20 August 2017
Treaty of Versailles

“President Wilson signing the Peace Treaty in the Hall of Mirrors, Trianon Palace, Versailles, 28 June 1919.”
© IWM (Q 14997)

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.  

Statues and monuments on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles were sandbagged and sheltered to avoid potential damage from enemy bombardment.
© IWM (Q 78183)
© IWM (Q 69618)

Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – 19 August 2017

Veteran LCol Ret’d Robert Spencer and BVP2017 students.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Today is the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid. In honour of this momentous occasion the #BVP2017 students attended official commemoration ceremonies and had the privilege of forming part of the honour guard. Earlier in the day they visited the Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery, where over 700 of the 916 Canadians who died on August 19, 1942 are buried.

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

BVP2017 students meet the Honourable Minister of Veteran Affairs, Kent Hehr.
Credit: Katy Whitfield, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Credit: Katy Whitfield, Vimy Foundation 2017.
BVP2017 students with the official Dieppe75 poster.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ceremony at Puys (Blue Beach).
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Il y a un mot en particulier qui me vient en tête pour décrire cette journée : honneur. En effet, après notre réveil assez tôt, nous sommes repartis dans l’autocar avec les anciens combattants et personnes affiliées que nous avions rencontrés la veille. Suite à des brèves discussions, nous avons assisté à la première partie de la cérémonie du 75e de Dieppe. La Fondation Vimy était représentée par trois de nos participants qui ont récité « La promesse de ne pas oublier ».

Dans le même cimetière, j’observais à nouveau les pierres tombales. L’épitaphe qui m’a impressionné était sur la pierre de J. C. Palms, un soldat américain enrôlé dans les forces canadiennes au sein du Essex Scottish Regiment, et lisait : « Il s’est réveillé du rêve qu’est la vie. »

Par la suite, nous avons été invités à joindre la seconde partie de la cérémonie, près de la plage. Une fois arrivés, nous avons rencontré et chaleureusement salué le ministre des Anciens combattants. Deux autres participants ont à nouveau représenté notre fondation et déposé une couronne. Portant l’uniforme rouge, au milieu du bruit des saxophones, des tubas et des cymbales jouant avec ardeur les hymnes nationaux, je sentais les regards se tourner vers moi. Quel honneur !

-Yaman Awad, Anjou, Quebec

 

Veteran Alfred Lonsdale & BVP2017 Students.
Credit: Katy Whitfield, Vimy Foundation 2017.

August 19th, 1942 will always be remembered as the day of the Allied landings at Dieppe. Yesterday, we walked along the same pebble-stoned beaches of those brave men; those who landed, fought, and died, 75 years ago. Today, we saw the graves in which they lie. The cemetery was packed with people from local communities and travellers from abroad who came especially for the commemorative ceremony. Two of us stood at the front of the crowd, alongside a 93 year-old veteran Alfred Lonsdale who saw the beaches of Dieppe from a warship in 1942 and then those at Normandy two years later on D-Day in June 1944. Alfred saluted sharply after I laid a wreath at the foot of the Cross of Sacrifice, indeed, at the feet of the ghosts of Dieppe. That’s who Alfred was saluting.

The night before, we participated in another ceremony. We walked between the rows of gravestones, lit by candlelight, reading the names. What jumped out at me, after visiting so many World War cemeteries, were all the different branches of the army represented. So many airmen, so many signalmen, among all the infantrymen. At the end we had time to plant remembrance crosses and commemorate a soldier of our choosing. I sought out an unknown Royal Air Force airman. My grandfather served in the RAF in the 1960’s, and I planted that cross for him. We will remember them.

-David Alexander, Pointe-Claire, Quebec

Credit: Katy Whitfield, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Today we attended the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid. The ceremony was very moving and I felt privileged to be able to participate in this important event. The presentations and acts of remembrance were touching but what had the most profound impact on me were two small boys in the crowd who could not have been more than seven years old. Seeing these two made me realize that remembering the soldiers who died in the World Wars is not enough; we also have to work to keep peace throughout the world so that the horrific conflicts of the past are never repeated.

