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Vimy 2017 Day 7

Day 7 boys and girls. Yes, I’m a little more awake today, but barely. I still feel like I’ve been run over by a dump truck, but at least I got some sleep. The key is to be so comatose that you blackout the moment your head hits the pillow; I’m not sure if that is good or bad. We’ll see how tonight goes for a full scientific assessment.

Okay, we’re on the bus, heading toward Normandy. It’s another beautiful morning and it should be a relatively nice in the Calvados region. This is the point where, for the most part, we switch emphasis on the tour. So far we have been visiting sites associated with World War I, but today and tomorrow we will be focussing on World War II. We also see more of the French countryside, and Normandy is a particularly scenic place.

So after two hours of driving and a mandated 45 minute stop, we’re back on the road. We pulled into a Shell Station east of Rouen literally 5 minutes before a bunch of other buses showed up. What fortuitous timing! However, it does make you realize how many other groups are doing the same thing you are. With 260+ EF groups, I would imagine that there are quite a number doing the Beaches & Battlefields Tour; Arromanches is going to be overrun by Canadian teenagers today!

Gas station selfie, April 2017.

We’re back on the bus after a get on get off day. We rolled into Arromanches just after 1300 and made our way down to the main strip just behind the beach. Arromanches is a pretty little town, maybe a little too commercialized, but nice nonetheless. On D-Day, June 6th, 1944, it was the site of the Gold Beach, which was assaulted by the British 50th Division. Once it was secure, engineers began construction on the Mulberry, one of two artificial harbours created by the Allies to land supplies. Reminants of the concrete sections are still visible in water, but unfortunately the tide was too high for us to walk out for up close visit.

Myself and Ms. Caza wandered around to some of shops and picked up a few things for our kids. I’m sure the food and souvenir retails made a killing with all the Canadians wandering around. After just over an hour in the town, we hopped on to the bus for a short 5 minute (well, we did get lost, so it was more like 15 minutes) ride to a theatre to watch a short 360 degree movie on the Normandy Campaign. It was a well done film.

Arromanches, April 2017.

Arromanches, April 2017.

From Arromanches we drove 45 minutes to the southeast, past the city of Caen to the Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery. It’s one of the two Canadian cemerties in Normandy, and contains the graves of over 2900 Canadians, mostly killed fighting in July and August 1944. We held our usual prayer service at the Cross of Sacrifice, and then proceeded to visit the graves of our assigned soldiers. We decided to have the kids visit those belonging to the Lake Superior Regiment, which was from the Lakehead. Today, it is perpetuated by the Lake Superior Scottish Regiment, which I served in during my teens.

Compared to our stop at Tyne Cot, this was a much more intimate and personal visit. Save for a couple of other people, we were the only ones there; it is certainly a sad and lonely place. However, the very act of remembrance that the students carried out brought life to the sadness, for it is through our youth that their memory lives on. The students were very moved by the cemeteries. I find the WWII cemeteries much more personal as most of the graves are identified and bear family inscriptions. They convey, in words, the immense loss and sorrow felt by the families of

 

those that fell. They cut very deep and I always get emotional, as were many of the kids. It is so unfortunate that many of the mothers, fathers, spouses and children of those interred at Bretteville were never able to mourn their loss in person.

Brettevile-sur-Laize Cemetery, April 2017.

Brettevile-sur-Laize Cemetery, April 2017.

Brettevile-sur-Laize Cemetery, April 2017.

Brettevile-sur-Laize Cemetery, April 2017.

Brettevile-sur-Laize Cemetery, April 2017.

In about 40 minutes we’ll arrive in Honfleur, our last destination of the day. It is located northeast of Caen, just up the Channel coast. It’s a small fishing town of approximately 8100 people, but apparently very picturesque. We are for sure going for a quick visit tomorrow and maybe even tonight. We’ll see how things go once we finish dinner.

Dinner tonight at our hotel in Honfleur was fantastic. They faked us out a bit first by bringing salad and some quiche; we thought that was it. However, they rolled out a full plate of roasted chicken and potatoes as a second course, which were awesome. It was by far the best meal on the trip so far. The hotel is quite interesting, more like a motel, with the doors opening out in a dual-building, two-storey configuration. We were a bit worried about how we would keep the kids contained, but they seem to be respecting the boundaries so far. We did a room check and many are already prepped for bed. They know tomorrow will be another busy day, with visits to Honfleur, Juno Beach and our transfer to Paris.

