Our experience in Belgium was jam-packed with First World War history. From large cemeteries to extraordinary memorials, to seeing a collection of artifacts found in local fields, the day was full of new sights and experiences! One of the stops that stood out to me the most was the church in Messines. It had originally been built in the 11th century, but it was destroyed by artillery fire during the First World War. Before it was destroyed though, the people of the village removed all of the artifacts to ensure they weren’t damaged, and later on put them back when it was rebuilt. What is even more interesting is that before it was destroyed, it was used as a hospital for the German army. It is rumoured that Hitler was treated in the crypt, just a few hundred metres from the British front where future British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was stationed.
The feeling of walking among the very same places that First World War soldiers fought is completely unique and surreal for me. The fact that most of the region isn’t more than ninety years old is hard to comprehend. Even the sheer number of cemeteries found on the Ypres salient is very shocking to me. I look forward to continuing our journey of seeing First and Second World War battle sites for the remainder of the program.
– Graham Devitt, St. Catharines, Ontario