When I saw these two boys, I thought to myself, “I hope they never have to fight like all the men buried around me had to fight.” All the graveyards I had seen on the program thus far were not only sites of remembrance, but they were also a warning of the cost of war. Throughout the past week and a half, I have seen the impact the two World Wars had on the communities and the people when they were occurring and the impact they still have to this day. Suddenly, everything I had seen became a lesson screaming that we have to preserve peace.

In the First World War, the soldiers fought what they believed was the War to End All Wars – they fought and died for peace. In the Second World War, soldiers fought against the Axis – they fought and died for the freedom of occupied and oppressed peoples. It is not enough for us to remember their sacrifice. We have to work so that their deaths have a lasting impact. We have to work towards peace!

Patricia Kennedy, Fredericton, New Brunswick

Credit: Hanna Smith, Vimy Foundation 2017.

75th Anniversary of the Dieppe Raid
19 August 1942 – 2017

The Atlantic coast takes on a saucer-shaped indentation in front of Dieppe, creating a ring of cliffs from which the Canadians came under fire. In this photo, returning Canadians examine German fortifications at Dieppe in 1944.
Credit: Lieut. Ken Bell / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-134448.

 

“Disembarkation of wounded troops during Operation JUBILEE, the raid on Dieppe.”
Credit: Library and Archives Canada/PA-183773.

Today marks the 75th Anniversary of the Dieppe Raid. On 19 August 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 had passed 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.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-501320.

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 the wounded 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. 

Lt.-Col. Charles Cecil Ingersoll Merritt, VC.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence, 2017.

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.

 

The official medal citation for Honourary Captain John Weir Foote, VC.
Credit: The London Gazette, Publication date: 12 February 1946, Supplement: 37466 Page: 941.
The official medal citation for Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil Merritt, VC.
Credit: The London Gazette, Publication date: 2 October 1942, Supplement: 35729, Page: 4323.
The official medal citation for Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil Merritt, VC.
Credit: The London Gazette, Publication date: 2 October 1942, Supplement: 35729, Page: 4324.

 

Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – 18 August 2017

Abbaye d’Ardennes.
Credit: Hanna Smith, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Today in Dieppe, the BVP2017 students had the honour and privilege of meeting and spending time with veterans of the Second World War. In the evening, they participated in an emotional candlelight vigil on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the Dieppe Raid. The vigil was organized by the Association of War Veterans and Memory and was held at the Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery.

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

Credit: Hanna Smith, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Credit: Katy Whitfield, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Credit: Katy Whitfield, Vimy Foundation 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Longues-sur-Mer German Battery. Credit: Hanna Smith, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Today we visited Pointe-du-Hoc, a German controlled cliff side taken by American soldiers during the Normandy invasions of the Second World War. I read a plaque as I approached the cliffs that explained how American troops used rope ladders to climb the vast distance from the beach shore to the top of the cliffs. This seems like it would have been an insurmountable feat, as the climbers were simultaneously being shot at by machine guns with a two kilometre range. I stared from a German observation post to the bottom of the cliffs in awe of how the attacking forces were able to overcome this obstacle. The area was fortified by the German army with concrete casemates and gun pits. I had the chance to walk through these structures, and the large concrete and steel walls enveloping me led me to believe that I would have felt relatively safe when the Allies invaded, and I realized how difficult it must have been to overwhelm the Germans within these secure structures. Exploring Pointe-du-Hoc was an invaluable experience for me as I was able to fully comprehend the magnitude of the area’s cliffs and the power and sturdiness of the German defenses mightily taken by attacking allied forces.

Eric Jose, Oshawa, Ontario

 

Credit: Katy Whitfield, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Come dusk, the cemetery was cast with orange light. We stood as a little red-jacketed Canadian congregation, clutching maple leaf flags and crosses of remembrance. At the commemorative vigil for the 75th anniversary of Dieppe, I took in everything: the kilted men with bagpipes, the soldiers, the cadets, the veterans, the story of Robert, an 18-year-old Canadian soldier, who died minutes after he hit the cold waves on the beach – the very beach on which we had trekked just hours before, all holding hands, alive.In a letter home Robert wrote, “Maman, I promise I shall make up for all the pains I’ve caused you.”

