a tombstone and paying our respects to those who sleep beneath our feet. For the First World War, our modern world has lost that crucial personal connection that ties lost soldiers to modern families. Today, we look at a grave, we attend a ceremony and, perhaps, we experience a habit; is it something we do because the generations before us did the same? Do we see the stories, the faces buried beneath?
We must see them, we must look at the past through the eyes of those men, so that we may not forget and repeat the mistakes of the past.
–Ariadne Douglas, Prince George, British Columbia
Today we went to Paris’ Hôtel national des Invalides & Musée de l’Armée. It was fascinating to see the tomb of Napoleon and the ways it differed from the other memorials that we had seen throughout the trip. We also had the opportunity to see exhibitions on the First and Second World Wars. These were an opportunity to view both wars from the French perspective, after our many visits to Commonwealth Memorials and Cemeteries. The exhibitions were presented in chronological order, allowing us to follow the progression of one war into the next. Being from a town in the UK that suffered from a number of attacks during the Blitz, it was interesting for me to be able to see am entire section on the Blitz during the Second World War.
-Lala Israfilova, Carshalton, Sutton, United Kingdom
Today, for the final activities of the 2017 Beaverbrook Vimy Prize program, the participants are visiting the Hôtel des Invalides in Paris as well as the Palace of Versailles. On 28 June 1919, on the fifth anniversary of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination,the Treaty of Versailles was signed at the Palace of Versailles. This officially ended the hostilities of the First World War.
Today marks the 75th Anniversary of the Dieppe Raid. On 19August 1942, 4,963 Canadians led the 6,100-strong raiding force as it landed on 8 separate points of the Atlantic coast. While local successes were achieved by British commandos attacking artillery batteries at neighbouring Varengeville and Berneval, the Canadians struggled to enter the town from the main landing beaches. Only half of the supporting armour from the Calgary Regiment (Tank) made it past the seawall, the rest bogging down or breaking tank treads on the shingle beach. A vicious infantry battle took place within the beachfront casino and surrounding streets, while the remaining tanks, blocked by anti-tank obstacles, provided fire support. By 09:30, just six hours after the first landings, a general withdrawal began. Tanks that hadpassed the seawall covered the retreat to the beaches. As the tanks pulled back, they too became stuck on the shingle beach. Fighting valiantly, their crews remained in their tanks, serving as immobile gun support. By 14:00, the withdrawal was complete.
The Canadians suffered 916 fatalities across the three branches of service. Only 2,210 of the 4,963 Canadians, many of whom were wounded, returned to England. Total casualties numbered 3,367, including 1,946 as prisoners of war (POW).
Two Canadians received the Victoria Cross for their actions that day, as well as a British Commando.
Reverend John W. Foote, VC, of Madoc, Ontario, became the first member of the Canadian Chaplain Services to earn the Victoria Cross. As Chaplain of the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, Foote walked up and down the beach, administering aid to the wounded and dying. During the withdrawal, Foote made countless trips bringing thewounded to the evacuation craft arriving at the beach. Finally, at the end, Foote stepped off the last craft out, and rejoined those left stranded on the beach, in order to provide comfort and ministry to the thousands of Canadian POWs.
Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil Merritt, VC, of Vancouver, British Columbia, led the South Saskatchewan Regiment ashore at Pourville. As the regiment suffered mounting casualties attempting to cross a bridge, Merritt stepped forward and calmly walked numerous parties across through murderous fire. When the order for withdrawal was given, Merritt, though twice wounded, mounted a rear-guard action that enabled many others to escape off the beach. He too became a prisoner of war.
Today in France the BVP2017 students visited the JunoBeachCentre, shared a special moment during their own private ceremony on the Beach, and visited the iconic Canada House. They also saw the Mulberry Harbours at Arromanches and visited the war cemeteries at Beny-sur-Mer and Bayeux. The best part of the day was when the group met veterans of the Second World War, Harry and Len!
(Please note: the students blog in their language of preference)
Bonjour à tous, aujourd’hui, nous sommes allés à deux endroits où les forces Alliés ont débarqué le 6 Juin 1944, les plages de Juno et Gold. Nous sommes tout premièrement allés sur la plage de Juno, sur laquelle les Canadiens ont débarqué pour libérer la France et l’Europe. Nous avons tout d’abord participé à une cérémonie émouvante sur la plage. Ensuite, nous avons visité le Centre de Juno Beach qui était très intéressant, notamment une exposition sur la commémoration de Vimy à Juno. C’était très intéressant de voir le débarquement du point de vue Canadien et d’en apprendre plus sur le long et rigoureux entrainement pour faire partie des forces Alliées. Ensuite, nous sommes allés au cimetière Canadien de Bény sur Mer, qui était magnifique. Là-bas, j’ai été très impressionné par deux épitaphes de Canadiens mort le Jour J et dans les jours suivant : « I have fulfilled my duty » et « All you had you gave to save mankind. Yourself you scorned to save your life ».
– Paul Toqueboeuf, Boulogne, France
As we visit numerous cemeteries throughout the program, we remember the lost, the forgotten and the fallen soldiers who made so many sacrifices during times of war; giving up the safety of their countries and their homes, their families, and ultimately, their lives. To commemorate those brave souls, there are memorials and tombstones erected in their honour. They have been designed with care; every cut in the stone, every engraving carefully planned out and overflowing with meaning. The tombstones found in Commonwealth cemeteries resemble each other at first sight, as they usually bear the name of the soldier, their battalion, regimental number and date of death. However, each one tells a different story. The epitaphs found near the bottom of the tombstones are usually a good way to begin these stories. While visiting different cemeteries, I have collected some of those epitaphs:
“To the world he was just a soldier. To me, he was all the world.”
“Loved. Remembered. Longed for always. Until the day break and the shadows flee away.”
“To live in the hearts of those who love us is never to die at all.”
“There is a link that death will never sever – Love and remembrance last forever.”
I have written the following epitaph as a promise to the Fallen:
“I will keep alight the torch of courage your dying hands passed onto me. Not just today, but every day. In silence we remember.”
-Cecilia Kim, Surrey, British Columbia
Today we went to Juno Beach, the site of the Canadian landings as part of the Normandy invasion on June 6th, 1944. We held a moving ceremony on the beach to commemorate the more than 24,000 Canadian men who fought and the 340 Canadian men who died during D-Day. We recited the poetic words of Cyril Crain:
They gave their lives in Normandy Remember them with pride. Soldiers, airmen, sailors, airborne and marines Who in civvy life were tailors and men who worked machines.
We finished the ceremony by writing memorial messages to the dead, in the sand on the beach.
Inside the center were short films about the Juno Beach assault, artifacts from the war, and a special exhibit called “From Vimy to Juno: Remembering Canadians in France.” I was excited to see the work of our chaperone Rachel in this exhibit, which discussed how Canadians fought in France since the Great War, and how Canadian involvement has been commemorated. It was an emotional and gratifying experience to see where “our boys” began the liberation of Europe, seventy-three years ago.
Today, the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize group is visiting Essex Farm Cemetery, the Passchendaele Memorial and taking part in the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. In May 1915, it is believed Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae of the Canadian Army Medical Corps wrote the poem “In Flanders Fields” while operating at Essex Farm Cemetery. To mark the centenary of the Third Battle of Ypres, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission historians broadcast a series of live videos while visiting CWGC sites. Today we share the recording made at Essex Farm Cemetery.