Throughout this trip, I’ve always been asking myself: what is the significance of my visits to all the cemeteries and monuments? A week into the program, I’ve been piecing together the answers; however, today, I’ve found an important piece to the puzzle.
This afternoon, we visited the Ontario Cemetery near the French city of Arras, where my soldier is buried at. My soldier, Joseph Bernard Hill, was from the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte. My choice of a First Nations soldier was inspired by writing about their contributions in the application essay. Since starting my research a few months ago, I went on a journey through Joseph’s life, and now, he seems like a friend to me.
Being a minority myself, I believe that it is especially important to recognize the contributions of people like Joseph. Standing beside Joseph’s headstone, I talked about how his enlistment and sacrifices had resulted in positive lasting impacts to his community and to Canada, and that he inspires me to always put in my best efforts, and make lasting impacts to my surroundings, too. After the tribute, I did a rubbing of his headstone, which I plan to donate to his community after I return to Canada. One of our chaperones, Paul, also made a rubbing to show to his students back in Canada. I feel proud and honoured at the same time to be able to pay tribute to Joseph, whose life was short but well-lived.
Joseph is also an inspiration to me. He had overcame negative stereotypes on his people and a difficult childhood to serve for Canada. Now, empowered by the BVP journey, I have embarked on a journey to raise awareness on the importance of minorities to the Canadian society, both historically and present. Today was just the first step.
– Andrew Yin, Richmond Hill, Ontario
Some of the most memorable moments today for me were getting to commemorate my soldier Arthur William Bull and visiting the Neuve Chapelle Indian Memorial. This opportunity allowed me to see how countries within the British empire were commemorated with cultural and religious symbolism.
Throughout the visits to the cemeteries in Belgium and France I have been collecting photographs of interesting epitaphs. One of my favourites is one that I stumbled upon almost by accident. I only took a photograph of it because the epitaph was in Welsh. It was an epitaph of a soldier of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. It translated to “We lived to die. We died to live.” I found it incredibly interesting to see how his friends and family wanted him to be remembered as someone whose purpose in life was to give up his life, and that they viewed his death as a vessel for freedom. Another epitaph which I found interesting said “He died for the Empire” because of the political element of the epitaph, and the protective and proud attitude toward the British empire.
I’m so grateful for the experiences I have had so far on this program and I am excited to see the epitaphs to come over the next few days.
– Sabrina Ashgar, Northwood, Middlesex, Great Britain