So many of us were red-eyed, I myself was unaware I was tearing up as well. Every one of us in our red-jacketed congregation care deeply for peace, freedom, camaraderie, honour, joy. We are not numb to the overwhelming grief of hundreds of thousands dead. We will not roll our eyes and sigh, “you know, war is all for nothing”. We will not numb the courage and valour with which it is possible to live and to protect.

The final procession wound through the cemetery. Upon the gravestones, our shadows flickered like ghosts. Lost boys. I swear they were there.

Enshia Li, Richmond Hill, Ontario

 

Credit: Hanna Smith, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Credit: Hanna Smith, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Credit: Katy Whitfield, Vimy Foundation 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, Omaha Beach.
Credit: Katy Whitfield, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, Omaha Beach.
Credit: Katy Whitfield, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, Omaha Beach.
Credit: Hanna Smith, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Credit: Katy Whitfield, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Credit: Hanna Smith, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Alisia writing a message on her remembrance cross.
Credit: Hanna Smith, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Sgt. Frederick Hobson, VC & Major Okill Massey Learmonth, VC, MC
A Centenary Action

18 August 1917

Sergeant Frederick Hobson, VC.
Credit: Canada. Department of National Defence, 2017.

Sergeant Frederick Hobson, VC  

On 15 August 1917, at 41 years of age, Sergeant Frederick Hobson, of Galt/Cambridge, Ontario, attacked Hill 70 alongside men of “A” company of the 20th Battalion (Central Ontario). Clearing a section of enemy trench known as Nabob Alley, Sgt. Hobson and his men established a blocking position for the inevitable counter-attacks. For the next three days the outpost held out, until a heavy bombardment in the early morning of 18 August wiped out the 20th Battalion headquarters and all but one of the Lewis guns in the forward positions. As the lone Lewis gun began to fire, a German shell struck, burying the gun and sole surviving crew member in mud and debris. Sensing the situation, Hobson dashed forward, digging the buried man out. 

“Guess that was a close call,” said the survivor, Private A.G. Fuller. 
“Guess so : let’s get the gun out,” replied Hobson.  
(Canadian War Records Office, Thirty Canadian V.Cs., p. 52) 
 
As they began to dig, the enemy fired at them and advanced across the open wasteland.  

‘A bullet hit Hobson, but he took no notice of his wound. Together he and Fuller got the gun into position and opened up on the Germans, who were now pouring down the trench. They were holding the enemy well when the gun jammed. Hobson picked up his rifle. 

“I’ll keep them back,” he said to Fuller, “if you fix the gun!” ‘  
(Canadian War Records Office, Thirty Canadian V.Cs., p. 52) 

Already wounded, Sgt. Hobson charged the group entering the trench, holding them off with rifle, club and bayonet. In the midst of the melee, a single rifle shot hit Sgt. Hobson, killing him just as Private Fuller brought the Lewis gun back into action, ending the enemy threat. Reinforcements arrived only a few minutes later. For his actions that day, Sergeant Frederick Hobson was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. His body was lost in the subsequent fighting, and he is thus commemorated on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.

Page 1 – The official medal citation for Sergeant Frederick Hobson, VC (bottom of right-hand column).
Credit: The London Gazette, Publication date: 16 October 1917, Supplement: 30338, Page: 10677.
Page 2 – The official medal citation for Sergeant Frederick Hobson, VC (top of left-hand column).
Credit: The LondonGazette, Publication date: 16 October 1917, Supplement: 30338, Page: 10678.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Major Okill Massey Learmonth, VC, MC 

“Major O.M. Learmonth, M.C., D.S.O. (Killed)” (on right)
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-007451

Having already earned the Military Cross for prior actions in 1917, Major Okill Massey Learmonth, of Quebec City, went into the attack on Hill 70 with the 2nd Battalion (Eastern Ontario Regiment). Having held their line for three days, by the 18th of August, the 2nd Battalion had only 614 men left when enemy let loose a terrific bombardment in the early morning hours. Attacking with flamethrowers, the enemy was able to enter the 2nd Battalion trenches before a bombing party drove them out.  

