After spending the entire day touring the Ypres Salient, I think perfect understanding of the impact of WWI in this region was achieved in 15 minutes: those15 minutes were spent in a few plowed rows of a farmer’s field where our group found over 50 pieces of shrapnel just lying on the ground. This shrapnel would have come out of exploding shells that were fired there between 1915 and 1917. And if that wasn’t enough to show the impact on the region, the four unexploded shells that farmer’s neighbour showed some of us on our way back to the bus probably would have given the kids a good idea. All of this understanding gained through those two experiences, and I haven’t even touched on the 15+ cemeteries and memorials we were at.
We saw and did so much today, I am going to list it because it is too much to even talk about:
– the largest and second largest Commonwealth cemeteries (Tyne Cot and Lijssenthoek)
– the largest German cemetery (Langemark)
– Hill 60 crater
– searching for shrapnel
– site of the Christmas Truce in 1914
– the St. Julien memorial for the fallen Canadians from Passchendaele and the Ypres Salient
– Robert Service’s brother’s grave in the Railway Dugouts Cemetery
– the church in Messines where William the Conqueror’s mother-in-law was entombed before the Germans removed the remains for safe-keeping in 1915; to this day, no one knows where they are now located
And while we were seeing all of this, Steve was providing a running commentary about a wide range of topics; I am pretty sure some brains were on overdrive today! He definitely made the sites come alive, and I know they would not be the same without him. We definitely appreciate him donating his time to make this all possible for us.
Rebeccah and Connor were both able to find their soldiers today in the Poperinge region, which was pretty meaningful for them and the rest of the group. I think this project is provinding a deeper meaning to this experience, if facial expressions and the journals are anything to go by.
We went for supper in Ypres tonight, and had some free time after. Most of the kids went on the bumper cars at the fair that is in town, and I think they all re-stocked their chocolate supply and had a Belgian waffle. (I take no responsibility for the sugar high they may have been on on the way back to the hostel!) They had some more free time when we got back, and when I went to remind them it was time to go pack, I got sucked into a game the group two years ago called Slap. (It’s not actually called that, but since it involves some slapping of hands on a stack of cards, it seems like a logical name!)
Everyone is now busily packing and writing journals before lights out. Another busy day lies ahead for us tomorrow as we head to Vimy and the surrounding area: we have tons of presentations to do, as well as four soldiers to find, before moving on to a new hostel tomorrow night.
I don’t think this is a day any of us will forget any time soon, but I think I can safely say that about most of our days.
See you tomorrow from Lievin!