Well, it’s time to turn in. We are not leaving as early as we have been the last few days, but I’d to get up well before the kids so I can shave. My hair is starting to look a little hippyish. The wifi here in Honfleur is decent, so I’m hoping it’s just as good in Paris, so I should be back tomorrow with more news and photos. Until then…

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2017 in History, Travel

 

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Europe 2014 Day 7

Day 7 is calm and very foggy. Daylight gives us a much better impression of the chateau and its grounds…stunning! I would definitely come back here if given the opportunity. Before breakfast I had a chance to walk around a bit and it was very beautiful with the fog, trees and the small waterfall. I’m interested to see what it is like when the fog lifts. We are really in the heart of Normandy and it is so pretty and idilic here.

So we are about to leave for the Beny-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery, which is literally five minutes away. We are so close to the beaches it is amazing. This should be a great day of remembering, exploring and discovery.

We’re back on the bus now, making our way past Arromanches toward the American cemetery behind Omaha beach. Beny was probably the most touching yet, mostly because we had a lot of time to look around. The cemetery holds the remains of over of 2000 Canadians who were killed on or in the weeks after D-Day. It also has the unfortunately distinction of having the most number of brothers buried in any Commonwealth cemetery at 9 (but I counted 11).

For the soldier visits, I gave our students all the sets of brothers to research. Jessica, Brenna and I had the 3 Westlake brothers of Toronto, who were killed serving with the Queen’s Own Rifles and the North Nova Scotia Highlanders. Thomas and Alfred, who were with the Queen’s Own, are buried side by side in the cemetery.

Rflm A. Westlake, March 2014.

Rflm. A. Westlake, March 2014.

Rflm. T. Westlake, March 2014.

Rflm. T. Westlake, March 2014.

Pte. G. Westlake, March 2014.

Pte. G. Westlake, March 2014.

I spent the rest of the time wandering around, reading the headstones and inscriptions. The morning fog provided a surreal atmosphere in the cemetery. As a Canadian I am filled with with pride and honour at the sacrifice of our young men all those years ago. This visit really hit me hard, and as a parent it ripped my heart out to read the inscriptions from mothers and fathers to their children. I cannot even fathom losing one of my boys.

The American cemetery at Omaha beach was an interesting visit. There are over 9,000 US fallen at this site overlooking the beach and is quite massive. I’d never been to an American cemetery before and it has a totally different atmosphere and feel. Even the headstones are very different, though I think that the inscriptions at Commonwealth cemeteries add more of a personal touch.

Omaha Beach Cemetery, March 2014.

Omaha Beach Cemetery, March 2014.

So we’re heading back east now, on our way to Arromanches. This was where Gold Beach was located, along with the British part of the Mulberry Harbour. There is a big museum there with many static outdoor displays of military equipment. This vistas from the cliffs are quite beautiful!

Well, so much for the vistas in Arromanches! The fog is just beginning to lift, so it was hard to see much on the beach. The tide was much farther out than when we were here in 2012, so I was able to walk right down to the Mulberry pieces lying in the sand. It was very neat to be that close.

Mulberry Harbour remains, March 2014.

Mulberry Harbour remains, March 2014.

Lunch was good, though painfully slow. I had waffles with chocolate, white chocolate and whipped cream, while Jo-Anne had crepes. Too bad it took an hour and a half of the two hours we had in the town. I would have liked a little more time to look around and take pictures. Anyway, we’re back on the bus headed toward the Juno Beach Centre.

The visit to the Juno Beach Centre was great, even though I had been there before. Afterwards, we had a little time to look around the on beach, which is officially know as Mike Red Sector, Juno Beach. We then hopped on the bus for the short ride east to Bernieres-sur-Mer. At this location, Nan White Sector, Toronto’s Queen’s Own Rifles landed on June 6. In a matter of 10 minutes the battalion suffered nearly 50% casualties in the dash across the beach. There is a German bunker preserved there and it really gives the students an idea of how far the soldiers had to run to get off the beach.

German bunker at Nan White Sector, Juno Beach, March 2014.

German bunker at Nan White Sector, Juno Beach, March 2014.

We are now on our way back to the chateau; if it wasn’t for the fog it would have been a fantastic day. It was so warm with very little wind and the tides were very low. Dinner will be at 7, so that will give us a little bit of time to look around the grounds and explore the area. I’m not sure what is on the menu for dinner, but I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

Well I’m just about out of energy and I think it’s time for bed. Even though we didn’t do a lot of walking, it was certainly a long day and we saw a lot of things. Dinner at the chateau was great and we got a chance to look around the area and get a real sense of what it is like. Tomorrow we have an early morning; a visit to the nearby village of Creuly and then off to mass before we depart for Paris. We probably won’t be checking into the hotel until very late, so it will be another long day.

Chateau du Baffy, March 2014.

Chateau du Baffy, March 2014.

So the next you’ll hear from me I’ll be in Paris and we’ll be on the final leg of the trip. I have to be up at 6:00, so I’m out for now. Until then…

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2014 in History, Travel, Writing

 

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