The attacks continued throughout the morning, with Learmonth personally charging an enemy force threatening his entire company, catching and hurling back enemy grenades and shouting encouragement from the parapet. Wounded twice, “he carried on as if he were perfectly fit and whole” (Canadian War Records Office, Thirty Canadian V.Cs., p. 57). A third wound broke Learmonth’s leg, but failed to break his spirit. “Lying in the trench, he continued to direct his men, encouraging them, cheering them, advising them” (Canadian War Records Office, Thirty Canadian V.Cs., p. 57). As the enemy attacks died off, Learmonth was finally loaded onto a stretcher and carried out, passing valuable details to his junior officers along the way. He would die of his wounds the same day in hospital. 

Major Okill Massey Learmonth, VC, MC was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross and later buried in Nouex-les-Mines Communal Cemetery. He was 23 years old.   

The official medal citation for Major Okill Massey Learmonth, VC (left-hand column).
Credit: The London Gazette, Publication date: 6 November 1917 Supplement: 30372 Page: 11567

 

Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – 17 August 2017

A chance meeting in Arromanches with veterans of the Second World War.
Credit: Katy Whitfield, Vimy Foundation 2017.

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)

Juno Beach Centre.
Credit: Katy Whitfield, Vimy Foundation 2017.

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

 

 

 

Bayeaux War Cemetery.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.

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:

Cole Oien – Juno Beach.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.

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.

-Evan Kanter, Toronto, Ontario

 

Claire Belliveau – Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery.
Credit: Hanna Smyth, Vimy Foundation 2017.
Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery.
Credit: Katy Whitfield, Vimy Foundation 2017.

Private Michael O’Rourke, VC, MM
A Centenary Action

15-17 August 1917 

Private Michael James O’Rourke, V.C., M.M., pictured here in November 1917 with the ribbons for both medals displayed on his tunic.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-002250.

Born in the 1870’s (dates vary), Michael James O’Rourke immigrated from Limerick, Ireland to Victoria, British ColumbiaBefore enlisting in 1915, O’Rourke worked as a tunneller and miner on major infrastructure projects for Canadian Pacific Railway. On 8 December 1916, O’Rourke was awarded the Military Medal for bravery while serving with the 7th Battalion (1st British Columbia) on the Somme. Despite being an unarmed stretcher-bearer, O’Rourke launched a personal offensive against an advancing German counter-attack, holding off the enemy for a number of hours.  

When the 7th Battalion took part in the attack on Hill 70 in August 1917, sixteen stretcher-bearers, including O’Rourke, entered into the fray; two were killed and eleven were wounded; “for the Germans sniped at them as they worked to carry the wounded from the field. During those three days and nights O’Rourke worked unceasingly rescuing the wounded, dressing their injuries under fire and bringing food and water to them… Several times he was knocked down and partially buried by shell-bursts. Once, seeing a comrade who had been blinded stumbling along in full view of the enemy who were sniping at him, O’Rourke jumped out of the trench and brought him in…” (Canadian War Records Office, Thirty Canadian V.Cs., p. 54-55) 

O’Rourke’s bravery and unceasing medical assistance over three days and nights (15 August – 17 August 1917) of unceasing battle was recognized with the awarding of the Victoria Cross.  

Private Michael James O’Rourke, VC, MM was already displaying signs of traumatic stress in April 1918, as noted here in his medical form (See Section 9).
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/Reference: RG 150, Accession 1992-93/166, Box 7484 – 42, Item Number: 544552.

Private Michael James O’Rourke, VC, MM, managed to survive the war, but life afterwards was not easy. Physical and emotional trauma resulted in what would likely be diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder today. O’Rourke was unable to obtain steady work, moving about on the western coast from job to job, in and out of poverty on a meager disability pension. Most notably, in 1935 he was placed at the head of a Vancouver longshoreman’s strike that ended with the Battle of Ballantyne Pier.   

