Well, we’ve started the journey home. I am sitting here at Charles de Gaulle airport waiting for our flight to Toronto listening to some classic rock. Our wake up call was at 4:00 today…thank God this is the last early morning we have. That obviously means though that our trip is over. The past 7 days have been a whirlwind of events, but it was such an awesome experience.
The streets of Paris were amazing, filled with great European culture and architecture. I wish there was more time to explore and take pictures. Two days are not enough in such a great city, but we were on a schedule. I never did see the inside of the Notre Dame Basilica, but the cathedral in Rouen was very impressive as well. I must get back someday, maybe with the family.
Having this time before our flight gives me some time to reflect on the past week, especially on our visits to the battlefields. I think that this was tremendous trip for the students that they won’t soon forget. I am glad that I decided to lead this journey/pilgrimage to France. It took me away from my family for a week, so I too had to sacrifice. However what I gave up pales in comparison to the blood several generations of young Canadians spilled for their country.
We’re in the air now; in the beauty above the clouds my reflection continues. It’s funny how you always think of things after the fact, like how I am right now remembering a few things that occurred yesterday that did not make it into my blog. The one I want to mention was probably the most poignant, which took place during our silent march from Givenchy to Vimy. As our group passed by the Vimy Memorial, we were jolted by a sudden gust of wind from our right. It was almost as if some force was trying to direct our attention to the left, towards the memorial. I’m not sure if everyone else was struck by this occurrence, but it certainly had me looking to the heavens. Someone wanted us to remember.
Now my thoughts drift to our first visit to a Canadian war cemetery, the one at Dieppe. Since the bodies were originally buried by the Germans, the headstones are laid out in German style, back to back and close together. Probably because of the close internment of the dead and because it was our first, the visit was so moving. We had a lot more time to spend there, so you really had a chance to read the names and inscriptions. I won’t soon forget how overcome I was.
After some lunch and a much-needed nap, I am a bit more refreshed. While I was dozing, I thought of our visit to Juno Beach. It was another occasion that needed way more time to fully absorb and explore, but we did our best. I was glad that we got to Bernieres sur Mer where the Queen’s Own Rifles landed at Nan White Sector. Seeing that bunker that I’d taught my students about so many times and walking those blood stained beaches was amazing. The bag of sand I brought home is not some sand from a French beach; it is a piece of Canadian history, purchased with the blood of our youth.
On the last leg now after a hectic connection stop in Toronto. It will feel good to be at home; I know my wife and boys will be waiting for me at the airport. I am excited to see them as this is the longest I’ve ever been away from them. Maybe my homecoming is part of this journey. We get to go home while there are those who never got that opportunity. I should mention this to the kids, that our ability to go back to our families and loved ones is part of their sacrifice. We definitely take our freedom for granted.
Well, I need to wrap things up as I’ve been awake for the better part of 24 hours. I need to get some sleep as I am back to work tomorrow…with a new perspective on what I teach. I will definitely have some great stories for the kids. I know I will enjoy relating my experiences to them and hopefully this has made me a better teacher. And hopefully it will teach them the importance of remembrance. I will end today with one of my favourite poems from the war, written by A.E. Housman. I will be back in a week after a much needed break. Until then…
HERE DEAD WE LIE
Here dead we lie
Because we did not choose
To live and shame the land
From which we sprung.
Life, to be sure,
Is nothing much to lose,
But young men think it is,
And we were young.
April 11, 2012 at 18:55
As grandparents of one of your group, we were drawn to your blog to read of his daily activities. Thank you very much for your sensitivity in commenting on all that you saw. My father was a Canadian soldier fighting in Europe in WW2, and we are so grateful for his return. Your comments brought closer to mind all those families whose loved ones did not return. Seeing their gravestones somehow made it more of a reality, and I’m sure your students will be feeling the same. Thank you again for taking the time. Susan and Larry Gibson
April 11, 2012 at 20:03
Thank you. It was an honour to lead these students in this incredible journey. My uncle fought in the Italian Army during the war and was killed in 1943. I understand quite well the loss felt by these families, even though I never met him. I hope the students keep these memories forever.