Today the 2018 Vimy Pilgrimage Award students were in Amiens, visiting the gothic cathedral and other sites significant to the Hundred Days Offensive. In the afternoon, they travelled to Lens to visit the Lens’14-18 Museum and a number of cemeteries, including Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, and the Ring of Remembrance. (Please note: participants will blog in their language of preference.)
Through today’s sites, I truly understood the weight of the sacrifices of the men and women who died serving our country. Around Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, 44,000 French are buried in what seems like infinite rows of crosses. I could not comprehend how so many people could be buried in this cemetery alone. Reading the statistics in a history textbook or on a website always allowed me to distance myself. However, walking past thousands and thousands of crosses and still seeing so many more stunned me. Visiting the largest French cemetery of the First World War allowed me to visualize the immense loss of human life in ways that I could not before the VPA program.
I also had the opportunity to present my research on the first Canadian nursing sister to be killed in action during the First World War, Katherine Maud MacDonald. I have a lot in common with her: she was born in my hometown, graduated from my high school, and entered the medical field like I hope to next year. While it is extremely important to remember our soldiers who fought and died, it is just as important to remember Canada’s nursing sisters who fought to save them and died beside them. Finding MacDonald’s name and taking the time to honour her was one of the countless highlights of the program and one of many memories I will never forget.
Jeriann Hsiao, Brantford ON
Les rangs de tombes s’enchaînent comme les salles d’artillerie qui a amené plusieurs hommes à leur repos éternel. Les tombes défilent à une vitesse effrayante, comme les pointes qui ont perforé leur coeur et celui de leur famille.
En voyant ces rangées de grandes pierres blanches Lourdes de sens se tiennent fièrement au-dessus du corps inanimé d’un mari, d’un frère ou d’un fils. J’ai réalisé bien qu’en visitant un cimetière ou un musée du premier conflit mondial vous réaliser à quell point point les soldats ont sourffert, mais vous réalisr aussie que des familles, des enfants et des femmes aiment ces hommes tombés au combat. Non seulement ce terrible conflit a été terrible pour les soldats eux-mêmes, mais aussi pour leur famille.
Nous n’avons pas oublié et nous n’oublierons pas que la mémoire de leur sacrifice vive à jamais dans nos coeur et dans notre mémoire collective.
–Thomas Turmel, Vallée-Jonction QC
We are nearing the end of our wonderful journey. But as the quote goes, “Don’t be sad because it ended, be happy because it happened.” So today I am going to reflect upon my experience here in Europe with 19 other students and 5 amazing chaperones.
We’ve come a long way! 6 days ago, when we all arrived at the airport in Montreal, no one knew one another. In a short period of time, however, we became a very tightly knit group.
When I think of this program many years from now, I’ll think of the many wonderful places we visited. My favourite, thus far, has been the German cemetery in Belgium. It’s beautiful to think that even though the Germans were seen as the ‘enemy’ for invading their country, both sides had a mutual sense of respect for the burial of all the soldiers that fought.
I am looking forward to the Vimy Memorial tomorrow, where I will be presenting my soldier. I’ve learned a lot about the Battle of Vimy Ridge in school, but I am happy to finally see the Memorial for myself.
–Rohan Ashar, Toronto ON
I am not related to Frank Cyril Pye. I do not come from the same hometown. We did not share school hallways. However, as I faced his headstone, I felt as if I was visiting someone I knew personally. While Private Frank Cyril Pye fought on the Front lines of France, he joked with his young sister back in Manitoba about her boyfriend. When his best friend was reported killed, he asked his sister to send over sheet music for another friend who was a great singer. Beneath the headstone, was the kind big brother who had nothing left but 24 letters addressed to his little sister. My tribute to Pye simply focused on things he said in his letters that I could relate to my own life. It didn’t matter what awards he won, what rank he was, or whether he enlisted or was conscripted. The importance was him being a real person with a real story. Though it is hard to comprehend the millions of interesting stories, big dreams, and bright hopes that were lost during the First World War, I began to understand the loss of a single life through Frank Cyril Pye.
–Stephanie Quon, Vancouver BC