O’Rourke’s life is a sad example of the post-war treatment of veterans, though his funeral provided one last honour for a broken, impoverished man. Newspaper articles state that the procession included at least seven fellow Victoria Cross recipients, city officials, military officers and O’Rourke’s fellow 7th Battalion veterans, as well as former co-workers from the docks and “homeless old-timers”. Private Michael James O’Rourke, VC, MM, is buried with a plain grave marker in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, in Burnaby, British Columbia. 

The official medal citation for Private Michael James O’Rourke, VC, MM (last entry in the right-hand column).
Credit: The London Gazette, Publication date: 6 November 1917, Supplement: 30372, Page:11569.

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.

The Battle of Langemarck
A Centenary Action

The Newfoundland Regiment advanced to the Langemarck front on a plank road buried in mud, similar to the one pictured here.
© IWM (Q 2217)

16-18 August 1917

While the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) fought the Battle of Hill 70, the Newfoundland Regiment was taking part in the Battle of Langemarck from 16 – 18 August 1917. Advancing across a stream and approximately 1,000 yards of enemy frontage, the Regiment fought splendidly and over ten Military Medals were awarded to soldiers in the ranks. The 29th Division, in which the Regiment served, was the only unit to capture all its objectives in the offensive (Nicholson, The Fighting Newfoundlander, p. 385). But the victory was not without loss; 103 Newfoundlanders fell as casualties, 27 of these being fatal. 

Perhaps the lasting memory of the Battle of Langemarck was the mud. Foreshadowing the morass of Passchendaele in autumn, the Newfoundland Regiment moved to the start line along a wooden plank road that was buried in knee-deep mud (Nicholson, The Fighting Newfoundlanderp. 380). Meanwhile, in the midst of battle, one private, “a man not blessed with great height”, and entrusted with a basket of carrier pigeons, “found himself stuck up to his middle in the bog” (Nicholson, The Fighting Newfoundlander, p. 384). A long day in the mud passed before a pigeon arrived at battalion headquarters, carrying an informal message about the state of affairs at the front and the plight of one plucky private stuck out in the mud. Before long, “a party went forward to rescue the pigeon bearer from his predicament” (Nicholson, The Fighting Newfoundlanderp. 384). 

Editors Note: It is important to note that the Royal Newfoundland Regiment served in the Commonwealth forces as a separate contribution to the war effort from the Dominion of Newfoundland; consequently it was not part of the CEF and often fought at entirely separate engagements  

Private Harry Brown, VC
A Centenary Action

16 August 1917

Private Harry Brown, VC.
Credit: Canada. Department of National Defence, 2017.

Private Harry Brown, of Gananoque, Ontario, was serving with the 10th Battalion (Canadians) during the attack on Hill 70. On 16 August 1917, while a meagre outpost was being reinforced by a small party of the battalion, the enemy was seen to be massing together. In order to save the outpost, artillery was desperately needed to break up the pending enemy counterattack.  By this stage of the battle, all wires to headquarters had been cut by shellfire. Private Harry Brown and a second runner were sent back with the urgent request for artillery support when they were caught in the open by a hostile barrage. Brown’s companion was killed, while Brown himself had his arm shattered. Still carrying the message, Brown carried on through shell holes and shattered trenches, slowly making his way toward an dugout with a working telephone.  

Looking out from one such dugout was an officer who “was peering out at the devastation” when suddenly “a dark form crawled out of the ruin and stumbled towards the dug-out. It was a soldier – hatless, pale, dirty, haggard, one arm hanging limp and bloody by his side”. (Canadian War Records Office, Thirty Canadian V.Cs., p. 46). Reaching relative safety, Brown fell down the dug-out steps utterly exhausted, remaining conscious only ‘long enough to hand over his message, saying, “Important message.” ‘ (The London Gazette, Publication date: 16 October 1917, Supplement: 30338, Page: 10678). With his message passed along and artillery support on the way, Brown slipped into unconsciousness, dying from his wounds a few hours later at a dressing station in the early hours of 17 August 1917. Private Harry Brown, VC, is buried in Noeux-les-Mines Communal Cemetery.  

The official medal citation for Private Harry Brown, VC (first entry in the right-hand column).
The London Gazette, Publication date: 16 October 1917, Supplement: 30338, Page: 10678.