Beaverbrook Vimy Prize Blog – August 14, 2014

Today we left France and ended up in Belgium, where we will be able to see where the First World War actually started. Our day ended on a very emotional note, but before I get to the end, I’ll do like that song in The Sound of Music suggests and start at the very beginning!

Our day started with the first longer bus ride as we headed towards Ypres. We were able to find Allyssa’s and Josh’s soldiers in two cemeteries, then we came into Ypres itself to visit the In Flanders Fields Museum. They closed it almost two years ago to renovate prior to the centenary of the start of WWI, and it was well worth it! The Imperial War Museum used to be my favourite European war museum, but I wasn’t totally impressed with their renovations, and now, having seen what this museum did … well, this has now become my favourite European war museum. It is laid out beautifully, with all sorts of interactive features and explanations for every artifact in the museum. I was very impressed and, more importantly, the kids thought it was fantastic as well!

We set the kids free for lunch in Ypres, and I think there were many fries consumed! The majority of the group learned an invaluable lesson: if you order as a group you’ll be served as a group and that may mean not getting your meal before you actually have to leave. We are very fortunate that Franky is as amazing as he is as he willingly agreed to drive around the block (which takes about 15 minutes here since blocks don’t really exist in any logical manner!) so he could re-park in the 10-minute bus parking zone. By the time we got back the kids were all done (or had their fries in bags to eat on the bus!) and we headed to Sanctuary Wood cemetery for Audrey’s soldier presentation.

Our next stop was Hill 62 Sanctuary Wood museum, which is actually a series of trenches that have been maintained in a farmer’s back yard since the end of WWI. There was a lot of laughter as the group made their way through the trenches and a few tunnels there – in the pitch dark – and there was also a lot of discussion about what living in such conditions would have been like … there has been a lot of rain so the trenches were full of mud, kind of like what they would have been like during the war, though the mud wasn’t as deep as it would have been in WWI, there were no rats, and Nick very kindly carried Lola through the muddiest corners. (I’m sure soldiers didn’t carry each other through the trenches unless someone was injured, but Nick may have at least gotten a sense of how tricky it would have been to move around with extra equipment!) We took advantage of the sunshine there to sit on the deck to hear presentations on Talbot Papineau, Georges Clemenceau and Robert Borden, then it was off to the Brooding Soldier statue and a presentation on gas warfare and the St. Julien (Brooding Solider) monument.

Supper time was back in Ypres … I told them they had to have something besides chocolate, so the chocolate came back on the bus in bags and boxes, and I heard a lot about hamburgers, fries, and waffle cones for supper. (It’s not that we don’t believe in feeding these kids vegetables, it’s more that they expect North Americans to want fries and pop with every meal!)

We gathered at the Menin Gate early so we could listen to three soldier presentations there, but when we got there people were already starting to claim their spot for the ceremony. It didn’t take long to figure out why: there was a men’s choir from Wales there, and they were to sing a couple of songs during the ceremony. I have been to this ceremony six times and I had never heard a choir there, so we were all eager to hear the performance. The place was packed, so we, too staked our claim and waited for the ceremony to begin.

I cannot stress enough here how patient the kids were, and what great ambassadors they all were, for their communities, the Foundation, and our country. We were able to form the Honour Guard again this year, which is a huge honour for us to be able to do, so half of the kids were chatting with the choir members on one side of the steps while the other half were chatting with the wives of the choir members on the other half of the steps. The participants answered questions for and distributed pins to other people waiting for the ceremony to start, and I am pretty sure they will be on the BBC and ITV at some point in the future since the choir had cameras from both organizations following them around.

Once the ceremony started everyone got pretty emotional. This ceremony is always emotional anyway, but having a choir there, filling those arching ceilings with beautiful music, was unlike anything any of us had ever experienced before, and it definitely added to the atmosphere there. The choir sang the hymn the Welsh soldiers sang together every time they were about to go over the top, which gave a few of us goosebumps to even think about, and it was at that point that some of the kids began to cry. (And the others who said they didn’t cry said they found it to be very emotional and they almost cried). Wesley, Audrey and Allyssa laid the wreath on behalf of the Foundation, and they did a great job despite the base being too big to fit on the rack so they had to adjust it a few times!

We have now made it to Peace Village (aka Spider Village). The rooms have been swept of spiders, the curfew and wake-up times have been given, journals have been written and collected, and we are all off to bed so we can get up and fill another day with some laughter and some tears! It is hard to believe we’ve been here a week already, but no one has started a countdown to the end yet, so I think everyone is having a good time and learning lots!

Loralea Wark
Education Coordinator, The Vimy Foundation срочный займ без проверок