Today in Belgium, our Vimy Pilgrimage Award students visited John McRae’s Dressing Station where Lloyd and Laurissa read the well-known poem In Flanders Fields. Later they toured the Passchendaele memorial and surrounding cemeteries. In the evening, the students participated in the 31,000th Last Post Ceremony at Menin Gate as Jeriann, Damien, and Amy laid a wreath to commemorate the fallen. Except for a brief pause during occupation, the ceremony has taken place every night since 1928. (Please note: participants will blog in their mother tongue.)
“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” This was quote on a headstone at the first of a number of different graveyards we visited today, Essex Farm. It was one of many things I saw today that touched me. Walking amongst the countless graves was both an emotional experience, and one that peaked curiosity and interest. Something that sparked that curiosity in me was the grave of William Ellis, who was part of something I had never heard of before; the Army Cyclist Corps. It was interesting to learn that a bicycle regiment had ever existed, it was something I had never heard about! On a day of such strong emotion, between the gravesites, and the touching ceremony at Menin Gate, there were also moments of levity, like lunch and bus rides with new friends, and some delicious Belgian waffles. This program is proving to be everything I had hoped. It’s challenging, fun, interesting, but most of all, very, very meaningful.
Lloyd Templeton, Calgary AB
I keep on trying to make connections between what we see in museums, cemeteries and representations of the First World War and their reflections or preservation in the beautiful scenery and architecture that surrounds me. I knew that at least 60,000 Canadians and tens of millions of soldiers from around the world were killed in the Great War, but walking past one headstone, after another, and another with hundred-year old soldiers buried right beneath me caused me to understand and picture the extensive loses and the reality of the war. The artillery and shelling on the front lines did so much damage that as many as eight soldiers’ head stones can be placed right next to one other, to show that those eight bodies were found mangled together – too mangled to be told apart or separated. The horrific situations these soldiers endured certainly deserves all the commemoration they have been given and much more.
As I continue on this journey, I will continue to wonder how much of the land was once a battleground and commemorate those who would have stood there before me.
Itohansose Itua, Calgary AB
Le moment fort de cette journée a été la cérémonie du Last Post, à la Porte de Menin à Ypres. J’ai eu la chance d’y participer avec deux camarades, en allant porter une couronne de fleurs sur le monument. Ce fut un moment très émouvant, tout d’abord en raison de la nature du monument. Il comméorait tous les morts non retrouvés dans la région d’Ypres lors de la guerre. C’était incroyable de constater qu’autant de soldats n’auront probablement jamais droit à une vraie tombe. Cependant, malgré la tristesses du lieu, ce fut très beau de voir qu’autant de gens se sont déplacés pour une cérémonie quotidienne. Je pense donc que nous sommes capables de nous souvenir du sacrifice de ces soldats à jamais, si nous y mettons les efforts nécessaires.
Damien Pilon, Gatineau QC
Today we visited several Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries. At each cemetery we spent a few minutes wandering and looking at the gravestones. I found that seeing the names was extremely powerful because although I knew that there were millions of casualties in the First World War, I was never really able to grasp exactly how each one of those people had a life and a family that they left behind, and how much the war really affected everyone, even those who weren’t soldiers. Another part of the cemetery visits that really touched me was the graves that read “A Soldier of the Great War”. There were dozens of such graves in every cemetery, and it seems awful that these people never really had a physical grave where they could be honoured and their families could mourn, especially after they gave their lives for their country. Overall, I found that visiting some cemeteries helped me understand on a deeper level some of the impacts of the First World War in a way that statistics from textbooks never could.
Sarah Dykstra, Guelph ON