Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 14, 2013

Our morning was spent at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and they were extremely informative; I think we all learned a lot, and have a new appreciation for all of the work that goes on behind the scenes to keep the cemeteries look as beautiful as they do. They were also helpful in getting us proper instructions for getting to Nine Elms Cemetery so Miranda could pay tribute to her soldier. We owe Franky a huge round of applause for getting us down the road we ended up on – you know it’s an interesting road when the bus driver videotapes it as he drives!

Our afternoon was spent at Maison Blanche in the tunnels that are filled with Canadian graffiti from 1917. I am pretty sure this will be one of the biggest highlights of the trip, as it usually is. (And I am happy to report that no one banged their head on the beam going down this year!)

After the frustration of writing an extremely long blog last night and not having it save properly (hence the shorter one that actually appeared as it was 2:00 a.m. by that time) I am hesitant to go ahead with my plan to put in some of the kids’ journal entries, but I am taking a leap of faith that this is going to work, because they can say far more eloquently than I can what they are getting from this experience! (And, let me tell you, the entries are all so good it’s hard to choose just one quote!) I will be putting half of the entries in tonight, and the other half will go in tomorrow. The kids have asked to remain anonymous for now … if they change their minds I’ll put their names in later. Enjoy! (I have been!)

“Pride is the leading cause of destruction, along with intolerance. It is possible, though, that Canada has avoided this by focusing on assisting others rather than assisting themselves. This, in a nutshell, is what Canadian soldiers fought for. Not because they believed they were better than anybody else, not because they believed their customs were the best in the world, but because they wanted to keep the same spirit in Canada.”

“Crossing from Dover to Calais made me think of what it must have been like for the troops crossing on June 6th, 1944, and as far as Belgium goes … WOW!! Never have I witnessed so much emotion or energy or desire to remember as I have today. It was beautiful how so many from across the globe essentially share the same thoughts and views and desire to tell these stories, and make sure that these battles and campaigns and soldiers are never forgotten.”

“For the past two days I’ve seen many, many memorials, and many, many headstones; but still, every time I visit a cemetery I feel the exact same: emotional. The more headstones I see, the more heartbroken I feel. Every soldier has a story. Every soldier had family members that loved him. When that soldier died, the people who cared and loved him the most were the ones who suffered the most. The war didn’t just affect the ones on the battlefield but everyone else on earth, basically.”

“Seeing all these graves makes me feel sad. I kept reading the quotes that the soldier’s family had written on the soldier’s headstone, and at one point I had difficulty speaking and holding my tears in. Those were the last words dedicated to those soldiers. The last words said by their relatives. How much those epitaphs must have meant to the relatives, how hard it would have been to find the best quote to their beloved, to honour thair memory, for people to know them and to tell them a last time of their true love. It made me even sadder thinking of the ones that didn’t have a grave and that weren’t identified.”

“Today we stopped at our first cemetery and as we pulled up I couldn’t believe the row after row after row of tombstones. As I stood admiring a headstone of an unknown soldier I noticed a handful of moths fluttering around the plot of flowers near this grave. I actually stopped in my tracks and had to take a second look because in the Chinese culture we believe that those that leave the earth come back as moths. After we got back on the bus you could feel the shift in the mood. No one talked for quite some time.”

“At St. Mary’s Dressing Station, over half of the gravestones were unnamed. To think that they died in such a way as to make them completely unrecognizable really puts the war in persepective. Not only do you see how many 500 deaths is, you also see how little that percentage of total deaths actually was in the war. It is a very sobering feeling when you realize how many families were destroyed in just one battle and that nobody was untouched by war.”

“I really found attending the Ypres Last Post service worthwhile. It is a beautiful gesture that the citizens of Ypres pay their respects every single day. The Menin Gate itself was truly breathtaking. I was dumbfounded again and again and again when I would turn another corner or climb a set of stairs on the monument only to find thousands more names carved into the walls. I am starting to understand what it means to have lost an entire generation.”

“Our soldier research is part of the ‘Bringing the Boys Home’ project, because when we learn all about him, visit him, and carry the experience as well as the crayon rubbings home, we are, in a sense, bringing our boy home. Frederick’s spot on the Menin Gate was too high to reach. At first I felt that I had in a way failed him and would not be able to bring him back home, our home city, Toronto. It felt awful that I now knew so much about him and knew how much of a sacrifice he had given for our country and that now, nearly 100 years later, he still couldn’t come home to where he belonged. That guilt passed as I soon recognized that it’s not all about the physical remembrance that I would’ve taken home with me, but in fact his memory and tribute that needed to come home. And I can do that.”

Stay tuned tomorrow for an update about our day in the Somme region, and 8 more journal entries!

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