This is the fourth time I have been on this scholarship trip and the first time it has rained in all those years. It is making up for not having rained before, I guess, by pouring off and on all day. Fortunately none of us is made of sugar, and while the ground is soaked it is not dampening the spirit of those here to experience as much as they can!
Our first stop today was Ecoivres military cemetery, where Megan paid tribute to her soldier in a very emotional tribute. We then moved on to our first booked venue of the day, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. We arrived a few minutes early so Nick told us all about Georges Vanier, and when he was done we were able to go in to start our tour.
The CWGC has the mandate to ensure that every Commonwealth soldier who has died in service to their country has a headstone, and that all soldiers regardless of rank, age, nationality, ethnicity and religion were treated the same. During WWI, Fabian Ware was the first person to determine that soldiers needed to be buried where they fell, and that they should all be treated the same in death. Because of the work he did, we now see the beautifully kept cemeteries and memorials that are so common in this part of France because the CWGC still exists. They look after 1.7 million Commonwealth graves in 150 countries, and their job is far from easy! The cemeteries here are all so beautiful, and the CWGC is doing an admirable and fantastic job of keeping the cemeteries looking pristine despite budget cuts. The six main Commonwealth countries – Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India – each give money to the CWGC to keep up the graves of the soldiers from their country, but funding has been cut over the years. So, despite the fact that the centenary is going to draw tens of thousands of people here to find their family members and those people are going to expect the cemeteries to be immaculate, so funding should have increased rather than decreased, the CWGC is running the office on a shoestring in order to focus on the cemeteries and memorials.
On top of not having enough money, the CWGC workers do not always have safe working environments to work in. They are currently waiting to take headstones to Karachi, Pakistan, but because of the current political situation there it is not safe enough to send a team in with the headstones. They are facing the same problems in Libya and Gaza. Our tour guide was extremely informative, and we all learned a ton. I cannot say enough about the work this Commission does … you just need to come here to see the hundreds of cemeteries to know they have a huge job and they do it exceptionally well.
We had planned on having lunch outside the German cemetery at Maison Blanche this afternoon, but it started to pour as soon as the bus stopped so we ate on the bus instead. By the time we were done it was time for the tour of the sous-terrain (underground caverns) at Maison Blanche. Phillip Robinson of the Durand Group once again led us down to see the cavings done by Canadian troops who used this sous-terrain in 1917. The carvings and graffiti in this sous-terrain are absolutely amazing to see, and it was very cool that George found carvings that were made by people in his great-grandfather’s battalion! It was very interesting to see how much water was lying around underground, as well, caused by the rainfall we’ve been treated to the past few days!
Once we were all back above ground and were able to walk without hard hats, we spent a bit of time in the Mainson Blanche German cemetery. The kids all immediately noted that there is a different feeling in German cemeteries than Commonwealth cemeteries … we’ll be talking about that in more detail tomorrow.
It was a day of different kinds of cemeteries because our second-last stop of the day was Notre Dame de Lorette, which is the largest French cemetery in this region. Of course it was pouring again by the time we got there, but not one of the kids complained and they spent close to 45 minutes exploring the chapel, the memorial to the unknown soldiers of France and those Frech citizens and soldiers who lost their lives to the Nazis, and the row upon row upon row of headstones … between the ossuary and the cemetery, the remains of over 40,000 soldiers are contained in this cemetery, along with the ashes of many concentration camp victims.
Our last stop of the day was at the statue of General Barbot, where Wesley gave a great presentation on the French leader. He did it in the rain and with lots of traffic going by, so it was not the easiest of conditions but he handled it like a pro!
Phillip Robinson has been giving the group a presentation on mining and tunneling for the past hour, so when this is finished we’ll head downstairs for supper then we’ll take a walk to the grocery store to stock up on snacks for tomorrow. (Franky has been so impressed with how clean the bus is that he says he is fine with the kids eating on the bus, which is very good news!).
Tomorrow we’re off to the Great War Museum, Thiepval Memorial and Beaumont-Hamel, which should be another informative and eventful day!
Education Coordinator, The Vimy Foundation срочный займ без проверок