Vimy Pilgrimage Award Blog – 4 April 2019

Today in Belgium, our VPA 2019 recipients visited John McCrae’s Dressing Station where Emma and Theo read the well-known poem In Flanders Fields. Later, they toured the Passchendaele memorial and surrounding cemeteries. In the afternoon, they visited the In Flanders Fields Museum, located in the Cloth Hall, and climbed the 231 steps of the Cloth Tower to see the magnificent views across the Ypres region. (Please note: participants will blog in their language of preference).

Today was the first day on the program that we got the chance to set foot in cemeteries and on battlegrounds of the First World War. The emotions that I experienced while visiting these sites was something I never could have prepared for, and the atmosphere at each site was indescribable.  It was a beautiful sunny day and each location we visited had birds chirping which I thought really contributed to the environment in each site.

We visited the Maple Copse Cemetery where my great great uncle Bud is known to be buried. His grave was in a beautiful location that was especially moving as it was very secluded and felt very peaceful. We walked down a pathway before the cemetery could finally be seen, and the site had a very nice archway that we walked under to get to the graveyard.  Shortly before his death, my uncle Bud had written home asking his mother for a warm pair of knit socks- but he never lived to receive them.  I brought a pair of socks that I knit in memory of my Uncle Bud, and though it was a century too late- I was very honoured to be able to lay these socks at his grave.

Faith Emiry, Massey ON

 

Le premier cimetière où nous sommes allés était au poste de secours de John McCrae. Nous étions donc entourés d’anciens cimetières et de champs de bataille. Aujourd’hui, il n’y a que des fermes et des maisons, il n’y avait presqu’aucun bruit, seulement le bruit du chant des oiseaux et des automobiles. Tout était vraiment beau et paisible. Le soleil était haut et éclairait chaque tombe, il en avait beaucoup, comme s’il voulait les réchauffer. Je me rappelais des images de guerre et comment la guerre avait l’air d’être le contraire de beau et paisible. C’était impossible pour moi d’imaginer que la paix et le silence de cette petite place étaient autrefois dérangés. Les images de la guerre sont en noirs et blancs, mais ce cimetière était réel et en couleur, et c’était très difficile d’imaginer la guerre en couleur, et de réaliser qu’à l’endroit même où je lisais Au champ d’honneur, plusieurs personnes étaient mortes. Tout ce qui avait autour était des fermes et des maisons. Comme si la vie après la guerre et les générations suivantes avaient reconstruit autour de la guerre. Et c’est une des choses qui m’a surprise le plus; à quel point les traces de la guerre sont encore très fraîches en Belgique. Lorsque nous traversions en autobus les villes, ce n’était pas rare de voir des cimetières entre deux maisons ou entre deux fermes. J’ai trouvé ça vraiment intéressant, mais aussi plutôt intriguant. Ça m’a guidé à une question sur le roulement de vie des Belges. Comment font-ils pour ne pas succomber à la pression de l’éternelle dette de la Première Guerre mondiale, sans toutefois tomber dans l’ignorance du Souvenir?

Emma Roy, Ste-Sophie Québec

 

Today was a very moving and emotional first day. We visited many historic sites, including the Menin Gate. The Menin Gate includes the names of over 54 000 soldiers who died before August 16, 1917 and who have no known grave. This commemorative structure included so many names and is so vast that many within our group, including myself, became emotional. After having a group discussion, we then all broke up into smaller groups to discuss the significance of Menin Gate, as well as our thoughts on the day so far. This discussion was insightful and meaningful to me. The chaperon led the group discussion and, at one point, I was able to reflect on the significance of viewing historical sites in Belgium and how that is more effective and impactful than just reading about it. I began to reflect on the people of Belgium and how ingrained the First World War is in their culture. Truly, from someone walking on the street to a tourist guide in a museum, everyone in Belgium is informed of the First World War. Being immersed in this kind of environment makes learning and remembering the war much more meaningful. I cannot wait to see what the rest of this program has in store!

David Pugh, Brantford Ontario