Today, the students toured Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial with student-guide Leia. In the afternoon, they visited the largest Commonwealth memorial to the missing in the world, Thiepval, as well as Courcelette Memorial and Lochnagar Crater. (Please note: students will blog in their language of preference).
Today is undoubtedly a day I will remember for the rest of my life. We had the privilege of visiting Beaumont Hamel, and immediately upon arriving I was hit with a barrage of emotions with an intensity that I was not expecting. The fact that hundreds of lives were lost in the span of a single morning is a concept which I cannot comprehend no matter how long I think about it. Gazing out across No Man’s Land overwhelmed me with sadness, but at the same time filled me with a sense of pride. Newfoundland is my home, and I could not be prouder to share my history with the exceptional and brave individuals who did not hesitate to sacrifice their lives regardless of the blizzard of bullets they were met with on the battlefield.
While I have felt a connection with every cemetery and battlefield we have visited, nothing compares to the Y Ravine cemetery. Tears were brought to my eyes as I read each gravestone along with their respective epitaphs, and I was struck with the sheer volume of how many lives were lost here. To know that this catastrophe was due to miscommunication makes it even more devastating to me. How different might Newfoundland and the rest of the world be today if we hadn’t lost those voices? What might have happened if entire families hadn’t perished together on the battlefield? And what if their stories hadn’t been abruptly cut off before they could be seen through to the end? I am incredibly grateful to have this experience and I have never been prouder to be a Newfoundlander.
-Evan Di Cesare
La visite de la Grande Mine a vraiment changé ma vision de ce que devrait être un site de commémoration ou un mémorial. Je croyais qu’un site commémoratif correspondait à un monument concret, érigé par les humains à la suite d’un événement tragique sur un site historique tel que le mémorial de Vimy ou le monument de Thiepval. Pourtant, à la vue du cratère, ma vision a changé. Cette crevasse immense recouverte d’herbe, témoin du passé, est non seulement une trace toujours visible de ce qui s’est produit à cet endroit, mais aussi une cicatrice béante des décès tragiques que sa création a entrainée. La façon dont le site a été reconverti en mémorial est aussi fascinante. La disposition des plaques commémoratives est fascinante à analyser, puisque les noms des soldats sont gravés sur les planches formant la passerelle entourant le site. C’est très révélateur, car cela représente, selon moi, la communion entre le passé et le présent au sein du monument lui-même. Nous marchons littéralement sur les traces des hommes qui se sont battus et unis pour la liberté et la paix dont tous rêvaient. Cela m’a marqué, car de nos jours, j’ai l’impression que beaucoup de gens, plus spécifiquement dans les pays favorisés comme le Canada, prennent leurs droits et leurs privilèges pour acquis.
Today was a very powerful day for me as we visited Serre Road Cemetery No. 2. There I paid tribute to Ralph Bouchard, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, who was 15 when he enlisted and 16 when he died. As I sat at his grave, I realized saying goodbye to him would be harder than I thought. Although I had only “met’’ him months earlier, in my mind, I was losing someone special. His name was lost when he was killed and I felt honoured to be able to share it and his story with the other members of the Beaverbrook Vimy Prize.
Ralph died at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette during the bloody Battle of the Somme in 1916. Seeing the Canadian Courcelette Memorial and reading its inscription changed the way I view this battle. I looked into the field where Ralph and so many other Canadians died and could feel tears escape my eyes. “You died on this field,” I thought to those who gave their lives; “You became lonely here,” to those who saw their friends and brothers die. This was a battle where so many Canadians lost everything, whether their life, limbs, peace of mind, best friends, or innocence. This was a field where boys were forced to be men, where holes grew in people’s hearts, and where loss triumphed over small victories. This was the field in which Ralph Bouchard died. Though there is so much grief at Courcelette, there is also pride. Pride in those who fought, those who died, and those who were left behind. And also, my pride in telling the story of Ralph Bouchard.